Administrative divisions of New York
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Administrative divisions of New York State differ from those in certain other countries and most U.S. states, leading to misunderstandings regarding the governmental nature of an area. Some of the subordinate political divisions of New York have executive, legislative and judicial branches, as does the state government.
Whether a municipality is a city, town or village is not dependent on population or area, but on the form of government selected by the residents and approved by the state legislature. New York State considers counties, cities, towns and villages to be "municipal corporations" and "general purpose" units of local government.
The county is the primary administrative division of New York State. There are sixty-two counties in the state. Five of the counties are boroughs of New York City and do not have functioning county governments. Counties contain a number of towns and may also contain cities. Towns may contain incorporated villages and unincorporated hamlets. Every county has a county seat, often a populous or centrally located city or village, where the county government is located. In some counties, a hamlet is the county seat.
Counties are responsible for certain functions of planning and governance for all areas within their borders that are not delegated to lower levels of government. These often include overall planning, police service, social welfare, and coordination of special and extended education service, as well as some court services.
According to the State of New York Local Government Handbook, "The county is now a municipal corporation with geographical jurisdiction, homerule powers and fiscal capacity to provide a wide range of services to its residents. To some extent, counties have evolved into a form of 'regional' government that performs specified functions and which encompasses, but does not necessarily supersede, the jurisdiction of the cities, towns and villages within its borders."
Twenty-seven counties of the State operate under the general provisions of the County Law. Twenty counties have County Charters. Although all counties have a certain latitude to govern themselves, "charter counties" are afforded greater home rule powers. The charter counties as of 2006<ref>http://www.co.ulster.ny.us/charter_counties.html</ref> are Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Chemung,Dutchess,Erie,Herkimer, Monroe, Nassau, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Schenectady, Suffolk, Sullivan, Tompkins, and Westchester.
In some counties, the legislature is the Board of Supervisors, composed of town and city supervisors of its constituent towns and cities. In most of these counties, each supervisor's vote is weighted in accordance with the town's population in order to abide by the principle of "one person, one vote". Other counties, also in the interest of maintaining "one person, one vote", have legislative districts of equal population which may cross municipal borders. Some counties do not use the term "Board of Supervisors", but instead call their legislative body "Board of Representatives", "Board of Legislators," or "County Legislature".
In non-charter counties, the legislative body exercises executive power as well. Although the legislature can delegate certain functions and duties to a county administrator, who acts on behalf of the legislature, the legislature must maintain ultimate control over the actions of the administrator. Many, but not all, charter counties have an elected executive who is independent of the legislature; the exact form of government is defined in the County Charter.
See also: List of New York counties
In New York State, a city is a highly autonomous incorporated area usually contained within a county. It provides almost all services to its residents and has the highest degree of home rule and taxing jurisdiction over its residents. The main difference between a city and a village is that cities are organized and governed according to their charters, which can differ widely among cities, while villages are subject to a uniform statewide Village Law. Also, villages are part of a town (or towns; some villages cross town borders), with residents who pay taxes to and receive services from the town. Cities (except for the City of Sherrill) are independent of towns. Some cities are completely surrounded by a town, typically of the same name. This arrangement should not lead to the misunderstanding that the city is somehow subordinate to or a part of the town.
There are sixty-two cities in the state. There are no minimum population or area requirements in order to become a city. In 1686, the English colonial governor granted New York City and Albany city charters, which were recognized by the first State Constitution in 1777. All other cities have been established by act of the state legislature and have been granted a charter. Cities have been granted the power to revise their charters or adopt new ones.
The forms of government cities can have are council-manager, strong mayor-council, weak mayor-council or commission. Forty-five cities, the majority, use the mayor-council form, in which the mayor is the executive and city council members form the legislature. In some of these cities, the mayor serves only a ceremonial role. Larger cities have city courts.
New York City is a special case. The city consists of the entire area of five counties. These counties retain a small amount of governance as boroughs. Under the state legislation, commonly called Consolidation, that allowed the city (as the City of Greater New York) to annex huge areas beyond its original borders (including smaller cities, towns and villages) in 1898, the State of New York retains certain powers over the city. At the time of Consolidation, Queens County was split between the western towns, which voted to join the city, and those that did not. The next year (1899), the eastern towns of Queens County separated to become Nassau County.
Cities in New York State are classified by the Census Bureau as incorporated places and as county division equivalents (except for New York City).
