Edited by Tony Rutherford from Multiple Reports

An audit delivered to interim legislative meetings has recommended the expansion and continuation of West Virginia’s home rule program.

Jim Morgan, chairman of the government House of Delegates government organization committee whose district includes Huntington, favors the continuation of the program beyond the mid-2013 sunset and hopes that more cities apply.

"Given the success of the program and the benefits to the participating municipalities and the state, the Legislature should consider granting broad-based home rule to all Class I, II, and III municipalities," the report stated.

However, it recommends that the review board which in advance rules on a city’s goals under the power be abolished.

"The Legislative Auditor assumes that the intent of the Legislature was to determine if home rule authority could be expanded to all Class I, II, and III municipalities without the continuation of the Home Rule Board; therefore it is recommended that the Home Rule Board be discontinued if home rule is expanded statewide."

A Wednesday noon meeting by the Board will determine whether five  laws established by the four  pilot cities (Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport & Wheeling) should be extended statewide.

Huntington Mayor elect, Steve Williams, has previously read ‘tea leaves’ predicting to HNN that the program will be extended, but with a restriction that prevents cities from levying taxes.

Huntington’s City Council passed a controversial 1% occupation tax which resulted in immediate law suits challenging its constitutionality. Two of the state's leading authorities on the WV Constitution took opposing views of its validity which coupled with opposition from the steelworkers, hospital service workers, Marshall University employees and other workers set the matter into the judicial system.

The Wolfe administration agreed not to enforce the provision pending the outcome of litigation. Williams has stated the occupation tax is a “moot issue,” even in the event the Huntington ordinance is upheld. He told a reporter on Tuesday that “I want to create growth. That’s the way to grow our budget, not through taxes.”

Argued before a Kanawha County court, no ruling has been issued on the matter.  One attorney who represents Huntington told WSAZ months ago that due to the expiring home rule authority,  the matter was dead. Huntington has spent over $100,000 in legal fees defending the proposed occupation tax, which led to street protests and overflow hearings in opposition.

Under the home rule program, Huntington and other cities have passed , among others, laws that provide enforcement power for delinquent city fees, streamlined demolition (and redevelopment) of dilapidated properties, and issuance of “on the spot” citations for some nuisances and external sanitation violations.