Annexation Count-Down: Two Years and Counting. What Comes Next?

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is one of the few people, it appears, who is looking ahead to the year 2010 when a state moratorium on annexation expires. Unless the issues that inspired the moratorium years ago are addressed, Virginia could face a wave of bitter conflict between cities and counties. According to Ray Reed with the Media General News Service, Kaine wants to start a discussion with state legislators and city leaders.

A quick primer: When the drafters of the state constitution envisioned a system of independent cities and counties, they gave the municipalities different powers and authorities. The thought was that cities, as urban centers, would require greater fiscal resources to provide urban services to their citizens. Counties, by contrast, were overwhelmingly agricultural, and their citizens did not expect, or want to pay for, the same level of services. However, as growth spilled out of cities into neighboring counties, annexation gave cities a tool to incorporate surrounding urban settlement patterns and provide the citizens the services they desired.

The system worked as planned for decades. Then two things happened. First came the Civil Rights and the rise of the black vote. White-dominated city governments used annexation (or, it was feared they would use it) to annex white-dominated precincts of neighboring counties in order to preserve their white majorities. Clearly, this was a use of annexation not intended by the framers of the state Constitution.

Then came the rise of auto-centric development that hop, skipped and jumped beyond city boundaries. Cities had a nasty habit of annexing those districts with heavier concentrations of tax-paying businesses, leaving the citizens (with their craving for urban services) to the counties. Needless to say, the counties felt victimized by this cherry picking.

Those two trends led to the annexation moratorium. But that created a new set of problems as poverty became concentrated in cities, saddling them with high costs of crime fighting and social services, and new economic growth occurred in the counties. Despite the perceived inequities, counties and cities have lived relatively tranquilly ever since. Well, at least they haven’t been suing each other.

But that could all change. Kaine is not the only one looking down the road. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, says he’s concerned that cities may soon start filing annexation lawsuits.

Also, according to Chris Graham in the New Dominion, Del. Matt Lohr, R-Rockinham, authored a bill this session that would extend the original 15-year moratorium another 10 years to 2020. But Kaine vetoed the bill. Lohr worries that cities and counties may stop collaborating on mutually beneficial projects like water and sewer. Said Lohr: “Waiting until the last minute, as the governor suggests, only brings more harm to the problem. I learned on the farm many years ago that you don’t wait until the last minute to fix a fence.”

Kaine says that annexation is never coming back. Now is the time to think long-term about city-county relations, and that includes the ticklish issue of how to allocate state aid to localities and the idea of revenue sharing between localities. As Ray Reed quotes him, Kaine said:

“If I’m in Wise County and I know that I’m going to get some percentage of the state’s income tax collections, I’m pleading for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to be successful,” Kaine said.

“And similarly, if I’m in Norfolk I want Wise County to be successful.

“So, we have to build some mechanisms in place that give everybody a motive to help everybody else be successful,” Kaine said.

These issues won’t be easy to solve. But it’s nice to know that people are actually thinking ahead for a change.

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  1. Groveton Avatar

    “If I’m in Wise County and I know that I’m going to get some percentage of the state’s income tax collections, I’m pleading for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to be successful,” Kaine said.”.

    Pleading. Great. That’s what we need – people in Wise County pleading. Whatever that even means.

    Does “Richmond” ever take the time to listen to itself?

    They sound stupid.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    He got that totally wrong.

    It’s not about Wise and Fairfax.

    It’s about ADJACENT jurisdictions, both of whom are counting/depending on retail sales taxes to help offset real estate and personal property taxes.

    The oft-cited 70-30 “mix” number.

    The problem is that when you have adjacent localities, there is an incentive for them to try to have big enough retail to draw customers from the other side.. which would help them even more with their tax revenues – of course at the direct expense of the other jurisdiction.

    This has resulted in a retail/commercial “arms” race with many localities.

    Usually, the outer jurisdiction can get the upper hand since they have available undeveloped land for things like Malls and similar massive retail/commercial centers.

    But I’ve never been clear on what the legal justification is for a City to be able to annex in the first place.

    Because – in the end – that’s what causes the upheaval -the ability of cities to PREVAIL in their annexation appeals.

    If the chances were that their annexation attempts would fail, then this whole issue would go away.

    but Jim made another statement that needs to provide supporting evidence for and to have EMR weigh in on:

    …”The thought was that cities, as urban centers, would require greater fiscal resources to provide urban services to their citizens.”

    what does this mean in terms of sustainability of urban settlement patterns?

    now.. I’m truly sorry I had to ask that question because I know RH is going to chew on that like a dog on a favorite bone for far too many words.. so I do apologize.

