Commission on the Condition and Future of Virginia's CitiesOctober 13, 1998, Charlottesville
As called for in HJR 432, the commission organized a statewide summit to discuss the condition and needs of Virginia's cities. The purpose of the summit, which included over 200 local government, business and community leaders, was to establish a common base of understanding among participants regarding current and past conditions of Virginia's cities, educate and engage participants in the problems faced by cities by focusing on the causes rather than the symptoms, and bring attention to the work of the commission. While the focus of the summit was on the problems faced by Virginia's cities, the commission is planning to hold a second summit next year to focus on possible solutions to those problems.
The keynote speaker, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, emphasized the attributes of cities, including the cities' role as a hub or crossroads, a telecommunications center, and a place for people to gather and interact. He stressed the cities' role in providing essential services to the suburbs and noted that suburbs are healthier when the central city is healthy, whereas the problems of a city cannot be contained and will eventually creep to the suburbs.
Two panel sessions focused on financial issues and issues related to city services and governing structures. Among the assertions made by the panelists:
The summit concluded with small group roundtable discussions, a report from each roundtable group, and concluding remarks and instructions from Speaker Moss. In his remarks, the Speaker focused on the issues most often raised during the summit, including the need to examine tax restructuring, the increased funding of public safety under 599, examination of barriers to regional cooperation, and new means to address the problem of abandoned housing in urban neighborhoods.
- Virginia localities rely too heavily on property taxes but do not have enough flexibility to reduce such reliance;
- the current tax code reflects a 19th century economy and needs a complete overhaul;
- the regional amenities provided by cities benefit property values throughout the region;
- some state funding formulas are unfair in that they use local income as an indicator of local ability to pay, although localities can not tax income;
- the current impediments to local use of an income tax should be eliminated;
- the current trend of declining inner suburbs will continue;
- Virginia should address the "tyranny of easy development decisions"—it is easier and cheaper to build on the fringe of a region than it is to develop or redevelop closer in;
- current service obligations between the city and state are unbalanced;
- cities should not have to revert to town status to survive but should have adequate tools to survive as a city; and
- many of the dynamics between cities and counties would change if school district boundaries did not coincide with political boundaries.
Future MeetingsThe next meeting of the commission will be in Danville on November 5, 1998, at 1:00 p.m. Subsequent meetings are scheduled for December 2, 1998, in Alexandria, and January 5, 1999, in Richmond.
The Honorable Thomas W. Moss, Jr., Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Jeffrey F. Sharp