How do cities incorporate new land?

I’ve been wondering how cities take over new territory, especially when that territory is already another city. I read about Richland Park and University Park becoming part of Dallas at some point in the past. Even my small city has sections that used to be other towns long ago. Who decides that it’s time for a city to grow? If it’s a suburb being taken over, does that suburb have any say in the matter? What happens to the government officials in that suburb? When was the last time this happened in the United States?

Annexation is pretty common, and usually pretty contentious when it takes place.

This is one of those questions that is wholly dependent on individual state law.

In New York State, e.g., a majority of the population of both the annexing and annexed area have to vote for the exchange in a referendum. Not surprisingly, this has put an almost total halt to annexations.

In some states, however, a municipality can annex contiguous territory by vote of the city council, as long as state law is otherwise adhered to.

There are probably 50 different variations on annexation law so one of our resident lawyers may be able to point to a resource that gives the range of possibilities. But annexation happens frequently, especially in the growing metro regions of the south and southwest. And still other variants, like the merging of city and county in Indianapolis and Jacksonville, FL, also occur.

Likewise in Missouri, an annexation vote must be passed by both the annexing and annexed areas. Surprisingly, perhaps, annexations still take place with some frequency.

As to what happens to government officials in the annexed area, quite simply, they’re out of a job. But even that can vary. In one place I lived, the annexing town turned the annexed town into a separate ward, so they would have their “own” person on the board of aldermen. Police and fire departments, if the town is big enough to have one, are often incorporated into the departments of the annexing area.

Well if some large city can annex one of its suburbs simply by a vote by the large city’s city council, what’s to stop a suburb from annexing the large city the same way?

And what are the advantages and disadvantages of annexing or being annexed?

Local government types are not created equal. In many northeastern states, a civil town or township is the most fundamental form of local political subdivision. A town cannot annex part of another town or a city, but cities can annex parts of towns. Towns only have limited home rule power in many northeastern and Great Lakes states.

In New York and Ohio, villages are an “overlay” onto towns. Villages are part of the underlying town, but they can’t be annexed by cities.

In the western US, there is no equivalent of an eastern civil township or town; there are just cities and unincorporated county areas. Yhat someone can live in an area that’s not part of a city, town or village is a difficult concept for someone from the northeast to grasp. Cities can annex unincorporated land; they’re not taking over part of another local political subdivision.

Don’t get me started on Pennsylvania boroughs.

In my case, it’s annexation, and it’s more similar to a hostile takeover. The neighborhood has remedies through the court system and in our case, every court held that the City was wrong for annexing our area and the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the lower courts verdicts.

My property taxes will now increase by approximately 50% and the ONLY city service that I now get that I didn’t have before is leaf pickup. Because our school system is one of the best in the state, we already pay more per $1,000 of assessed value than any other neighborhood and now we have to pay half again as much.

Annexation sucks.

Colorado used to allow annexation when the voters in the area to be annexed approved it. However, so many areas in the (then) suburbs were agreeing to be annexed by The City and County of Denver that a constitutional amendment (driven by those who feared the voters in their area might not be as smart as them) was passed that the entire county containing the area to be annexed must approve. When Denver wanted the proposed Denver International Airport (to be located in what was then part of Adams County) to be in Denver, the voters in all of Adams County had to approve the annexation.

North Carolina allows annexation of unincorporated areas without having to get the approval of the persons being annexed. The idea is that this keeps the rich suburbs from avoiding becoming part of the adjoining cities. Lawsuits in NC against being annexed almost always lose. I’ve also wondered if there was a formal ceremony when everyone takes down their “Stop Cary” signs.

An interesting comparison to annexation at the city-council level, is the ‘Common sense revolution’ merger of cities into Megacities in Ontario. In effect, the province wrote new legislation to amalgamate cities in the Toronto and Hamilton area, among others… without the approval or consent of the individual communities.

I wonder if any state constitutions in the US would allow for this sort of thing?

My small city (about 15,000 people) just annexed a small neighborhood on our border. The area we annexed was unincorporated, meaning there was no local city administration; all services were performed by the county. So in exchange for having to pay extra taxes to the city, residents now get twice-weekly trash pickup and protection from our city police, among other perqs. It did take a lawsuit, though, and two sets of petitions. Predictably, residents of the new area were for the annexation, and absentee landlords were against it.

Not really. In the US, there’s a very strong tradition of local home rule and self-governance that dates back to post-Revolutionary War times. Although it makes sense to consolidate local political subdivisions, it would be seen as an affront if the state forced it.

There are a few exceptions. In Ohio, very small villages can be forced out of existence; one instance was New Rome.

I know the OP asks about the US specifically, but for comparison.

In Spain all the land is already part of some town or other. Some new towns were founded in the '50s and '60s, but very few. Barcelona stopped incorporating neighboring towns in the 1910s, Madrid didn’t stop until the 1950s.

