UPDATE: Parkersburg has future plans for Home Rule

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. ( AP and WTAP) - Update: 3/13/2019

With Home Rule in West Virginia one step away from being permanent, the city of Parkersburg wants to move ahead with new plans to utilize it.

Before the regular session ended last weekend, legislators approved Senate Bill 4, which makes the program permanent.

The cities of Parkersburg and Vienna used Home Rule to levy a 1% sales tax and remove old unoccupied homes.

But Mayor Tom Joyce says the city has some other plans, now that Home Rule's future no longer appears uncertain.

"Perhaps even more important at this stage is the ability to use Home Rule to solve specific problems that are unique to cities," the mayor told us Wednesday. "One is the property maintenance issues we spoke about at a recent public works meeting. We have a few more steps to go through before we go to the Home Rule board with that."

Governor Jim Justice has not yet signed the bill into law.

But Mayors Joyce and Randy Rapp of Vienna are confident the sales tax will remain, even if the governor vetoes the bill.

Update: 3/8/2019 4:15 P.M.

One local member of the West Virginia Senate believes the bill continuing and expanding Home Rule for several cities will get final passage.

Mayors of Parkersburg and Vienna have been concerned about whether the bill will get final passage, with the current program set to expire later this year.

The House of Delegates this week passed its version of the bill, but the Senate still has to agree with House changes.

Sen. Mike Azinger says some amendments he had hoped to see int he measure were removed in the House.

"One was a referendum, recall that we tried to put in and was taken out," Azinger says. "Another was right to work, essentially mandating, some of these municipalities are not obeying the right to work law that we've passed, and this would just kind of firm that up."

Azinger agrees, however, Wood County communities benefit from the program, and that will get final approval and be signed by the governor.

The regular legislative session ends at midnight Saturday.

UPDATE: 3/7/19 5:21 P.M.

A bill that would make West Virginia's home-rule pilot program permanent has been passed in the House of Delegates.

The House approved the bill on an 87-11 vote on Thursday. It now returns to the Senate, which passed it earlier and must address House changes.

The pilot program was created in 2007 to allow participating cities to operate outside state code to address specific issues. More cities were added in 2014, and the program was slated to end this year.

Parkersburg and Vienna are both a part of the program.

The bill would allow more cities to participate.

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Local leaders are concerned about the future of a program approved by West Virginia lawmakers earlier in this decade.

The Home Rule program for cities is due to run out this year.

It's a program allowing cities to enact certain laws on its own.

Bills extending it permanently have been introduced in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.

While the House bill was tabled this week, a similar measure passed the Senate today and was sent to the House for consideration.

After the cities of Parkersburg and Vienna were accepted into the Home Rule program, both approved a 1 percent sales tax.

But under Home Rule, the taxes are currently collected by the state.

"If home rule is made a permanent program, the state tax department will continue to take care of that," says Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp. "If they don't, they may still have to take care of it, or we may have to do something else to deal with that issue of the home rule."

The program has also allowed both cities to take on other issues.

It has allowed the city of Parkersburg to renovate or demolish homes that were abandoned and deteriorating.

Delegate John Kelly says if the program were not extended, it could have an impact on several West Virginia cities.