Virginia cities and towns, together with urban counties in Northern Virginia, will press the General Assembly in January to settle the state's longtime annexation problems and to increase state aid to local jurisdictions.
This was the stand taken this week by the Virginia Municipal League, which acts as a spokesman for Virginia's 41 cities and 189 towns.
The three-day meeting attracted more than 1,200 local officials and administrators from cities and towns across Virginia, including 35 from Northern Virginia and some from the urban Fairfax and Arlington counties.
"Getting our share of state funds concerns us as much as anybody else," said Fairfax County Supervisor Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville), who is a member of the league committee that prepares proposals for the General Assembly. "We help ourselves by presenting a united front with the cities before our state legislators."
The Fairfax County supervisors canceled their regular Monday meeting this week to attend the municipal league convention, but only three of the nine supervisors made the trip to Norfolk.
Fairfax and Arlington counties, with their relatively dense populations, have long felt they have as much - and often more - in common with Virginia's cities as with the state's 95 other counties.
Fairfax County has fended off past attempts by neighboring Alexandria to annex land, and both Arlington and Fairfax counties have complained of the lack of sufficient state aid to provide needed services for their residents, particularly those services required by state law.
The convention, besides developing a "united front" to present to the General Assembly, also provided a campaign arena for the U.S. Senate race between Republican John Warner and Democrat Andrew Miller, a former Virginia attorney general, Miller and state Sen Joe A. Canada Jr., of Virginia Beach, speaking for Warner, addressed the convention at Monday's opening session.
The league, plans to press Virginia legislators, during their month-long session in January, to act on a complex bill that would, in effect, give cities additional state aid if they abandon attempts to annex adjacent county land.
Cities in Virginia - one of two states to have independent cities within counties - traditionally have regarded annexation as a way to recover tax dollars lost when residents move to suburban areas located in counties. In Virginia, annexation suits by cities have been settled in a special three-judge court, which has ruled on the basis of whether the city can prove it can provide better services to residents than a county. But as Virginia becomes more urban, counties often provide the same and sometimes better public services so that cities have fared badly in recent annexation cases.
Former Gov. Mills E. Godwin in 1977 signed a bill that imposed a 10-year moratorium on all annexation suits by cities with the provision that cities, represented by the Municipal League and the counties, represented by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO), would resolve the annexation issue.
Cities and counties, according to Municipal League officials, have finally agreed that cities should receive financial compensation if they cannot increase their tax bases by physical expansion. But by the end of the league meeting this week, nobody had agreed on how much money cities should receive or how the state could afford to pay it. Some state legislators feel the county should help pay, according to one league member, Martinsville City Councilman Barry A. Greene.
League members working on a special joint tax task force with VACO members to solve the annexation differences have said Virginia cities would need more than $100 million to pay for public services if they are not allowed to annex. The counties, however, object to that dollar figure, saying it is too high a cost to ever gain General Assembly support.
Two other, but less controversial, bills relating to the annexation - the three are called the Michie package after the bill's sponsor, Del. Thomas J. Michie (D-Charlottesville) - are expected to be acted on by the assembly. But the "money bill" as the first is called, remains the roadblock to settling annexation differences that have existed in Virginia for at least 75 years, according to Del. L. Cleve Manning (D-Portsmouth). Manning, however, said he felt "confident" that the coming legislative session would act on some type of annexation package that would provide "adequate" compensation to cities.
"But we're not going to be able to look any $100 million in the face," Manning said.
As cities lack annexation powers under the moratorium, and as counties continue to extend services to increasing numbers of residents, both types of localities continue to ask the state to return more of their local tax dollars and give them more liberty to seek other kinds of revene sources.
Responding to Proposition 13-style pressure from their constituents, local officials have told the state that real estate taxes cannot be pushed higher.
John W. Purdy, chairman of the Arlington County Board, asked league members to support Northern Virginia efforts to press the General Assembly to allow local jurisdictions to add 1 cent to the current 4-cent sales tax. The General Assembly defeated Northern Virginia's bid this year.
"I wish all of you would consider supporting that tax," Purdy said, addressing the league's legislative committee this week.