See also: List of cities in New York
In New York State, a town is the major division of each county. Towns provide or arrange for most municipal services for residents of hamlets and other unincorporated areas, and selected services for residents of villages. All residents of New York who do not live in a city or on an Indian reservation live in a town. As of the 2000 census, there are 932 towns in New York. Unlike villages, towns cannot cross county borders, since they are part of each county.
Towns lack an executive branch of government. The town board exercises both executive and legislative functions. The town supervisor presides over the board, but does not possess veto or tie-breaking power. The judicial branch is known as Town Court or Justice Court, part of New York's Justice Court system.
A town can contain zero, one or multiple villages. Five towns are coterminous with their single village: Green Island in Albany County; East Rochester in Monroe County; and Scarsdale, Harrison and Mount Kisco in Westchester County. When such an entity is formed, a referendum is held to decide whether residents prefer a village-style or town-style government (which will exercise the powers of both).
Towns vary in size and population. The largest town (by area), the Town of Brookhaven, covers 531.5 square miles (1,376.6 km²) (half of that, however, is water — the Town of Webb has the most land area at 451 square miles (1,167 km²)). The smallest, the Town of Green Island, covers only 0.7 of a square mile (1.8 km²). The Town of Hempstead has about 756,000 people (2000 census), making it more populous than any city in the state except New York City. The Town of Red House, the least populous, has 38 permanent residents (2000 census).
The word "town" itself may be used informally to refer to any settlement. "A night on the town" could very well mean visiting New York City. "Going into town" could refer to a trip to a village's main built-up area. Many places containing the word "town" in their name are not towns. Examples include several Allentowns, Cooperstown of Baseball Hall of Fame fame, and Elizabethtown, a hamlet in the town of the same name.
See also: List of towns in New York
In New York State, a village is an incorporated area which is usually, but not always, within a single town. A village is a clearly defined municipality that provides the services closest to the residents, such as garbage collection, street and highway maintenance, street lighting and building codes. Some villages provide their own police and other optional services. Villages have less autonomy than cities. Those municipal services not provided by the village are provided by the town or towns containing the village. As of the 2000 census, there are 553 villages in New York.
The legislature of a village is the board of trustees, composed of a mayor and (usually) four trustees. The mayor may vote in business before the board and may break a tie. The mayor generally does not possess veto power, unless provided by local law. The mayor is also the executive of the village. A village may also have a full-time village manager, who performs administrative duties which would normally fall upon the mayor. A village must have a municipal building or village hall. Villages may also have a village justice.
To be incorporated as a village, a territory (i.e., given area) must have at least 500 inhabitants and be no more than 5 square miles (13 km²) in area (though there are exceptions to the area rule, such as if an entire town wishes to incorporate as a village). The process of incorporation begins with a petition by either 20% of residents or owners of 50% of assessed real property. It is then voted upon by those living in the territory. Currently, some villages have less than a 500 person population due to loss of inhabitants.
Villages often cross other political boundaries. More than 70 villages are located in two or more towns. Seven villages are divided between two counties. The village of Saranac Lake is in three towns and two counties.
A village in New York State is comparable to a town in certain other states. Villages in New York State are classified by the Census Bureau as incorporated places.
See also: List of villages in New York
In New York State, a hamlet is a populated area within a town that is not part of a village. The term "hamlet" is not defined under New York law (unlike cities, towns and villages), but is often used in the state's statutes to refer to well-known populated sections of towns that are not incorporated as villages.
A hamlet has no legal status (except in the Adirondack Park Agency's land-use classifications) and depends upon the town that contains it for municipal services and government. A hamlet could be described as the rural or suburban equivalent of a neighborhood in a city or village. The area of a hamlet may not be exactly defined and may simply be contained within the zip code of its post office, or may be defined by its school or fire district. Residents of a hamlet often identify themselves more closely with the hamlet than with the town. Some hamlets proximate to urban areas are sometimes continuous with their cities and appear to be neighborhoods, but they still are under the control of the town.
Hamlets are sometimes called unincorporated communities. In fact, some hamlets are former villages that have dissolved their incorporation (Old Forge in Herkimer County, Rosendale in Ulster County, and Andes in Delaware County, for example). Their land area, though, is within the jurisdiction of a town, which is considered a municipal corporation under state law. For census purposes, the area around a hamlet may be formally defined as a census-designated place, although most are not. A census location may have the same name as a hamlet, but the area defined by the U.S. Census Bureau may differ somewhat from the local understanding of the hamlet. This is because hamlets do not have fixed boundaries and area defined by the census is generally based on population density and may include a larger or smaller area than the local understanding of the hamlet.
