This blog includes news about City Hall, city schools and other 22401 news.Pamela Gould reports on City Hall. You can reach her at 540-735-1972 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Robyn Sidersky reports on city schools. You can reach her at 540-374-5413 or email@example.com.
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City or town?
A few weeks ago, during the City Council’s work session at the Circuit Courthouse with Judge Gordon Willis, a few council members made comments about the possibility of Fredericksburg’s changing to town status if it couldn’t keep up with the costs of being a small independent city.
Councilman Fred Howe III brought it up as he talked about the city’s limited ability to pay for the large list of capital projects it has in front of it.
“That may mean we have to move to a town status,” he said.
Councilwoman Kerry Devine then cautioned that she didn’t want anybody leaving the meeting thinking that the council was seriously thinking about becoming part of Spotsylvania County.
“That has not been a topic of council discussion, and not one I would be in favor of,” she said.
Then, a few minutes later, the mayor himself brought it up again.
“We don’t want to revert to town status,” Tom Tomzak said, after noting the large price tag on the project and the fact that the council is divided as to whether a new court facility is needed. He went on to say, “We’re going to have to have the debate: Do we want to bear that burden as an independent city, or do we want to revert to town status?”
Now, let’s be clear, this is not a topic that anyone on the City Council has taken any serious steps to investigate or pursue.
It is an idea that typically comes up when discussions about really expensive capital projects like this get heated. But in my nine years of covering city government in Virginia, it is a line of thought that I have seen repeatedly when city officials start lamenting the many burdens that are placed on them by state mandates and the inequalities in state funding formulas, especially for schools.
What does it look like when a city waves the white flag and decides to revert to town status within a county?
We’re probably going to get to see in March.
Bedford, a city of 6,350 between Lynchburg and Roanoke, is in the process of reverting to town status. Bedford became an independent city in the middle of Bedford County in 1968.
A story in Sunday’s Roanoke Times looked at other fairly recent city reversions, including those of the former cities of South Boston and Clifton Forge.
A story in Sunday’s News & Advance looked more at residents’ attitudes toward the idea of losing city identity.
A few points worth noting:
- It’s a money thing. From the N&A story:
Now, more than 40 years later, finances are a catalyst behind reversion talks. Officials have said reversion could better position the city by “streamlining” services shared with the county. As a town, officials could petition to adjust boundary lines to take in more land. The state prohibits annexation for cities.
- The idea of city/county cooperation for schools, courts, utilities, etc., has come up a lot. Bedford already has some of this in place (don’t forget, it started life as a town within Bedford County). From the N&A story:
The city reimburses the county for a number of shared services, including education of city students through the county’s public school system.
- There is at least some thought that more of this could happen in other parts of the state. From the Roanoke story:
Many local government officials believe other cities — landlocked and facing revenue and funding drops and fierce economic development competition — might pursue reversion in the years ahead.
George Nester, Halifax County administrator, is one such official. His broad experience in local government includes a stint in Bedford County in community development.
“Cities in Virginia have pretty much been left to die on the vine,” Nester said. “More cities will have to look at reverting.”