The ranking of kinds of towns in Spain is Ciudad, Villa, Pueblo, Aldea, Lugar. A place can be one or another based on historical reasons: Madrid is the capital and the most populous city, yes, but it’s a Villa. There are Ciudades with only 200 inhabitants.

A few years back, the government drafted a law that would force places below 501 inhabitants to merge with their least-populous neighbor (so long as the neighbor was in the same province). Fitero, a Ciudad that was founded by the Romans, had a population of 497: City Hall offered a free house for a family of at least four to move into town. There were places short 20 people; short 30. Many of them would have had to merge with locations that had a lesser category.

Many people changed their census records: they’d been born in some village, left it for the big town years before, but when faced with the notion of being forced to join with the neighbors from just across the river (which may have been close as the crow flies, but can be one hour away as you drive to the nearest bridge), they just suddenly went back home. Uh-hm. To, you know, the third roofless house on the right as you enter the village, eh…

The government figured out it was a Bad Idea before it even got to be discussed in Parliament, but many people didn’t change their records back. Third roofless house on the right, yessir, and the wife is living five villages away in another house that’s not just roofless but missing two walls.*

  • many villages have 10x the population in August as in December. These people actually go there for vacations, for local festivals or when they retire. But they don’t really “live” in the village, no.

In Ohio, there are no “towns.” There are “townships,” which are unincorporated subdivisions of counties. Ohio has two kinds of incorporated municipalities – villages and cities.

In Massachusetts ALL of the land is inside its 351 cities and towns so there can be no annexation. Maybe swaps to clarify boundaries.

In N.C. there are two basic types of annexation, voluntary and involuntary. A property owner near a municipality can petition to be annexed voluntarily by a vote of the governing board. This is done every day so that the utility infrastructure can be extended to the parcel so the owner can build on it or so that s/he can pay the lower utility billing rate that goes with being inside the municipality. They usually bill utility customers outside the muni limits at a high premium.

The involuntary process takes a year or more, if the “victims” don’t sue-then it can take several years (for them to lose and pay lawyers instead of taxes for the interim). Once annexed, the muni has a certain number of years to provide the same level of muni services to the “victims” as it does to the other parts of the muni. If it’s a large area, the muni usually has to build a fire station or two (or buy the VFD out) and they start policing (and taking) the area immediately. There are also lots of eligibility rules about satellite vs. contiguous parcel annexations.
Some towns wage hot battles over which one can annex intervening parcels, sometimes leading to court cases and judicial decisions to solve the disputes.

Interesting information. That New Hope, OH link has got me wondering: What does it take to form a town? Assume one is outside the city limits of any town. What must he (and perhaps his neighbors) do to become recognized by the state as an official town? And what are the minimum requirements?

“Towns” is the term in New England and New York for what are “townships” nearly everywhere else – space-filling county subdivisions with their own local governments. (It might be noted that much of the South has townships, but as the result of Reconstruction, and they have no government or powers; they’re merely useful in tax mapping, deeds, and related land documentation.)

In general, a city can annex land belonging to an adjacent town (or even non-adjacent land), most often only with the consent of the landowners* in the area to be annexed and of the town. Again in general, cities can annex adjacent villages, or towns in the like-a-village sense, again most often only with their consent.

In short, take a county and lay out a loose-mesh gridwork on it. Make each area demarcated by the grid a town(ship), and have it elect a local government. Within that: the most densely populated areas become cities, and are not part of the town they might lie partly within. The smaller areas are villages, and generally are part of the town.

Who can annex what, and with whose consent, is governed by state statute, and there are probably 51 different answers here. 51, because one overall answer is accurate: regardless of what the enabling statutes may require as a general rule, unless there is a prohibition on it in the state constitution the state legislature is free to supersede the general annexation requirements by enacting a special law for a particular case.

  • A question a few weeks ago about when can you vote somewhere other than the community of your primary residence? Here’s one case, in some states at least. If your legal residence is in Cleveland, OH, and you own land in New York that Syracuse, NY, is looking to annex, you get to vote on the annexation.

Southern Ontario is confusing as all hell to this American. I frequent lots of restaurants (and my hotel is in) Streetsville. But that’s part of the city of Mississauga, which is part of the Peel Region, which is part of the GTA, which is part of Ontario, which is of course part of Canada. No wonder a 24 of Blue costs CDN$35 friggin’ dollars: you’re paying tribute to six different governments!

Here in the SDMB I was educated to good degree about townships and counties and land surveying. It’s a good exercise in SDMB search function. Here in Michigan, then, we have “charter townships” (I live in one) that give the township a civil status comparable to cities such that we can’t be simply annexed. All we need is for some slum like Mt. Clemens to annex us, double our taxes, and decrease our services. Otherwise, townships are really just relics of our old land surveying system, and eligible for annexation practically on a whim.