Town Incorporation in Virginia

Town incorporation, in the Commonwealth of Virginia (VA), provides a community with a legally organized government body made up of local citizens with the authority to act in the best interest of their community. A town is a dependent political entity — meaning, it is dependent on the county, in which it resides, to provide certain essential services such as schools, courts, and social services. The only services that a town must provide are the services of comprehensive planning and zoning. All other legally allowable town services, such as law enforcement and road maintenance, are optional. A town is permitted to raise revenues by levying taxes to help pay for any services provided to its citizens, property owners, businesses, and visitors. These taxes may include real estate, vehicle license, food & beverage, transient occupancy, and business license taxes. A town is also entitled to receive state and federal funding to help pay for the cost of essential services.The only requirement for town incorporation is having a population of at least 1,000 inhabitants — Massanutten meets this requirement.

In 1964, the VA General Assembly established two processes for town incorporation. One process allows the VA General Assembly to directly charter an incorporated town via enactment by a two-thirds vote of its House and Senate. A second process allows for courts to incorporate a town via judicial proceeding upon a petition from community citizens. Regardless whether a community incorporates via either process, it does not legally require the approval or the support of any county, town, property owners association, or private corporation. Since 1964, only two communities have incorporated into a town and both were chartered directly by the VA General Assembly — Clinchco (in 1990) and Castlewood (in 1991, which did not have any County support).

Town incorporation via VA General Assembly enactment can be a relatively short, simple and inexpensive process, which is politically driven. Community citizens may request enactment through state legislators. The request must include a plat showing the proposed Town boundaries and a draft Town Charter to be enacted. The request is motioned by state legislators and then a vote is taken at a General Assembly session. If incorporated, the town would operate under the enacted Town Charter and elections would be held to elect town officials.

Town incorporation via judicial proceedings can be a relatively long, complicated and expensive process, which is legally driven. A petition must be signed by at least one-hundred registered voters residing in the area to be incorporated, and then submitted to the local Circuit Court. The petition must include a plat prepared by a registered surveyor showing the boundaries of the proposed town and include information delineating reasons why the proposed incorporation is desired, why it would be in the best interest of the inhabitants, and how the general good of the community is served by the incorporation. The Court must conduct proceedings hearing arguments for and against the proposed incorporation. If the Court determines the criteria for incorporation have been satisfied, it must enter a Court Order incorporating the area described in the petition as a Town. The Court Order must include provisions for electing the members of the Town’s initial governing body, who would serve until successors are elected pursuant to a Town Charter granted by the VA General Assembly.