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Alleghany May Merge With Covington

January 23, 2011

By Danny Rathbun
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Senate is considering a series of bills that would allow Alleghany County and the city of Covington to merge into a new city called Alleghany Highlands.

Senate Bills 899, 900 and 901 would let the two localities consolidate and provide a charter for the new city. Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, who sponsored the bills, said they stemmed from a lawsuit by citizens of Alleghany County and Covington trying to force consolidation.

“The court appointed a committee of citizens from both the county and the city to come up with an agreement. What I’m carrying are the three bills that represent that agreement,” Deeds said.

He said the population of the area – which borders on West Virginia – has been dropping since 1960. Alleghany County’s population now stands at about 17,000; Covington has about 6,000 residents, according to the state population data center at the University of Virginia.

If they merge, the new city of Alleghany Highlands will have around 23,000 people – about the size of Staunton, Hopewell and Fredericksburg. Alleghany Highlands would be approximately the 20th-largest city in Virginia.

Consolidation will not only make the government more efficient but also help bring jobs back to the area, Deeds said.

“They’re looking at ways to reduce the levels of bureaucracy in government that business prospects have to go through to set up shop in the Alleghany Highlands,” he said. “And I think that in the long haul, it’s just going to be much more efficient from a taxpayer’s standpoint to have one government than to have multiple units.”

Deeds said this idea isn’t new: The area’s residents have been talking about consolidation since the 1960s, and the issue has been the subject of two referendums.

“There’s been a great concern that one way to stem the (population) losses is to bring people together, to confront the future from a united standpoint,” Deeds said.

“But of course, there are lots of people with lots of different views. The views of those who wish to remain separate have won the last two referendums, in ’86 and ’91.”

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Last week, the Senate Committee on Local Government voted 15-0 to approve Deeds’ three bills. The legislative package is now before the full Senate.

Despite the unanimous votes, some members of the Senate panel raised a question. It concerned Virginia’s unusual structure of local government, which consists of 95 counties (like Chesterfield County or Fairfax County) and 39 “independent cities” (such as the city of Richmond or the city of Bristol).

In Virginia, counties and cities do not overlap; you live in either one or the other. They each provide similar services, and they have the same weight in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau.

In contrast, in most other states, cities are laid on top of counties: You are a resident of both a city and a county; the city provides some services and the county others; the county’s governmental structure is separate from the city’s.

Some members of the Senate Committee on Local Government questioned whether it’s wise to establish Alleghany Highlands as an independent city.

“It’s been preached through the commonwealth that we are handicapped by the fact that we have this somewhat unique, ‘independent cities’ nature. … Why is it a good thing that we’re creating another?” asked Sen. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg.

Deeds cautioned that even if his bills pass the General Assembly, they still have a long way to go before they take effect.

“We’re still very early in the game,” he said.

“It will go from the General Assembly to the Council on Local Government, have to be approved there, then it will go to a three-judge panel, be approved there, and then it will go to referendum in both Alleghany County and the city of Covington,” Deeds said.

“And then, if it’s approved by the voters, only then will it take effect.”


On the Web

To track or comment on the bills creating the new city of Alleghany Highlands, visit the Richmond Sunlight website: