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State Senate passes home-rule expansion bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation to extend and expand the state's municipal home-rule pilot project passed the Senate Thursday 34-0 -- with an amendment to grandfather in Charleston and the three other cities participating in the project (SB435).

Under the existing five-year pilot project, the participating cities have been able to adopt ordinances to streamline business registrations, enhance downtown business districts, deal with urban blight and raise new sources of revenue -- policy changes that otherwise would require legislative approval.

Thursday's amendment would mean that Charleston, Wheeling, Bridgeport and Huntington would automatically continue home rule through 2019. Under the original bill, those cities would have to reapply to participate in the next pilot project.

"This does lock in these four municipalities that are already in the program," Senate Government Organization Chairman Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said of the amendment.

Each of the four cities could opt out of continuing the pilot project, if they chose, he said.

A second amendment approved Thursday would expand the number of cities that could participate in the next round of the home-rule pilot project from 10 to 14, to account for the four grandfathered cities.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates, where the key difference between it and the House version (HB2761) is over municipal sales taxes.

The Senate bill would provide participating cities with the option of imposing sales taxes of up to 1 percent if the city lowers or eliminates its business and occupation taxes.

Also Thursday, the Senate advanced to amendment stage Friday a bill that would allow Monongalia County to establish a sales tax increment financing district for the University Town Centre in Morgantown (SB125).

Legislative authorization of the TIF district is the final financing element of a $96 million development project that will include an exit off Interstate 79 between Westover and Star City, and development of a $15 million ballpark for the West Virginia University baseball team and, likely, a professional minor league team.

Additionally, backers of the project say it will open up 1,400 acres for development of retail locations, Class A office space and light industrial facilities on both sides of I-79.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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