 Other named places
New York contains many named localities which do not merit even the vaguely defined term "hamlet." These locations are often historic, being former post offices, depopulated communities, or cross roads important in an earlier period. Others may represent newly developed housing tracts that eventually might be considered a hamlet, or may eventually incorporate as villages.
 Divisions unique to New York City
A Borough is a division of New York City only and not New York State or of any other city in the state. A borough reflects the unique way in which New York City has grown--by absorbing adjacent counties. Each of the five boroughs of New York City is coextensive with one of its five counties. Under the General Municipal Law of the State of New York, a borough results when the towns, villages and cities in a county merge with the county itself.
- The Bronx (Bronx County)
- Brooklyn (Kings County)
- Manhattan (New York County)
- Queens (Queens County)
- Staten Island (Richmond County)
The boroughs were originally intended to retain some local governance in the consolidated city that was formed in 1898. Each borough individually elects a borough president. The borough presidents once wielded considerable power as members of the New York City Board of Estimate, but the position is now largely ceremonial and advisory. Likewise, the boroughs and their residents have little distinct power within the city. According to the State of New York Local Government Handbook, "The five boroughs of the City of New York function as counties for certain purposes, although they are not organized as such nor do they operate as county governments."
The most distinctive feature of a typical county retained by New York City boroughs is the popular election of a separate district attorney for each borough. Each of the five New York City district attorneys prosecutes crimes in the name of the county rather than the name of the borough (for example, the district attorney for the borough of Brooklyn is called the Kings County District Attorney).
 Community board
Community boards are what the New York City government Web site refers to as "local representative bodies." The community boards, however, are unelected. Each board consists of fifty unpaid members appointed by the borough president. Half of the members are nominated by the City Council members who represent the area. The power of the community boards is very limited. They serve in an advisory capacity regarding land use and zoning, budget and various concerns of the community. The boards can recommend action on the part of the city government, but they cannot enforce it. There are fifty-nine community boards, identified by borough name and a number (e.g. Manhattan Community Board 3).
 Special purpose units of government
In New York State, special purpose units of government provide specialized services only to those who live in the district, and are empowered to tax residents of the district for the services provided in common. Special districts often cross the lines of towns, villages, and hamlets, and occasionally cities or counties.
 School districts
School districts are the most common kind of special district. They provide, arrange or contract for all public education services, including special education and school transportation, the latter also for non-public schools.
School districts are rarely precisely coextensive with the cities, towns, villages or hamlets that bear the same name, meaning that a person living in one hamlet or village might send their children to a school associated with a different hamlet or village. Residents pay school taxes to the same school district in which they live and their children attend school.
All but five school districts are separate from municipal governments. The exceptions are the five cities whose populations exceed 125,000 (Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), in which education is part of the municipal budget.
Schools in New York City are controlled by the New York City Department of Education, and the city is divided by the department into 11 "school regions" (10 geographic regions and a "District 75" for handicapped students)
There are several types of school districts in the state, each with slightly different laws.
 Common school districts
Common school districts are not authorized to operate high schools. They must, therefore, contract with neighboring school districts to provide secondary education for pupils in the district. This is the oldest type of district, and was quite common in the 10th century, but there are only 11 left as of 1999.
 Union free school districts
A union free school district is a district resulted from a "union" of multiple common school districts, "free" from the restrictions that previously barred them from operating high schools. In January 2000, there were 151 school districts of this type. 31 provided only elementary education, despite the original intent of "freeing" them from such restrictions. Unlike common school districts, each union free school district is governed by a board of education. Each board must have at least three but not more than nine members.
 Central School Districts
Not to be confused with Central High School districts, these are the most common type of school district in New York State.<ref>http://www.dos.state.ny.us/lgss/pdfs/Handbook.pdf#page=112</ref> These may have been formed from any number (including one) of common, union free, and/or central school districts. Apart from a few minor differences, they follow the same laws as union free school districts.
 City School Districts
There are two types of City School Districts, those in cities with over 125,000 people and those in cities with fewer than 125,000 people. Districts for cities with over 125,000 people are coterminous with the city limits, and education is part of the municipal budget. These districts cannot incur debts or levy taxes.
Districts for cities with fewer than 125,000 people are separate from the municipal government and are authorized to levy taxes and incur debt. Each of them is governed by an elected board of education. They all operate high schools. Districts for smaller cities often extend beyond the city borders and are officially called "enlarged city school districts" (for example, Newburgh) or "central city school districts".
 Central high school districts
There are only four central high school districts in New York state—three in Nassau and one in Suffolk. These districts provide secondary education to students in two or more common or union free districts.
