An explanation of Home Rule
The town government is considering applying to participate in the Home Rule Program. Generally, municipalities may exercise authority specifically granted to them by the state of West Virginia. However, with Home Rule Authority, a municipality may pass ordinances without regard to the Laws of West Virginia with some exceptions, (ordinances contrary to the U.S. Constitution, Federal Law and certain West Virginia Laws and Procedures).
As part of the process, a Public Hearing was conducted on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at Town Hall. Shepherdstown is hoping to submit an application by April 4, to fill one of the three remaining slots for Class IV municipalities. The town government feels that by applying for Home Rule, our chances of maintaining our town will continue by sound financial planning.
The council provided several suggestions for possible ordinances, I will touch on a few. It was suggested that an ordinance be submitted to begin serving alcohol at restaurants at 10 a.m. on Sundays. The West Virginia Legislature has failed to pass this “Brunch Bill.” By passing our own “Brunch Bill,” we would increase visitors to the town. This would increase sales at eateries, shops and allow tourists to revel in the historic nature of Shepherdstown. This ordinance may also encourage businesses at the edge of town to request annexation. If annexed, the Hotel-Motel tax would increase, providing needed revenue to the Visitor’s Center. Shepherdstown would benefit from the property, and beer, wine and liquor taxes.
The Home Rule designation may allow the town to place crosswalks on the state roads, erect signs, set speed limits and possibly maintain the bridge over the Potomac. The town will also request that a 1 percent sales tax be added on to the current 6 percent sales tax. This one percent would be remitted to the state and returned to Shepherdstown. One penny from a dollar seems reasonable in light of the effort that is made to attract visitors to our town. A 1 percent sales tax is passed along to the consumer, and most consumers shopping in Shepherdstown are definitely not going to shop elsewhere, just due to the extra 1 percent. Most are traveling from out of state and are accustomed to such sales taxes. The 1 percent sales tax is also no more work for the businesses, because they are already filing the state Sales and Use Tax form.
A B&O tax is based on gross revenue, without regard to expenses so you could be losing money and still owe the tax.
Landscaping, tree maintenance, street cleaners, snow removal and additional staff for the town events require a cost. However, these costs are absolutely necessary to put our best foot forward on a daily basis.
As the Video Lottery continues to erode by 31 percent, and operating costs continue to rise i.e. $110,000 for the annual cost of liability insurance, we must plan to find the endeavors that make us a destination. In 2020 the census will change, and if we continue to receive video lottery, our position may shrink as Charles Town and Ranson grow.
The Corporation also assists in providing funding to maintain the historic integrity of our town. For decades, there has been discussion regarding the fate of the Tobacco Warehouse. In the past several years, $50,000 plus grants have been spent to refurbish this historic structure and remove it as a money pit designation. Windows and utilities have been added as the Tobacco Warehouse may be open to providing a home for kayaks and canoes by this summer.
The town has also provided funds and guidance to assist with maintaining our historic cemeteries, which are an integral part of our foundation. Both Rose Hill and the Thomas Shepherd cemetery have benefited from our Video Lottery funds. But money is only part of the equation. Grants, donations and volunteer work are also part of “We are all Shepherdstown.”
In the public hearing on Feb. 23, there was much discussion regarding the role of the Shepherdstown Police Department in conjunction with the ABC. Chief King suggests that the Department may intervene if bars continue to serve past the 3 a.m. last call policy, and investigate complaints of underage drinking.
Lastly, the speed comes as a safety measure, but does not represent the friendly nature of our town. The Town Council will determine the future of this ordinance on March 8 at the next public hearing.
Thanks for reading, I hope it provides some clarification. Please remember the Town Council works diligently to make this a great place to live. They are residents and business owners, too.
Mayor James Auxer