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W.Va. home-rule program opening to more cities

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After a successful five-year pilot program in four cities, the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Program is expanding.

Lawmakers have decided to let a total of 20 communities participate in the home-rule program, and applications will be accepted between January and June 2014.

The program gives communities more power to identify state rules that restrict their ability to carry out their duties efficiently and to propose effective solutions.

Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling experimented with the program, and a legislative audit concluded it was beneficial. They increased revenue, streamlined administrative matters and simplified licensing, among other things.

Bridgeport reduced the number of business license classifications from 81 to one and replaced a range of rates with one flat $15 fee. Now, any city can create a municipal business license for multiple purposes.

Charleston and the state Division of Natural Resources agreed to expand their urban deer hunt seasons, which the DNR then implemented statewide.

In Huntington, local ideas led the state to give every county and municipality the power to file for a lien on a portion of a fire insurance policy to help defray the cost of removing burned-out structures. Home-rule officials say the plan saved the city $165,000 in demolition costs, retained nearly $250,000 in property value and reduced the number of arsons.

Wheeling, meanwhile, used home rule to develop a vacant property registration program that listed 155 properties and has led to 19 demolitions so far.

In 2010, the state gave all municipalities the authority to register vacant buildings and file liens on property for unpaid and delinquent registration fees.

Application guidelines are posted on the West Virginia Municipal League's website, www.wvml.org.


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