This article explores the history of city-county annexation and its peculiarities that make the commonwealth of Virginia unique. Sorrell is a senior planner in Albemarle County's community development department and Vlk is programs director at U.Va.'s Center for Politics.
They write that a moratorium on annexation, in place since 1987, has helped promote more regional cooperation, but it has also caused some adverse effects. "Today many Virginia cities continue to have a large tax burden, more fiscal stress and less ability to develop than before the moratorium," they write. "The annexation moratorium is negatively affecting older cities' economic growth, and many counties are growing faster than the cities in which they surround." Furthermore, they point out, many smaller cities facing fiscal constraints are looking seriously at reversion to town status, placing them under the jurisdiction of a county.
Sorrell and Vlk assert that Virginia's unusual arrangement of having cities that are independent of adjacent counties might be at the root of local government disputes over financial cooperation. But that is unlikely to change, since "independent cities are a part of Virginia's genetic code, dating back to its colonial beginnings." Given that it is unlikely that a governor or the General Assembly will address the structural problems of city-county relationships any time soon they conclude: "Perhaps the best time to address such an issue would be the next time the Constitution of Virginia is revised. Only a fresh look could address the unusual structural issues that make Virginia and its annexation process unique."