Special Purpose Units of Government

Local municipal services are provided in New York not only by the general purpose municipal corporations - counties, cities, towns and villages - but by several types of special purpose units of government. These include school districts, fire districts and a variety of public benefit corporations — often called “authorities.” In most cases, such units provide only a single service or a group of closely-related services.

As demands for municipal services have increased, many new types of public benefit corporations have been established. These entities normally provide a single service or type of service, such as water and sewer services, airport management, or industrial development, rather than the gamut of government services provided by the general purpose municipality.

School districts, fire districts and “local” public benefit corporations, often referred to as authorities, are discussed within this chapter.

Public Education

The constitutional basis for school district organization appears in Article XI, section 1 of the State Constitution:

“The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of free common schools, wherein all the children of the state may be educated.”

The 1795 legislative session provided, on a five-year basis, a statewide system of support for schools, but comprehensive legislation establishing school districts was not enacted until 1812.

Education in New York State today represents the largest single area of expense for local governments, accounting for approximately one-third of all local government expenditures in the state.

By any measure, the most prominent elements of the educational effort are the 697 local school districts, which in 2010-11 enrolled more than 2.6 million pupils and spent over $56 billion.

School districts cover the entire area of New York State, frequently crossing city, town, village and even county lines. With the exception of the “big five” cities (over 125,000 in population), where the school budget is part of the municipal budget, each school district is a separate governmental unit having the power to levy taxes and incur debt.

The State Education Department, acting in accordance with policies determined by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, supervises and provides leadership to the public schools.

Some of this responsibility is exercised through supervisory districts headed by district superintendents of schools.

Basic School District Types

Table 1. New York State School Districts, as of July 2004 [1]
Type Number of Districts

Common School Districts


Union Free School Districts


Central School Districts


City School Districts


Central High School Districts




SOURCE: Department of Education

There are five different types of school districts in New York State:

Common School Districts

The common school district, with its origins in legislation of 1812, is the oldest of the existing types. Common school districts do not have the legal authority to operate high schools but, like all school districts, are responsible for ensuring a secondary education for resident children. As a consequence, common school districts send pupils to designated high schools of neighboring school districts. As of July 2011, there were 11 common school districts operating in the state. One common district, the South Mountain Hickory District in the Town of Binghamton, does not directly provide education; it contracts for all education. Common school districts are typically governed by either a sole trustee or a three-member board of trustees.

Union Free School Districts

The 1853 session of the Legislature established the union free school district, which is generally formed from two or more common school districts joining together for the purpose of providing a high school. Many of the early union free districts had boundaries which were coterminous with, or close to, those of a village or city.

Although the original purpose of the union free district was to provide for secondary education, about one-fifth of these districts currently do not operate a high school. As of July 2011, there were 161 union free school districts, of which 28 provide less than a K-12 education. Thirteen of the latter are components of central school districts, while the rest provide secondary education by contracting with neighboring districts. Another 13 are districts that are established solely to serve children residing in specified child care institutions. These districts are often referred to as “special act” school districts. Union free school districts are governed by a board of education that is composed of between three and nine members.

Central School Districts

The central school district is the most common type of school district in New York State, with 460 in existence as of July 1, 2011. They were established as a means of providing a more comprehensive and intensive education than was possible in most of the 10,000 small common districts operating in the state at the turn of the 20th century. The solution came in the form of the Central Rural Schools Act of 1914, which was revised in 1925. This legislation, together with state aid incentives, preceded a massive school reorganization, which resulted in the central school districts of today.

A central school district may be formed by any number of common, union free and central districts. As in the case of union free districts, central school districts have the authority to operate high schools. The governance of a central district follows essentially the same laws as a union free district; thus, it can be viewed as a variation of the union free type of district.

One difference between the two types of districts is the size of the board of education. A central district’s board may consist of five, seven or nine members. Within this limitation, the size of the board or length of term (three, four or five years) may be changed by the voters of the district.

City School Districts

There are two types of organization for city school districts, the application of which depends on population.

School districts in the 57 cities of under 125,000 in population are separate governmental units. Each district is governed by its own board of education and has independent taxing and debt-incurring powers. In all of these districts, the members are elected to the school boards, which may consist of five, seven, or nine members.

Many of these city districts encompass larger geographic areas than their respective cities, and are referred to as “enlarged city school districts.” Seven of these enlarged districts have been reorganized as “central city school districts,” a designation limited to districts in cities with less than 125,000 population.