    All I can do is plead with RD to keep it short and concise…


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    OK, pleading wasn’t the right word, but I think the meaning is clear.

    If Fairfax makes a really big economic score, the increase in Wise’s share of state collected taxes might be more than they could ever achieve on their own. heck,it might be more than all the economic development in Wise, total.

    And this section of the post is about revenue sharing, not annexation, so it is really Fairfax or NOVA and HR vs everyone else, as usual. Not just adjacent areas. As Bacon said, annexation is dead and not coming back.

    Those two areas represent what % of the total state income and sales taxes? Close to half? More than half?


    “The thought was that cities, as urban centers, would require greater fiscal resources to provide urban services to their citizens.”

    Well, I guess the founding fathers were smarter than our current crop of urban planners who seem to believe that urban spaces are somehow more efficient.


    But the real crux is that we have to build some mechanisms in place that give everybody a motive to help everybody else be successful.

    Wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air?

    Sounds a lot like the winners pay the losers in such a way that everyone comes out ahead. And, if that situation isn’t possible, well, then no one is better off by having the transaction, however it might look from the winning side.


  4. Groveton Avatar

    “But the real crux is that we have to build some mechanisms in place that give everybody a motive to help everybody else be successful.”.

    Doesn’t this require that the groups involved define “success” in pretty close terms?

    Consider two neighbors. One defines success as living a laid back rural lifestyle working their family farm making enough money to take care of their family and pass on the farm to the next generation. The other neighbor defines success differently. He owns a farm but works as a banker and wants to subdivide the farm for houses so he can raise the capital to found his own internet bank. He wants to found the bank so he can take it public and donate all the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.

    Who is the winner and who is the loser? How can they both get what they want?

    Now, multiply these differences by 10,000 and you’ll have my view of how far apart different regions in Virginia are regarding the definition of success.

    And if you can’t agree on success can you really expect to succeed?

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    This is very important issue and I applaud the Governor for trying to think about this issue. However, the politics of a change in our local government taxing structure is huge and to think that this administration can form some grand strategy on this issue in the next eight months is absurd.

    This administration is the most intellectually lighweight to occupy the office in years. If they thought transportation was tough, they ain’t seen nothing yet. Remember, the public wanted the politicians to fix the roads.

    This is the kind of policy idea that should have been on the table at the beginning of his administration and not the end. This will take years to work out the details and build a broad agreement.

    Ghost of Alexander Hamilton

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    “And if you can’t agree on success can you really expect to succeed?”

    Exactly right, Groveton.

    EMR and some others assume a standard for success and anything else is a failure.

    What I have said is not that we should do this or that, but we need to sit down and agree on a method of deciding what is best to do. And do that absent any cards on the table or dogs in the fight.

    I think it the basic situation is worse and more elementary than that we simply we cannot agree on success: we can’t even agree on a way to look for it.

    We have courts, as a means of resolving disagreements, but we don’t have ANY social structure that is designed to create agreements form scratch. The political parties are suppposed to do that, but they have abdicated that responsibility in favor of fighting each other.

    They have become like which magazines fighting over who can get the most subscribers and advertizing – never mind what the reader wants.

    Now, suppose somebody sat down and wrote out a procedure for reaching agreements. And suppose that anyone reading the procedure could see that it was clearly designed to give all entering parties a fair and unbiased evaluation: an answer no rational man could argue with – even if he didn’t like it.

    So, back to Who is the winner and who is the loser? How can they both get what they want?

    They can’t both get what they want, but the loser can get paid adequately for what he loses. If there isn’t enough to pay him fairly for his loss, then there is no sufficient winner to force the deal.

    The problem you pose is difficult but not impossible. We can agree on values for morbidity and mortality; it isn’t pretty but we can and do do it every day. A fundamental part of thei problem is exposing thes values and explaining how they are created. When we have a generally accepted way of doing these difficult assessments, the rest is easy by comparison.

    (The closer we get to the edge of the petri dish, the easier they will be to make. This is going to cause a huge problem for people who think they want to do good.)

    Once we have those, we can figure the probable value of a given mumber of dollars for cancer research. We know what the farm will bring, etc.

    In fact, once the numbers are exposed and agreed to, the banker might decide he’d rather give away swimming pool covers because it is more cost effective in saving lives.

    Now, if the banker sells his farm, it reduces the probability that the other farm can continue to succeed, but it also increases the farms value. At some point, sentimentality loses out. Maybe he gets to the point he can buy a nicer farm someplace else. We see this all the time: this is really a question of whtherthe banker or the farmer wants to sell first – and what the result is worth to the community.