 Supervisory school districts
Owing to the extremely large number (705) of school districts, many of which are quite small, most of them are organized into 38 supervisory districts. Each of these has a Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). Each BOCES provides services which are considered difficult for the member school districts to provide on its own, often including special classes for students with disabilities.
 Fire districts
Fire districts are public corporations which generally provide fire protection and other emergency response in towns outside villages. Villages generally provide their own fire protection, but joint town-village fire districts are permitted. A fire district can levy taxes and incur debt. Although they operate under certain fiscal restrictions, these districts enjoy a great deal of autonomy in budgeting. The town which the district serves receives the budget and collects the taxes but has no power to amend the budget. The district is governed by a board of elected commissioners.
 Fire protection districts
A fire protection district is established by a town board in order to contract fire protection services with any city, village, fire district or incorporated fire company.
 Public benefit corporations/authorities
Full article at New York State public benefit corporations.
Public benefit corporations in New York State operate like quasi-private corporations, generally with boards appointed by elected officials. They are a form of government bureaucracy in one sense but, unlike government agencies, public benefit corporations are exempt from some regulations. Of particular importance, they can take out their own debt, allowing them to bypass legal limits on state debt. This allows them to make potentially risky capital and infrastructure investments without putting so much of the credit of New York City or New York State on the line. However, it also allows them to avoid many of the oversight and reporting regulations which apply to state government.
Public benefit corporations get charters from New York State and are usually designed to perform a specific, narrow function in the public interest. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority manages public transportation in the New York Metropolitan Area (this includes the New York Subway and public bus systems, as well as MTA Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road, and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority). The New York State Thruway Authority originally only maintained the New York State Thruway from New York City to the Pennsylvania border southwest of Buffalo, but due to budgetary maneuvering, now maintains the toll-free I-84 corridor, also. The Central New York Regional Transportation Authority manages much of the public transportation in and around Syracuse.
 Library districts
Library districts are usually coextensive with the same school district but raise taxes separately and serve all the residents of the library district (save Newburgh, where the library is run directly by the school district out of its budget). They often form cooperative associations with other library districts for shared services, purchasing and cross-library lending.
 Other types of special purpose units
Other special districts may include emergency rescue squads, sanitation, police, water, and sewer.
 Home rule
Incorporated municipal governments (also known as "general purpose units of local government"; i.e., counties, cities, towns and villages) in New York State have been granted broad home rule powers enabling them to provide services to their residents and to regulate the quality of life within their jurisdictions. They do so while adhering to the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York. Articles IX (titled "Local Government", but commonly referred to as the "Home Rule" article) and VIII (titled "Local Finances") of the State Constitution establish the rights and responsibilities of the municipal governments.
The New York State Constitution provides for democratically elected legislative bodies for counties, cities, towns and villages. These legislative bodies are granted the power to enact local laws as needed in order to provide services to their citizens and fulfill their various obligations.
 Census-designated place
A census-designated place (CDP) is an area defined by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes only, without any legal consequences. In New York State, a CDP is a part of a town outside any villages. The CDP may contain the entirety of the town outside any villages (only for those towns that actually do contain villages), and it may cross town and county borders. A CDP cannot be any part of a city or a village, nor can it be the entirety of a town. CDPs usually resemble cities or villages in population density and structure. CDPs were formerly called unincorporated places.
 See also
- List of New York counties
- List of cities in New York
- List of towns in New York
- List of villages in New York
- Local government
- Political divisions of the United States
 External links
 New York State government links
 General local government information
- State of N.Y., Local Govt. Handbook, 5th ed., Jan. 2000 (PDF, 1.43 MB, from N.Y.S. Dept. of State)—best comprehensive source aside from the state laws
- Division of Local Government, Department of State
- Citizen's Access to Local Government — links to N.Y.S. local govt. Web sites
 New York State Constitution
 New York State Consolidated Laws
The New York State Consolidated Laws  which most closely affect local government are
- County Law
- General City Law
- General Municipal Law
- Local Finance Law
- Municipal Home Rule Law
- Second Class Cities Law
- Statute of Local Government
- Town Law
- Uniform City Court Act
- Village Law
 Other links
- Descriptions of Municipalities in NYS (from University at Buffalo)
- Census Bureau map of N.Y.S. municipalities and CDPs (PDF, 2.71 MB)
- New York State Association of Counties
- New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials
- Association of Towns of the State of New York
- Directory of town courts, village courts and other local courts in New York