By Peggy Mackenzie
The public hearing and second (and final) reading of Lewisburg’s second attempt to apply for Home Rule was approved unanimously by council at the Tuesday night monthly council meeting. Home Rule is a system by which a city is given the right to draft and amend its own charter and to regulate purely local matters without interference from the state legislature.
Back in 2007, the West Virginia Legislature created the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program and a Municipal Home Rule Board to oversee the program. Five municipalities were authorized to participate in the program.
In 2013, the program was extended and the legislature expanded the number of participating municipalities to 20, having found that the program brought innovative rules and novel municipal ideas to the local communities that participated in the program, which afforded those participating municipalities greater flexibility to operate in a more cost-effective, efficient and timely manner.
On Oct. 6, 2014, the Home Rule Board accepted the following cities into the Pilot Program: Bluefield, Buckhannon, Charles Town, Clarksburg, Dunbar, Fairmont, Martinsburg, Milton, Morgantown, Nitro, Parkersburg, Ranson, Shinnston, South Charleston, Vienna, and Weirton.
Lewisburg had applied at that time, but did not make the cut.
Then, last year, 14 additional cities were permitted to apply for the Home Rule Pilot Program. The city of Lewisburg is again applying for inclusion into the Pilot Program.
Lewisburg’s second application includes two category issues to present to the Home Rule Board for inclusion to the Pilot Program: 1) building and zoning administration enforcement provisions, permitting building and zoning administrators and /or city law enforcement officers to issue “on-the-spot” citations for external sanitation violation, and 2) the sale, lease or disposition of other municipal property, authorizing the sale of municipal surplus property without being required to advertise surplus property as a Class II legal advertisement or be sold at a public auction using an auctioneer.
A third category issue, authorizing the use of proceeds from hotel occupancy tax to fund public libraries, was dropped.
Mayor John Manchester said, in looking down the road, if approved for Home Rule, Lewisburg may submit other requests, especially those already vetted by other cities, generating a great chance of passage.
In other business:
• Willow Kelly, the new president of the Lewisburg Farmers Market presented a review of the 2015 market season, stating that of the 411 vendors $80,000 in profit was generated, averaging $200 a day in product sales.
• The Lewisburg Police Department’s annual report, presented by Deputy Chief Chris Teubert, included a reminder to the community that the job is dangerous. Teubert noted that three murder attempts were made on Lewisburg police officers in the course of performing their jobs during 2015. The mayor lauded the department, crediting Chief Tim Stover, for their professionalism and integrity.
• Fire Chief Wayne Pennington had different issues to present with the Lewisburg Volunteer Fire Department’s annual report. The call volume has increased, and having lost two volunteer fire fighters, he said he must begin an intensive recruitment program to bring in young blood. The median age of the department’s crew is 47 years of age.
Pennington also said the lack of manpower means that at no time are there more than two available volunteers on duty. The problem is when called to cover a fire, without the mutual aid from the Fairlea Volunteer Fire Department, the department cannot meet the minimum requirement of four firefighters in place to aggressively combat and put out the fire of a burning building. This is a state-wide issue, Pennington said.
Asked about viability of the fire fee fund, Pennington said the fund, now at $72,000, will be allowed to build for two years to be affective as a funding source for major fire department expenditures. Manchester confirmed the fire fee fund as “good stewardship in providing for the long-term health of the department.”
• Public Works Director Roger Pence reported on a plan for traffic calming in the Court and Church streets area, proposed by TAG Galean and John Francis. Pence said the cost of hiring Chapman Technical Group for the job is estimated at $12,600 for construction of potential sidewalks and speed bumps.
Another project Pence mentioned is a trip-hazard sidewalk repair program for the many broken and cracked sidewalks around the city. The program would cost up to $13,000 to repair 168 identified hazardous sidewalks in disrepair.