Interlocal cooperation in public service delivery: the case of Virginia

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Local governments during the past few years have been increasingly hard-pressed to make ends meet. Fiscally conservative times are now a political reality with which all of government must learn to cope. Many local officials have responded to this problem by introducing some new and innovative management techniques. But despite its potential economic and political advantages, interlocal cooperation has not received adequate attention as a cutback management technique.

This study is therefore designed to increase our understanding of interlocal cooperation by: (1) updating the information currently in existence on interlocal cooperation in the state of Virginia; (2) analyzing, evaluating and describing the administrative processes and structures of illustrative examples of interlocal cooperation in the state; and (3) assessing the relationship between interlocal cooperation and various political, social, economic and demographic characteristics of the state’s political subdivisions.

The methodology used in this study includes: (1) state-wide mail survey, (2) data analysis, (3) examination of illustrative examples of interlocal cooperation, and (4) literature review.

Major research findings were:

  1. There appears to be a relationship between population size, population growth, education, median household incomes, per capita income and per capita market values of real estate and interlocal cooperation in the State of Virginia, but the relationship is very weak indeed.

  2. There is no appreciable differentiation by local governmental units in Virginia with regard to interlocal cooperation.

  3. There is no appreciable difference between metropolitan and non-metropolitan jurisdictions in Virginia with regard to interlocal cooperation.

  4. Virginia cities tend to use written agreement and contract more often than do either counties or towns. Counties are more apt to use contributions of cash and/or other resources than are either cities or towns. Towns, more often than cities or counties use unwritten/informal agreement.

  5. Metropolitan jurisdictions used written agreement and contract more often than any other form of interlocal agreement. Non-metropolitan localities were found to use unwritten/informal agreement most often.

  6. Virginia cities tend to cooperate more in the functional area of health and welfare, while towns form more agreements in the areas of administration and public safety.

  7. There is more interlocal cooperation between counties and towns than between any other combinations of governmental units in the state.

  8. Virginia counties and towns participate more often in interlocal agreement than do cities.

  9. An overwhelming majority of local officials in the state considered economies of scale to be the major driving force behind their communities’ interlocal agreement.

  10. Surprisingly, fear of annexation was not considered by Virginia local officials as the major reason for their communities’ reluctance to enter into interlocal cooperation.

  11. In the state of Virginia, joint operation occurs more frequently in those public services requiring large capital outlays.