Consolidated city/counties vs. independent cities

A recent thread discussed county governance, and included the following link:

I can see where consolidated city/county government makes sense for a place like San Francisco, where the city and county are coterminous. But how does it work in a place like Augusta/Richmond County, Georgia, where the county is much larger than the city? My atlas shows other small towns in Richmond County, such as Blythe, Hephzibah, and McBean. Have their residents been incorporated into Augusta against their will?

Also, can someone from Virginia please explain the theory and practice of independent cities? My atlas shows that Charlottesville is the county seat of Albemarle County, but it isn’t in Albemarle County. It’s an independent city. What’s with that? Does Charlottesville duplicate all of the functions normally performed by a county, such as assessing and collecting its own property taxes and electing its own state’s attorney? Or is this “independent city” stuff just a polite fiction to stroke municipal egos?

In VA, cities are indeed independent of the counties surrounding them. They have separate municipal governments and provide all of the services that would otherwise be provided. Towns can also be independent from the counties surrouding them.

It depends on the locality, too. In NY, cities are part of a county and have two levels of government. But it’s the same with townships – you pay taxes to both the town/city and county. If you set up an incorporated village, you pay a third level of tax.

The reason for it is that the city can provide different services than a county can.

Yes, indeed. Virginia has the strangest county/city system in the country. However, cities are not necessarily independent of the county in which they exist. They have to have a referendum to acheive ‘independent’ status.

There’s actually a movement underway for the rural crossroads on which I live to incorporate and declare itself independent. In the 1800s the area was called ‘Mechanicsville’ and some residents are attempting to revive it. Their goal is to control the zoning code in our valley to prevent development. I might just run for mayor.

Also, in some cases independent cities and the surrounding counties share venues and services. Fairfax City, for example, allows their records to be maintained by the county for some fee.

So it’s complicated. Just like we like it.

In VA, cities are required to have charters approved by the General Assembly as set out in 15.2-201 of the Code, and the request for a charter has to come either from popular referendum or public hearing in lieu of a referendum as was pointed out by Chance. I’m not aware of any city that is not independent of adjacent counties in VA though.

What about Herndon, plnnr? It abuts both Fairfax County and Loudoun.

Or am I misunderstanding you?

Herndon is a town, not a city.

You mean that independent cities and independent towns fall under different rules?

My understanding (I learned all this for the Virginia Bar about a year+ ago) is that cities are totally independent from counties. They must be 5,000+ people at the time of incorporation, they must have a legally approved charter, and they are responsible for all of their own services and regulations. In fact, if you had an accurate map of Virginia counties, it would have holes cut out where are the cities are.

Towns are not cities. They must be 1,000+ people at the time of incorporation, and they are typically still part of the county in which they are situated. They share certain services with the county (typically things like trash and snow removal, possibly but not necessarily fire and police), but they also provide some of their own services; towns also usually have control over their own zoning. It may be possible for a town to become legally independent of its county; it is impossible for a city to be anything but independent.

In Virginia, cities and towns are very different animals and have very different rules.



Towns are defined as “an incorporated community within one or more counties…which has within defined boudnareis a population of 1,000 or more and which has become a town as provided by law.”

Cities are defined as “an INDEPENDENT (emphasis mine) incorporated community…which has within defined boundaries a population of 5,000 or more and which has become a city as provided by law.”

Additionally, town charters and city charters provide the exact powers of the respective bodies, the limits of which are different for towns and cities.

IIRC, Herndon is a town within Fairfax County. They do have their own police force (sheriff, police, ICR), butI do believe they’re not independent from Fairfax Co.

When I moved from Colorado to Virginia, I had to call back my old county for some records. The woman asked for the city and county that I lived in. I explained that I lived in the City of Alexandria, but that it was not within a county. She wouldn’t accept that, probably because her computer wouldn’t let her leave that field blank. I suggested she get a map, look at Alexandria, and tell me what county I was in. She relented; I think she just put Alexandria in the county field. :rolleyes: