BUCKHANNON - City Administrator Michael Doss on Thursday presented what he called a "unique, bold and aggressive" application for the city of Buckhannon to join the state of West Virginia's Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program.
The program allows a local government more flexibility in passing its own laws within the limits of state and federal constitutions.
Although the cornerstones of the city's application will be detailed further at a public hearing slated for May 1, Doss briefed Council on its four key points.
The first proposal, he said, is the development of enterprise zones, which would be established by the city of Buckhannon for commercial and industrial use and development "whether that be new construction and new development or expansion of existing development or retention of development," Doss said.
"The zones would be identified and designated by Buckhannon City Council, and within those would be economic development tax incentives," Doss said. "The first incentive would be a municipal real and personal property rebate that would be a maximum of five years and up to 100 percent rebate on real and personal property as it relates to the city of Buckhannon."
The second incentive would be a business and occupation tax exemption of up to five years and up to 100 percent so long as businesses are meeting certain criteria on an annual basis, Doss said.
"This is a pretty bold, pretty aggressive proposal under our home rule," he said. "This is very unique. No other municipality in the state of West Virginia is doing this. No other state offers this type of economic development incentive.
"Where others are taxing and taxing, we are essentially investing in these companies on the premise that they're bringing jobs, they're bringing capital investment to our community and we are giving them exemptions and rebates in turn as they meet those criteria."
The second proposal deals with property nuisance abatement, a special property tax lien and the ability to issue on-site citations.
"Ever since I've started here, we've had an issue with one particular piece of property at the corner of Ritchie and Tucker Streets," Doss said, "and at Housing Board meetings, frustration has been expressed about our inability to go in and abate or remedy these nuisances."
"What this does is allows the city of Buckhannon to go in and properly abate that nuisance," he continued. "There has to be due process of law. We'll have to go to court, we'll have to get an order on that to abate that property, but once we go and we put up taxpayers' money to go and clean up that property, we would put a direct property tax lien on that individual's property tax, so the next cycle that they paid their property tax we would get that money (taxpayers') back."
The proposal would also authorize housing inspectors, zoning inspectors and law enforcement officers to issue on-site citations to noncompliant property owners - something the city is currently unable to do, Doss said.
The third proposal would allow for the civil service employment of part-time police officers.
Noting that crime and specifically drug activity is on the rise, Doss observed that police officers need other police officers to help them combat those issues.
"Resources for police officers are other officers," he said. "We may not have the ability to pay for a full-time officer, but those problems (increasing crime and drug activity) are still real, those problems are still there. This would provide the opportunity for our police department to hire part-time officers under Home Rule for more than a 90-day period."
Doss noted that Home Rule has a cap in place that would only allow the city to employ two part-time officers at a time. The third proposal would also increase the maximum age from 40 to 45 years for full-time police officers.
"Right now, anyone over 40 years old cannot apply to be a full-time police officer with the city of Buckhannon," Doss said. "Under this provision in Proposal 3, we're asking to increase the maximum age to 45 for full-time officers."
The fourth proposal in the Home Rule application asks that the city be allowed the flexibility to put surplus items and surplus realty on the Internet as part of online auctions.
"I think we have a duty to try to maximize what we can receive (for that property), and we can do that via online auctions by reaching a market outside of our general circulation area," Doss said.
Copies of the city's Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program Phase II Application are available for review at city hall, 70 E. Main St., in Buckhannon.
A public hearing will take place at council's May 1 meeting. The city's application must be submitted to the Home Rule Board in Charleston by June 2, Doss said.
"We are investing in economic development," he stressed. "It's very unique; no one else is doing that, and I think this is something other municipalities in the state of West Virginia could potentially latch onto."
Following a five-year trial run in four cities - Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling - the West Virginia Municipal Home Rule Program is expanding to allow more communities to participate in the program, according to information on the West Virginia Municipal League's website. Should its application be accepted, Buckhannon would be one of 20 communities in the Mountain State operating under the umbrella of Home Rule.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.