West Virginia’s Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program has had a significant impact on the management of neglected properties and promises to have an even bigger impact in the future. Already, at least three home rule proposals affecting neglected properties have led to statewide laws:
- Municipalities may establish Vacant Building Registration Programs.1
- Municipalities and counties may obtain a lien on fire insurance proceeds for burned-out structures.2
- Municipalities may obtain a lien on property for unpaid fire, police, or street fees.3
The program enables communities to “test” a tool and demonstrate to the legislature whether the tool should be permitted statewide: communities are provided an opportunity to experiment with innovative ideas. In this way, even counties and towns that are not part of the Home Rule Program may eventually benefit from the lessons learned in test communities.
Definition of Home Rule
“Home rule” refers to a state constitutional provision or legislative action that provides a city or county government with a greater measure of self-government.4 Home rule involves two components: (1) the power of local government to manage “local” affairs; and, (2) the ability of local government to avoid interference from the state.5 West Virginia’s home rule pilot program is not a traditional form of home rule because local proposals must still be approved by the state.6
On March 10, 2007, the West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 747, creating the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program and codified at Section 8-1-5a. The Home Rule Pilot Program allows pilot cities to implement changes in all matters of local governance as long as the changes do not violate:
- The U.S. Constitution,
- the West Virginia Constitution,
- federal law,
- Chapter 60A (“Uniform Controlled Substance Act”) of the West Virginia Code,
- Chapter 61 (“Crimes and Their Punishment”) of the West Virginia Code, and
- Chapter 62 (“Criminal Procedure”) of the West Virginia Code.
The purpose of the legislation is expressed in the following two findings:
“Authorizing pilot municipalities and metro governments in West Virginia to exercise broad-based home rule will allow the Legislature the opportunity to evaluate the viability of allowing municipalities to have broad-based state home rule to improve urban and state development.”7
“It is the intent of the Legislature . . . to establish a framework for municipalities within which new ideas can be explored to see if they can or should be implemented on a statewide basis.”8
Communities are accepted into the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program in phases. Currently, a third wave of applications is being considered.
Only Class I, Class II, and Class III municipalities or metro governments were eligible to participate in Phase I of the pilot program. Up to five municipalities could have applied for the program, but only four submitted applications: Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington, and Wheeling. Each municipality provided a written plan detailing the state laws, policies, rules, and regulations that prevented the municipality from carrying out its duties in the most cost-efficient, effective, and timely manner. Each plan also detailed the problems created by these laws, policies, rules, or regulations and proposed solutions to the problems, including possible changes to ordinances, acts, resolutions, rules, and regulations. If the Home Rule Board approved the proposals, the municipalities were able to implement them by passing ordinances, acts, resolutions, rules, and regulations, as long as the proposals did not violate any of the restrictions stipulated in the program.
A Special Report by the West Virginia Legislative Auditor on Phase I is available at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Joint/PERD/ perdrep/HomeRule_11_2012.pdf.
The success of Phase I led to an expanded Phase II Home Rule Pilot Program in 2014, open to 16 new municipalities. Phase II received applications from 23 communities.
Senate Bill 323, passed in 2015, continues the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program until July 1, 2019. The ordinances enacted by the Phase I and Phase II participating municipalities may remain in effect until the ordinances are repealed.
Starting July 1, 2015, 30 Class I, Class II, and Class III municipalities and four Class IV municipalities, including those participating from Phase I and II, that are current on all state fees may participate in the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program.
For a more complete analysis of what municipalities have proposed under the home rule program related to dilapidated buildings see Appendix G.
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-12-16c (West 2015).
- Id. § 38-10E-1.
- Id. § 8-13-13.
- Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990).
- Michele Timmons et al., County Home Rule Comes to Minnesota, 19 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 811, 816 (1993).
- 6 Jesse J. Richardson, Jr. et al., Is Home Rule the Answer? Clarifying the Influence of Dillon’s Rule on Growth Management, Brookings Inst. Ctr. on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, Jan. 2003, at 9, available at http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2003/1/01metropolitanpolicy%20richardson/dillonsrule.pdf.
- W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-1-5a (West 2007) (current version at W. Va. Code Ann. § 8-1-5a (West 2015)).