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Home rule could help South Charleston decrease B&O dependency

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens said Thursday that the city may apply for the state municipal home rule program, partly to decrease its dependency on revenue generated from its business and occupation tax.

Mullens unveiled a tentative plan during a city council meeting Thursday. He said that the business and occupation tax makes up 45 percent of the current revenue, or about $9 million of the city's $21 million revenue stream. Joining the home-rule program would allow the city to decrease that tax and possibly create a 1 percent sales tax instead.

The plan, Mullens said, is designed to help businesses by decreasing their tax burden.

"We've tried very hard to be a more business friendly community," he said.

Earlier this week, lawmakers passed a bill (SB435) that revised the state's home-rule law, a program that essentially gives local leaders more flexibility to run their cities. The new law allows cities with populations of 2,500 or larger to apply to the home-rule program.

The bill, however, also contains a controversial amendment that forces participating municipalities to liquidate their gun ordinances by limiting restrictions on firearms. Charleston, for instance, would have to repeal a 20-year-old ordinance that restricts handgun purchases in order to continue participating in home rule.

Mullens said that South Charleston's gun ordinance mostly follows state and federal law. The city however, does restrict people from bringing firearms into any municipal facility. That provision would be eliminated if the city joined the home-rule program, he said.

"We haven't decided whether that would be a deal breaker," Mullens said. "The fact that they've taken that somewhat out of our hands is very disappointing to me."

Mullens stressed that city officials are only in preliminary discussions about whether to apply for the home-rule program. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to sign the bill into law.

"This is just something we're talking about in theory," he said. "This is not something we're married to." 

Other provisions in the tentative home-rule plan include:

| Simplifying business license applications.

| Allowing city inspectors to issue on-the-spot citations for property board issues.

| Allowing the city to issue liens for some delinquent fees.

| Giving the city authority to sell city property without a public auction.

| Allowing the city more administrative authority to approve variances or special permits to reduce some planning commission applications. Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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