Officials in Fairfax County, Va., are considering switching to a city form of government. This shift would enable the government to earn more revenue, exert more control over roads and possibly gain more regional influence.

With a 2007 population of just over 1 million, Fairfax County is the most populous jurisdiction in both Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area, according to the county government Web site. The county is primarily urban, according to the Web site, with one of the nation’s highest median household incomes. Its borders run along the Potomac River close to the District.

Fairfax County already operates under a different system than do other counties in Virginia. Fairfax County’s structure, called the urban county executive form of government, is among the most centralized forms of county government. This is an optional form of county government in Virginia, according to the Fairfax Web site.

“Fairfax County has a unique form of government that gives it more influence than other counties,” said Ted McCormack, director of governmental affairs at the Virginia Association of Counties.

The major factors to motivate a shift to a city government, according to McCormack, include access to a few additional sources of local revenue and the possibility of more direct control over the construction and maintenance of local roads. A third advantage to the proposed change is that, as a city, Fairfax could operate under a municipal charter, which would give it more influence in the area.

There are, however, some disadvantages to moving toward a city government. One primary drawback is simply that the change involves a long and difficult political process, McCormack said. If the county were able to complete a shift to city status, it would also have less sovereign immunity, according to McCormack. Sovereign immunity makes it difficult to bring a legal suit against a government, but it protects cities to a lesser extent than it protects counties.

There are also challenges for the Fairfax County officials’ plan. The city charter would have to be approved by the General Assembly in Virginia. This assembly is largely made up of rural or suburban lawmakers, who would not likely pass an amended charter with all the rights that Fairfax city would want.

There is also a provision in Virginia law that does not allow for new cities to be approved until 2018. This provision could be overridden, but it does pose a challenge, according to The Washington Post. There could also be problems with the allocation of funds to the city and the taxation system, according to the Post.

Bearing these challenges in mind, it is not certain whether Fairfax County will take further steps toward becoming a city.

“Ultimately, the choice should be made in part by the people of Fairfax itself,” McCormack said. “I have no opinion on [the possibility of a move to city government] because I’m not a resident of the county,” McCormack said.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.