Merging Local Governments

Virginia created its last county (Dickenson) in 1880. The 2010 Census found wide population differences between counties, from 2,319 people in Highland County to 1,081,725 people in Fairfax County.

One response to changing population patterns might be to realign boundaries of local government, to take advantage of economies of scale and provide services efficiently. New cities and towns have been created since then, but successful consolidations of towns, cities, and counties in Virginia are rare.

Virginia's local governments vary widely in population, and that affects the quality/amount of services that can be provided at the local level
Virginia's local governments vary widely in population, and that affects the quality/amount of services that can be provided at the local level
Source: Bureau of Census, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013

Since 1900, consolidations have occurred twice in Virginia between two independent cities: Richmond-Manchester in 1910 and Suffolk-Nansemond in 1974. Town-town mergers include Basic City merging into Waynesboro (1923), North Tazewell merging into Tazewell (1963), and Cambria merging into Christiansburg (1964).

City-county combinations include the City of Newport News expanding to include the entire county of Warwick in 1958, while the City of Virginia Beach absorbed Princess Anne County in 1963. Also in 1963, the City of South Norfolk merged with Norfolk County to create the new City of Chesapeake.

In other mergers, the Hampton (city), Phoebus (town), and Elizabeth City (county) consolidated into the City of Hampton in 1952. The towns of Holland and Whaleyville merged with Nansemond County to create the City of Nansemond in 1972.

Many mergers have been blocked by the state or rejected by local voters:1

Defeated Consolidations
Units of Government InvolvedProposed Name of Consolidated Government Year of Rejection
Hampton (city)
Newport News (city)
Warwick (city)
City of Hampton Roads1956
Richmond (city)
Henrico (county)
City of Richmond1961
Winchester (city)
Frederick (county)
City of Winchester1969
Roanoke (city)
Roanoke (county)
Name of City to be determined by voters1969
Charlottesville (city)
Albemarle (county)
Name of City to be determined by voters1970
Bristol (city)
Washington (county)
Name of City to be determined by voters1971
Front Royal (town)
Warren (county)
Front Royal - City or County form to be determined by voters1976
Pulaski (town)
Dublin (town)
Pulaski (county)
County of Pulaski1983
Staunton (city)
Augusta (county)
Consolidated County of Augusta and Tier City of Staunton 1984
Covington (city)
Clifton Forge (city)
Alleghany (county)
City of Alleghany Highlands1987
Emporia (city)
Greensville (county)
City of Emporia 1987
Roanoke (city)
Roanoke (county)
Roanoke Metropolitan Government1990
Clifton Forge (city)
Alleghany (county)
City of Alleghany1991
Bedford (city)
Bedford (county)
City of Bedford and Shire of Bedford1995

One alternative to merger is to abandon a city or town charter. Since 1990, South Boston, Clifton Forge, and Bedford have chosen to become towns, dropping their independent status as cities.

When a town abandons its charter, the town council is abolished and the town taxes are no longer collected; the area once encompassed by the town becomes an unincorporated portion of the county. In 2014, the Town of Columbia in Fluvanna County decided to dissolve, ending its incorporated status and making the county responsible for all municipal services.2

Columbia decided in 2014 to abandon its town charter and become an unincorporated portion of Fluvanna County
Columbia decided in 2014 to abandon its town charter and become an unincorporated portion of Fluvanna County
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Links

References

1. "Consolidation Actions In Virginia," Commission on Local Government, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, http://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/CommissiononLocalGovernment/PDFs/consolidation.names.pdf (last checked April 19, 2014)
2. "Columbia residents vote 18-1 to do away with town," Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 17, 2015, http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_3db2ebfa-fdbe-571d-9a87-9df333fe5449.html (last checked March 12, 2017)


Town/City Boundaries and Annexation
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