The Commission On Local Government Finds a New Home
On July 1, 2003, the Commission on Local Government (COLG) ended its 22 year career as an independent state agency, and was merged with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The merger was one of the recommendations of Governor Mark R. Warner’s Commission on Efficiency and Effectiveness that was appointed to streamline state government. The transition of the commission into a component of DHCD, however, did not change its duties, and the five member collegial body continues to perform all of its assigned statutory responsibilities (i.e., review of proposed boundary changes and interlocal agreements, analysis of proposed legislation and local government fiscal condition, etc.). Along with the commission, three of its former its full time staff and one of its part time staff were transferred to DHCD to provide technical and logistical support for the collegial body. While the offices of the commission were relocated to DHCD’s headquarters at the Jackson Center on North 2nd Street in Richmond, its telephone number and website location remain the same.
ROLE OF THE COMMISSION
As provided in the Code of Virginia, the commission is comprised of five members who are required to have knowledge and experience in local government, and they can hold no other elective or appointive office while serving. Over the course of its 23 year history, the members of the commission have been drawn from the ranks of former elected or appointed local officials at the county, city, or town level, which has enabled them to bring a wealth of experience to the resolution of interlocal issues. The current members of the Commission on Local Government are Frank Raflo of Loudoun County, Chairman, John G. Kines, Jr. of Prince George County, Vice Chairman, Harold H. Bannister, Jr. of
Fredericksburg, James J. Heston of Westmoreland County, and Geline Williams of Richmond.
Commission Chair Frank Raflo, who recently resigned due to health issues, served on the commission for 17 years. Prior to that, he was the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. He was also the former mayor of Leesburg. In addition, he served on the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and a term as the president of the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo).
Vice Chair John G. Kines Jr. has served since 2003 when he was appointed by Governor Mark Warner. He is the former Prince George County Administrator, and secretary-treasurer and director of the Appomattox River Water Authority. He worked as the planning and zoning administrator for the town of Culpeper, and is an enthusiastic member of the Virginia Local Government Management Association (VLGMA).
James J. Heston, a member of the commission since 1995, is the former Westmoreland County Administrator. He served as a member of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission, was on the Governor’s Area Manpower Council, and served on both the Westmoreland County Transportation Safety Committee and the Planning Commission.
Ms. Geline B. Williams has been on the commission since 1996. She was formerly the mayor of Richmond, and was part of the planning commission, the regional planning district commission, and was the chair of the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization. She also worked with the National Leagues of Cities on that association’s energy, environment, and natural resources policy committee.
Harold H. Bannister Jr. was appointed to the commission this year. He was on the Fredericksburg
City Council, and a member of the Rappahannock Area Development Commission as well as the city’s parks and recreation commission.
The role of the commission has undergone a number of changes since the Virginia Review published a profile of it as relatively new agency in January 1982. As that article noted, over the span of just two years, the commission had begun to play an important role in the field of interlocal relations in the Commonwealth. Its establishment was part of the 1979 comprehensive revisions to Virginia’s laws guiding local boundary changes and governmental transition actions. That legislation included provisions creating an expert body of persons with experience in local government to assist the state and its political subdivisions in resolving issues surrounding municipal annexation.
The stated purpose of the General Assembly in establishing the commission was to create “. . . a procedure whereby the Commonwealth will help ensure that all of its localities are maintained as viable communities in which their citizens can live.” Toward that end, the commission was given the dual responsibility as both a fact finding body and a mechanism for the negotiation of local boundary change and governmental transition issues.
With respect to its fact finding role, the statutes require that the commission must review actions for municipal annexation, county immunity from city annexation, the reversion of a city to town status, and the creation of a new independent city through consolidation or transition. In addition, the commission is required to review most agreements between localities concerning annexation and revenue sharing. The results of the commission’s review, which is required to be based upon the standards and factors found in Virginia law, are published in a report that is submitted to the affected localities and any court that may ultimately hear the issue. While the commission’s report is nonbinding, it may be introduced in evidence in subsequent legal action.
