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Municipal Designations

The State of Arkansas recognizes its incorporated communities in three separate categories: cities of the first class (or first-class cities), cities of the second class (or second-class cities), and towns. These categories are mostly determined by the population of the communities and the size of the city or town government. According to the Arkansas Municipal League, there are 500 incorporated cities and towns in Arkansas as of December 2013. These consist of 119 first-class cities, 199 second-class cities, and 182 towns.

According to Arkansas statutes as of 2008, a first-class city has more than 2,500 residents (although a second-class city with more than 1,500 residents may vote to become a first-class city). A second-class city has from 500 to 2,500 residents (although a town may vote to become a second-class city). A town has fewer than 500 residents. Any county seat must be a first- or second-class city.

Incorporated cities and towns can collect taxes from their residents and can offer city services, including police and firefighter protection and the maintenance of roads. A first-class city has a government consisting of a mayor, a board of aldermen (also referred to as a city council), a city clerk, a city attorney, a city treasurer, and a municipal judge. A second-class city has a mayor, a board of aldermen, a city marshal, a city recorder, and a city treasurer. A town has a mayor, a board of five aldermen, and a recorder-treasurer. A town may also elect or appoint a marshal. Cities are divided into wards, with one or more aldermen elected by each ward, but the five aldermen of a town are elected by all the voters of the town.

A group of people in Arkansas not living in an incorporated city or town may seek to become incorporated, provided that they are at least five miles from the nearest incorporated city or town. If that nearest city or town is less than five miles away, a physical barrier between the community seeking incorporation and the nearest incorporated city or town is considered sufficient reason to permit incorporation. Permission from the existing city or town can also permit incorporation within the five-mile limit. The group seeking incorporation must present a petition signed by at least seventy-five qualified voters living in that community to the clerk of the county in which they live. The county clerk will then make the petition public, announcing that a hearing will be held before the county court and publicizing the date of that hearing. Any citizens opposing the incorporation may then make their objections known to the county judge. On the date of the hearing, the county judge will weigh the petition and any objections given toward incorporation. If the judge determines that the incorporation should proceed, an order will be issued by the judge, with a copy given to the petitioners and a copy sent to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office. Receipt of that copy of the judge’s order at the Secretary of State’s office is the final step in the process of incorporation, so the date that order arrives (rather than the date it was issued in the county court) is the official date of incorporation for the city or town. The first election for city officials can be held one month after the incorporation is official.

Cities or towns can vote to change their incorporation status or to become unincorporated. They can also lose their incorporation status should they fail to hold elections of officers and fail to participate in state elections. Municipal property, including buildings and equipment, becomes the property of the state when a city or town loses incorporation. Keeping current records of incorporation status and reporting the un-incorporation of towns and cities are among the duties of the office of the Secretary of State.

For additional information:
Arkansas Code of 1987, Annotated. Charlottesville, VA: Michie, 1998.

Arkansas Municipal League. http://www.arml.org/index.html (accessed August 14, 2013).

Local.Arkansas.gov. http://local.arkansas.gov/index.php (accessed August 14, 2013).

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Staff of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 12/17/2013

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