Safe in home rule

WHEELING – Weirton officials said people going to city clubs at 2 a.m. daily after bars close in Ohio and Pennsylvania create problems that the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration cannot address in a timely manner.

On Monday, leaders from Weirton joined those from Moundsville, Parkersburg and Vienna in Wheeling to present their applications for participation in the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program. Officials hope to gain the authority Wheeling, Charleston, Huntington and Bridgeport received in 2008, as 22 cities across West Virginia are seeking 16 available slots in the second round of home rule.

“We are looking at violent crime and gang activity. It is a tool that I believe will make our city a much safer place,” Weirton Police Chief Bruce Marshall told home rule board members Patsy Trecost, Floyd Sayre, Brian Jones, Chris Fletcher and Joshua Jarrell.

Marshall said he respects the ABCA agents, adding his department works well with them. However, he said it is very difficult to get an agent to the city in the middle of the night when Weirton has problems.

“We have 63 bars and clubs in town. And we border two states that close bars sharply at 2 a.m.,” he said. “Most of the establishments are not a problem, but a few are.”

Jarrell said he was concerned the city and state agencies would be issuing similar citations, but Marshall said his department is strictly trying to stop violent confrontations and drug deals.

As for the other provisions of the application, Mayor George Kondik said the city faces the same problems over and over again.

“This is very important to our state and our communities,” he said of home rule.

City Manager Valerie Means said there are numerous state roads in Weirton that DOH officials cannot monitor as closely as city leaders.

“We are there day-to-day. We see the problems,” she said.

Meanwhile, Moundsville leaders estimate they could collect more than $1 million annually by imposing a 0.5-percent sales tax.

“I am constantly having to say, ‘Sorry folks, you can’t do that,'” Moundsville City Attorney Thomas White told board members. “Cities are pretty hamstrung to be creative.”

City Finance Director Kathryn Goddard said the Moundsville business and occupation tax structure is “somewhat outdated.”

“We would be more business-friendly, and shift the burden to the consumers,” she said of imposing the sales tax while cutting the B&O.

In reviewing tax collection estimates Moundsville leaders presented, Sayre urged them to use caution.

“If you all are accepted in, I would caution you to go back in and check your numbers,” he said.

In addition to Parkersburg, Vienna, Moundsville and Weirton, Mountain State cities seeking home rule include Morgantown, Fairmont, Bath, Bluefield, Buckhannon, Charles Town, Dunbar, South Charleston, Clarksburg, Lewisburg, Martinsburg, Milton, Nitro, Oak Hill, Princeton, Ranson, Shinnston and Spencer. Officials in St. Albans recently saw their application rejected for not holding enough public hearings on the matter.

Following the board’s Sept. 8 meeting, members will consider all applications to determine which 16 cities can participate. Even if a city is accepted to the program, council members from that particular city must then pass individual ordinances to enact the provisions of its specific home rule plan.