The state constitution, endorsing the principle of home rule, recognizes many different levels of local government. In 2002, New York had 57 counties, 616 municipal governments, 929 townships, and 683 public school districts.
Cities are contained within counties, with one outstanding exception: New York City is made up of five counties, one for each of its five boroughs. Traditionally, counties are run by an elected board of supervisors or county legislature; however, a growing number of counties have vested increased powers in a single elected county executive. With the exception of some counties within New York City, each county has a county attorney and district attorney, sheriff, fiscal officer (treasurer), county clerk, and commissioner of social services.
Towns are run by a town board; the town supervisor is the board's presiding officer and acts as town treasurer. A group of people within a town or towns may also incorporate themselves into a village, with their own elected mayor and elected board of trustees. Some villages have administrators or managers. Members of the village remain members of the town, and must pay taxes to both jurisdictions. The constitution grants the state legislature the power to decide which taxes the local governments may levy and how much debt they may incur.
New York City is governed by a mayor and city council, but much practical power resides in the Board of Estimate. On this board sit the city's three top elected officials—the mayor, comptroller, and city council president. The board also includes the five borough presidents, elected officials who represent (and, to a limited extent, govern) each of the five boroughs. New York City government is further complicated by the fact that certain essential services are provided not by the city itself but by independent "authorities." The special district of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for example, operates New York Harbor, sets interstate bridge and tunnel tolls, and supervises the city's bus and air terminals; it is responsible not to the mayor but to the governors of New York and New Jersey. Similarly, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which controls the city's subways and some of its commuter rail lines, is an independent agency responsible to the state rather than the city. There were 1,135 other special districts in 2002, of which nearly 900 were for fire prevention.