    If we had a rational procedure for generating agreements it would include ways to work such things out.

    I might not like a particular outcome, but if the procedure is sufficiently robust, then a rational person ought to be able to see that the probable benefit to himself of all such decision procedures locally and globally is higher than the probable cost, should he get a bad result.

    Particularly if the procedure guarantees that much of the cost is mitigated.

    Suppose he banker doesn’t win? We dump all the data in the procedure and the answer comes back that the community is better off to keep the farms. Then the community would have to come up with the money to buy the banker out. If the banker wins, then he and the community would have to pay off the farmer for his losses.

    This is a key feature, because what people say they are willing to pay for is frequently a lot different from what they buy.

    The first step in success, is the true understanding that you cannot allow your protagonist to fail in the process.

    If you win a war you are a victor, but if you avoid the war without losing, then you are a success. We seem to have utterly forgotten the distinction.


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr. Bacon,

    If the moratorium was gone tomorrow, only 7 of 39 independent cities would be able to annex. The largest of these would be Lynchburg. Richmond, Roanoke, Martinsville, etc. lost their annexation authority in the early 1980s. You just need to closely study the law.

    Second, if you would study the few annexation decisions that were issued in the 1980s [Harrisonburg, Danville] and the annexation petitions filed by Petersburg and Hopewell in 1987, then you would clearly see that the cities did not ‘cherry-pick’ the areas for annexation.

    Finally, do you really believe that a legislature would actually let the 20 year-old moratorium expire?

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    There’s an interesting write-up of this subject at:

    then are more interesting links at the bottom:

    * Bureau of Census
    o Significant Changes to Counties and County Equivalent Entities: 1970-Present

    * Commission on Local Government

    o Virginia Localities

    o boundary change and governmental transition issues

    o comparative revenue capacity, revenue effort, and fiscal stress of Virginia’s counties and cities

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Urban growth boundaries will make annexation moot.

  10. Avenging Archangel Avatar
    Avenging Archangel

    Here in Hampton Roads, I’ve already heard whispered the “Who gets Isle of Wight County?” argument.

    This one could be like the Oklahoma land rush, with everyone trying to stake their claim.

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m a little amazed.

    Fundamental Change, at the least, seems to revolve around the “artificiality” of jurisdictional boundaries.

    and it would seem that the guru of Fundamental Change would have some thoughts about annexation and the consolidation cousins.

    I note that Culpeper City and County are on a track to ask citizens if they want to combine.

    so.. my point is that.. the impetus for changing boundaries (annexation) is, in fact, a potential forum to argue for boundary adjustments that might be better suited to more “balance”.


  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Urban growth boundaries will make annexation moot.”

    On The Commission on Local Government

    is some fascinating information with respect to the revenue sources for all of Virginia’s counties and cities.

    They also compute an ‘ability to pay’ index as well as a “stress” index.

    This data certainly could be used by any entity seeking expansion to buttress their case that an economic center just over their boundaries.. “belongs to them” by virtue of the fact that their people shop there.

    The jurisdictions in the Fredericksburg Area – are quite focused on who gets what sales tax and DO plan their Comp Plans accordingly – and as a result – we have semi-abandoned shopping centers.. left behind as each jurisdiction builds new retail venues to better “capture” sales taxes from the regional pool of shoppers – regardless of where they live ..jurisdictionally.

    If Kaine tackles this… I’d agree with an earlier post.. Transportation in terms of difficulty might be a cake-walk compared to this issue.

  13. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Anonymous 8:17, I will immediately roll over and play dead. I have no legal knowledge of the history of the annexation controversy. I defer to your expertise. What do *you* think the controversy is about now?

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Mr. Angel,

    Who will get Isle of Wight?

    Perhaps Suffolk because it needs vacant land for development [a requirement in law for annexation]?

    Maybe Franklin city [oops, there is a revenue-sharing agreement that bars forever annexation]?

    Oh, I know! Newport News since they are “adjacent” to Isle of Wight [another requirement in the law] if you ignore that little stream in between.

    No, I think Isle of Wight is safe for a very long time.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    It’s time to think in a metro framework. However, race, public debt, and personal/household income are the loud background noise that in many cases prevent these discussions in most Virginia regions.

    How else can one explain why Roanoke City and Roanoke County won’t merge? Or why Petersburg, Hopewell, and Prince George come together, or better still, why Martinsville and Henry County don’t merge and end duplicitious government.

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