Next Virginia City?

Leesburg dropped efforts to have the option to become an independent city in 2020
Leesburg dropped efforts to have the option to become an independent city in 2020
Source: Loudoun County, GeoHUB

The General Assembly placed a moratorium of annexation by large cities in 1971, then expanded the constraint to all cities. A brief period after 1979 allowed annexations again, with a new process involving the Commission on Local Government, but 1986 legislation again blocked the expansion of cities by involuntary annexation of land in counties or towns.

In addition, conversion of towns directly into cities has been blocked. The last towns to become cities in Virginia were Manassas and Manassas Park, in 1975.1

Creation of new cities has not been banned. Multiple local governments within a county could merge to create a new city, and a county could become a city. However, all efforts to convert a county into a city or to merge local governments to form a new city have stopped before they reached the stage of a voter referendum, or have been blocked by voters.

For example, in 2009 the county executive in Fairfax County explored potential conversion into city status. That would have granted local officials greater flexibility in imposing a meals tax and other taxes without a voter referendum. Voters had rejected a proposal to create a meals tax in 1992, despite advocacy by the county supervisors. If the Fairfax County elected leaders became a city council rather than a Board of Supervisors, they could establish the tax without a voter referendum.

As a city, local officials also would have more authority for managing transportation infrastructure. Counties depend upon the Virginia Department of Transportation to manage roads and even determine where stoplights and stop signs can be installed, but cities have direct control over their local roads.

Fairfax County supervisors did not endorse the county executive's trial balloon in 2009, and in 2016 voters again rejected a meals tax. In 2020, the General Assembly changed state law and allowed counties to create a meals tax without a referendum, eliminating that incentive for Fairfax County to become a city.2

Covington, Clifton Forge, and Alleghany County proposed merging to form the City of Alleghany Highlands in 1987. Clifton Forge reverted to town status in 2001, but in 2011 citizen groups in City of Covington and Alleghany County created a proposal for merging into a new city.

The General Assembly approved a charter for a new City of Alleghany Highlands, which would replace Virginia Beach as the state's largest city by land area. However, voters in both Alleghany County and the City of Covington rejected the proposal. The chair of the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors noted:3

The really rural people felt intimidated with the idea of being a city and I think the city of Covington was really concerned about losing control.

Leesburg, one of the most-populous towns in Virginia, could become the 39th Virginia City. It included in its annual legislative agenda between 2015-2019 a desire for lifting the moratorium on towns seeking city status.

However, Leesburg officials dropped that item in 2020. There was no evidence the state legislature would be responsive to the request, and the town council decided to drop an issue opposed by Loudoun County while trying to negotiate a voluntary boundary line adjustment.4

Local Government Autonomy and the Dillon Rule in Virginia

Merging Local Governments

Virginia Cities That Have "Disappeared" - and Why

Virginia Counties That Have "Disappeared" - and Why

Virginia Towns That Have "Disappeared" - and Why

Why There Are No Towns or Counties in Southeastern Virginia

Links

References

1. Andrew V. Sorrell, Bruce A. Vlk, "The Virginia News Letter," Weldon Cooper Cener for Public Service, University of Virginia, Volume 88, Number 1 (January 2012), p.3, https://newsletter.coopercenter.org/sites/newsletter/files/Virginia_News_Letter_2012_Vol._88_No_1.pdf (last checked September 29, 2020)
2. "Fairfax County Executive Suggests Converting to a City," Washington Post, July 1, 2009, https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/30/AR2009063003885.html; "Meals tax more likely in Fairfax, but not anytime soon," InsideNOVA, April 28, 2020 https://www.insidenova.com/news/business/meals-tax-more-likely-in-fairfax-but-not-anytime-soon/article_6d69e5c4-893b-11ea-82e3-176e5e47f665.html (last checked September 29, 2020)
3. "Report on the City of Covington – County of Alleghany Consolidation Action," Commission on Local Government, May 2011, https://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/sites/default/files/Docx/clg/local-gov-consolidation/city-of-covington-county-of-alleghany-consolidation-action-may-2011.pdf; "HB 1770 Charter; City of Alleghany Highlands," Legislative Information System, Virginia General Assembly, 2011 Regular Session, https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=111&typ=bil&val=HB1770+; "Alleghany County, Covington voters turn down merger," The Roanoke Times, November 8, 2011, https://roanoke.com/archive/alleghany-county-covington-voters-turn-down-merger/article_ac275a3c-a234-5b11-a4ed-472071325f6a.html (last checked September 29, 2020)
4. "Leesburg Council Sets Legislative Agenda, Without City Status Push," LoudounNOW, September 28, 2020, https://loudounnow.com/2020/09/28/leesburg-council-sets-legislative-agenda-without-city-status-push/ (last checked September 29, 2020)


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