The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 5, 2014

Oak Hill to make case for Home Rule

Regional meeting Monday in Beckley

OAK HILL — Candidate city Oak Hill will make its case for one of 16 spots available in phase II of the Home Rule pilot program Monday at Beckley City Hall, and City Manager Bill Hannabass is hopeful the city will be selected for the self-governing experiment.

Oak Hill is among 23 cities hoping to join phase I participants Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling in the Home Rule Project. The southern West Virginia cities of Lewisburg, Princeton and Bluefield will also make their case at the meeting in Beckley, one of five regional meetings scheduled this summer.

“I am hopeful, but there’s obviously going to be some cut, considering there are only 16 spots and 23 applications,” said Hannabass.

Oak Hill outlined six issues to be addressed in its Home Rule application: 1) collection of municipal liens on county tax sales; 2) legal publications; 3) alcohol sales on premises; 4) uncollectible sewer bills; 5) comprehensive plans; and 6) cost of audits.

“We have watched the other Home Rule municipalities and we have adopted some of their ordinances after they became state law,” said Hannabass.

After Wheeling initiated a vacant structure registration program that eventually became state law under the Home Rule program, Oak Hill followed and adopted the ordinance itself, Hannabass said.

“I think that Home Rule program would allow the local, average, everyday resident to have much more say in the laws that govern their community,” said Hannabass. “They’re more likely to have access to a member of city council than a state legislator.”

1) As part of its Home Rule application, the city asserts that it is currently limited by laws related to the purchase of property by tax sale.

Under the current law, municipal liens are washed away after real estate is purchased, the application asserts. The City of Oak Hill would like to see those municipal liens be collected.

“The sheriff is required to issue a certificate of sale to the highest bidder who pays, at least, the amount of taxes, interest and charges for which the tax lien on the real estate is offered for sale, which washes away municipal liens on the property as the purchaser is not required to satisfy those,” the application reads.

The proposed solution would require the highest bidder to pay the amount of taxes, interest and charges for which the tax lien on any real estate is offered for sale, in addition to paying the city’s liens before a certificate of sale is issued.

2) The city is currently required by law to publish all its receipts and expenditures for the preceding fiscal year within 90 days of the beginning of the new year in a Class I legal advertisement, which costs the city $800 annually.

Under the Home Rule program, the city proposes to no longer publish the information in the local newspaper, and instead only publish the information on its website.

Oak Hill asserts that the online posting of the information would provide savings, efficiency and increased community involvement of younger citizens.

3) A specific requirement currently only allows alcohol to be sold in businesses 300 or more feet from a church, which the city would like to see change.

“In municipalities with older, compact business areas and/or a significant number of churches located within, or in close proximity to, the business area, this requirement becomes a prohibition rather than a regulation,” the application states.

The city would like to establish its own distance requirement regarding alcohol sales in order to help revitalize and create foot traffic in the downtown area.

4) The city would like to require that landlords be responsible for unpaid sewer bills attributed to delinquent renters.

“Over the past few years, the City of Oak Hill has written off over $15,000 annually in uncollectible sewer bills. Approximately 95 percent of these write-offs can be attributed to renters,” the application said.

Holding landlords accountable for unpaid sewer bills would greatly reduce the costs incurred by the city, the application said.

5) The city currently struggles to satisfy the mandatory components for a comprehensive plan due to strains on its budget, and would like to be permitted to establish its own comprehensive plan component criteria based on stated goals.

6) Lastly, Oak Hill would like to be permitted to establish its own payment limit for an audit of the city and the Oak Hill Sanitary Board, which would allow them to attract better-qualified accounting firms to submit bids for a detailed audit.

“I believe the Home Rule would allow for the city to have better local representation, and coupled with the fact that it gives all of us a chance to streamline things, I think it could be a good tool for the city,” said Hannabass.

Oak Hill will make its presentation to The Home Rule Board between 12:45 and 2:15 p.m. Monday.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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