After years of economic decline, due primarily to the demise of Weirton Steel, the city of Weirton may be ready for a period of substantial growth. Gaining more control over their own destiny through the state's home rule program could help city officials make that happen.
Among topics Mayor George Kondik plans to discuss in his annual State of the City speech Wednesday is the home rule proposal. City Council members held a work session on home rule Monday night.
Home rule is the name given to a pilot program by the state that allows municipalities to take certain actions normally not permissible under West Virginia law. Among communities involved in the concept for the past few years has been Wheeling, where officials are enthusiastic about home rule.
In Wheeling, home rule authority has allowed the city to streamline business regulations, alter its tax structure and take meaningful action regarding dilapidated buildings.
As yet, Weirton officials are only in the discussion stage of applying to the state for home rule status. Precisely what types of local authority they may seek has not been decided.
Clearly, however, Weirton is recovering from years of stagnation. Though its population continues to decline, the trend seems to have decelerated. The city has about 19,503 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, down from 22,124 in 1990.
Unemployment remains slightly higher - at 8.2 percent - than the state average of 7.9 percent. But there is good news: According to the Census Bureau, Weirton's per capita income, at $25,696, is more than $3,200 higher than the state average.
Kondik told a reporter recently that Weirton is "beginning to turn a corner." It certainly appears so.
Obtaining home rule authority could allow city leaders to move that process along at a faster pace. With input from local residents and business leaders, Weirton should apply for home rule as soon as possible.