Monday, April 29, 2013

Counties, Cities, and Towns in Va.

Virginia counties and independent cities
A map of the counties and cities of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  You will note that the cities are exclusive of the counties.

From state to state, the types of local government structures, and the relationship between them varies a great deal.  In New England, the township is the dominate local government body, rather than the county, and these exist alongside cities.  Indeed, in Massachusetts, all parts of the state are part of either a town or city -- in effect, the whole state is incorporated.  In the Mid-Atlantic and much of the Midwest, in a state like Pennsylvania, counties are divided into townships with the two structures sharing responsibilities, but some areas are incorporated as cities, as well.

In the South and West of the USA, the county dominates as the main structure of local government, and townships do not even exist.  Some parts of the county are permitted to incorporate and do so under a variety of names, usually city, town, or village.  In Georgia, for instance, all incorporated areas are technically cities, even if they are small, and prefer to be called towns.  Any territory not specifically incorporated in Southern or Western states is simply county land.

Virginia is highly unusual insofar as, while the county is the dominate form of local government as with its neighbors, incorporated areas take two uniquely distinct forms: cities and towns.

Cities in Virginia are politically independent of counties.  They are, in effect, urban counties.  Thus, the City of Manassas, despite being surrounded by Prince William County, is not in or part of Prince William County.  The capital City of Richmond, Virginia, is not in or part of any county.  If you ask someone in the City of Fredericksburg what their county is, the answer is the City of Fredericksburg.  Virginia has 39 such independent cities -- the rest of the United States has only three: Baltimore, Maryland, St. Louis, Missouri, and Carson City, Nevada.

Towns, on the other hand, while incorporated with their own government, are still within the territory of the local county, as most incorporated areas are in the rest of the United States.  Towns, for instance, do not have their own school systems or courts, as counties and cities both do.  So, functionally what is called a city in Georgia, is called a town in Virginia.

This chart gives a splendid breakdown of responsibility between the counties, cities, and towns of the Commonwealth of Virginia:

Live well!

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