In terms of its mediation responsibilities, the commission may assist local governments in negotiating a settlement of boundary change and transition issues. The mediation role is included as both a general power of the commission as well as one of its specific responsibilities. Because of the tension between the dual role of the commission as both fact finding and mediation, the statutes forbid the commission from including in its reports any offers or statement made in negotiations. Further, such offers and exchanges cannot be introduced in any subsequent court proceeding between the two parties.
Despite the apparent success of the 1979 changes to the state’s annexation laws in reducing much of the rancor surrounding municipal boundary change issues, by the mid 1980s there was a growing concern in some localities that contested annexation issues remained costly for the counties surrounding medium and small size cities. To address that and other perceived problems, in 1987 the General Assembly created the Commission on Local Government Structures and Relationships, also known as the Grayson Commission after its chairman, Delegate George Grayson of Williamsburg. The purpose of the Grayson Commission was to review Virginia’s annexation and municipal incorporation laws. In order to afford the commission an opportunity to study those issues without creating a “rush to the courthouse” by cities seeking to grandfather their annexation authority and towns wanting to preserve their ability to become cities, the legislature also placed a “temporary” moratorium on city initiated annexation actions and the granting of charters for new independent cities. While the 1990 final report of the Grayson Commission did not result in any changes to the state’s annexation laws, the General Assembly has continued to extend the moratorium that is currently scheduled to expire in 2010. Thus, at the end of that period, cities will have been barred from filing for annexation for 23 years (1987–2010). Cities may expand their boundaries, however, with the consent of the affected counties. However, because town boundary expansions do not reduce a county in land area and population and do not affect in any major way its fiscal base, towns are not barred from initiating annexation proceedings. Today, much of the commission’s work involves the review of boundary change agreements between towns and counties. Recently it has also analyzed proposals for the reversion of a city to town status, a revenue sharing agreement, and the incorporation of a new town.
During the course of its existence, the commission has been assigned a number of other responsibilities beyond the analysis of boundary change and transition issues. Those duties include:
- Preparing fiscal impact statments on any proposed legislation that would impose a net additional expenditure by any county, city, or town or that call for a net reduction of local revenues. The fiscal impact statements summarize the prospective effect of the bills on localities, based on the analyses of local officials from a representative cross section of localities throughout the Commonwealth.
- Publishing the annual report analyzing the theoretical revenue capacity, revenue effort, and fiscal stress of each of Virginia’s 134 counties and cities, components of which are used by approximately 11 state agencies to distribute about $500 million biennially in various state aid funds.
- Overseeing the process by which all state executive branch agencies critically assess the mandates on local governments that they administer to determine which mandates, if any, might be altered or eliminated without interruption of local service delivery or undue threat to the citizens of the Commonwealth.
- Publishing the annual catalog of all state and federal mandates applicable to Virginia’s localities, one of the few such documents produced in the nation.
- Publishing the annual report on local government revenues and expenditures resulting from the acceptance of cash proffers, a zoning procedure used to lessen the possible negative effects of a proposed development.
Beginning in 1987, the commission also provided staff and program support to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR), a 22 member body that served as a forum for discussing areas of mutual concern to local and state officials. However, at the recommendation of the General Assembly Joint Subcommittee to Study the Operations, Practices, Duties, and Funding of the Commonwealth’s Agencies, Boards, Commissions, Councils and Other Governmental Entities (HJR 159, 2002), the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations was abolished by the 2004 General Assembly.
As with other state agencies, the General Assembly has assigned to the commission responsibility for conducting or assisting with the conduct of studies of various local and interlocal issues. The Commission on Local Government has studied the impact of annexation on localities and the impact of neglected or abandoned for profit cemeteries. Commission staff supported studies on Virginia’s state and local tax structure and regional service delivery in the Richmond area. Moreover, beyond those studies assigned by the legislature, the commission has also published reports on local source revenues and operating expenditures by Virginia counties and cities, regional structures in North America, and urban revitalization programs.
The commission also established a website where most of its recent reports, procedural abstracts that explain Virginia’s intricate boundary change and governmental transition laws, various local government fact sheets regarding the statutory environment for localities in Virginia, and local government fiscal data are available for downloading.
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