Should Accomack and Northampton become one county again? There was a time when there was only one county on the Eastern Shore but largely due to a law passed in colonial times, the county court house can be no further away than a one day horse ride from the most distant parts of the county.
According to Virginia Business Magazine, a Virginia Bar Association panel that recently met in Williamsburg recommends that the state look into problems related to counties, cities and towns that have different ordinances and in some cases, different laws.
That was the primary question tackled by a panel of local government authorities speaking Friday at a Virginia Bar Association conference.
The meeting took place was in Williamsburg, where Virginia’s system of local government had its colonial roots.
“We are prisoners of our history to some extent,” former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles said, striking an ominous tone about the current state of local government operations.
Baliles, who took a lead role in the discussion, said that in Virginia’s earliest days, and for many years afterward, local government rested in the formation of counties whose boundaries were created by a simple rule.
“The courthouse had to be within a day’s ride on horseback within any point in the county,” he said.
Today, the former governor explained, Virginia’s counties and independent cities operate different systems of government, often with different laws and local priorities.
When regional problems arise – such as opioid addiction, transportation snarls or inequitable public education – Virginia’s form of local government creates barriers to possible solutions.
“If we have regional problems, we got to have a regional approach. That requires us to consider boundary changes, which is a hard-rock political problem,” Baliles said.
By boundary changes, he was speaking of the boundaries between Virginia’s 95 counties and the 38 independent cities – a rare form of local government division.
James D. Campbell, former executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties, enumerated a long list of commissions and advisory councils whose work often resulted in recommendations for improving regional cooperation.
Those recommendations, he observed, were often consigned to the dust bin.
“We create some of these regional efforts or cooperative incentives [that} should be funded through the General Assembly. But often that funding disappears. And, the regional efforts lose their momentum,” Campbell said.