In the state’s five cities of over 125,000 in population (the “Big Five” – Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers and New York City), district boundaries are coterminous with those of their respective cities. Each of these school districts has a board or panel with varying independence and power to set policy for the school system. However, none of these boards have the power to levy taxes or incur debt for the district. Instead, funding is provided as part of the overall municipal budget. Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse have separately-elected boards of education. In Yonkers, however, the board is appointed by the mayor. Buffalo and Yonkers each have nine-member boards, while Rochester and Syracuse have seven-member boards.

Since 2002, New York City public school system is been run as a city agency, headed by a Chancellor. Instead of a Board of Education that is responsible for setting broad policy, the Department of Education has the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), which advises the Chancellor and approves major Department of Education initiatives, budgets and union agreements. The PEP consists of 13 appointed members and the Chancellor. Each borough president appoints one member and the mayor appoints the remaining eight. The Chancellor serves as an ex-officio non-voting member. The PEP is responsible for electing a chairperson from among the voting members.

Central High School Districts

The central high school district is the most unique organization type; as of July 2011 only three existed, all in Nassau County.

Central high school districts provide secondary education to children from at least two common or union free districts, which provide elementary education. Appointed representatives from the component districts’ boards of education comprise the board of education for each central high school district.

Authorized in 1917, this type of district was seen as a way to promote reorganization of smaller school districts. However, central high school districts proved unpopular, resulting in the repeal of authority for the formation of additional districts in 1944. Thirty-seven years later, in 1981, legislation reinstated the option of central high school districts for Suffolk County only.

The Supervisory District

The supervisory district was established in 1910, as a means of providing educational supervision and leadership to the thousands of tiny school districts then in existence. A district superintendent of schools was appointed to head each supervisory district.

At the time of their founding, 208 supervisory districts were established in the state, with as many as seven located in a single county. As of July 1, 2011, 37 supervisory districts existed, each coterminous with the area served by one of the 37 Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in the state.

The district superintendent of schools serves as a local representative of the Education Commissioner and as chief executive officer of the BOCES. Reflecting this dual role, the district superintendent is appointed by the governing body of the BOCES from a list of candidates approved by the Education Commissioner.


A Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) provides a single organization through which local school districts may pool their resources to provide services which might ordinarily be beyond their individual capabilities. The BOCES is formed by a majority vote of the members of local school boards within a supervisory district. A board of five to fifteen members governs the BOCES organization. Members are elected for staggered three-year terms at an annual meeting of the boards of education of the constituent districts.

BOCES services include specialized instructional services — such as classes for students with disabilities and vocational education — as well as support services such as data processing, purchasing and the provision of specialized equipment for constituent districts.

A BOCES has no taxing authority; the sources of BOCES funds are primarily taxes levied by its component districts, state aid, and a relatively small amount of federal aid. The component districts’ share of costs is based either on full valuation, a pupil count based on enrollment, or upon the Resident Weighted Average Daily Attendance (RWADA) of each district. Currently, all BOCES, except for one, use the RWADA method of allocating costs.

BOCES services include specialized instructional services – such as classes for students with disabilities and vocational education – as well as support services such as data processing, purchasing and the provision of specialized equipment for constituent districts. Specific BOCES services are financed through contracts between the BOCES and the individual school districts. Thus, a school district pays only for those services it uses. The state reimburses a portion of the individual district’s payment to the BOCES for such services.

At the end of the 2010-11 school year, the number of students enrolled from constituent districts ranged from 8,413 to 203,023 students. All but nine school districts in the state were members of a BOCES. Of the nine, four are eligible to become members of BOCES; the remaining districts are the five city school districts with a population over 125,000 which are not eligible to join BOCES. The 37 BOCES served a total of 1,529,320 students in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Charter Schools

A charter school is an independent public school that operates under a “charter,” a type of contract issued by the New York State Board of Regents. Charter schools typically provide innovative curricula or other non-traditional approaches that differentiate them from regular public schools. Charter schools are financed by local, state and federal funds, but they have the flexibility to operate free of many educational laws and regulations.

Each charter school, however, is held accountable to provisions in the Charter School Law (Article 56 of the Education Law) and the charter authorizing the school. Every school must also satisfy the same health and safety, civil rights, and student achievement requirements that are applicable to other public schools. A school’s charter may be revoked for violation of charter provisions, failure to meet performance levels on state assessments, serious violations of law, fiscal mismanagement, or employee discrimination in contravention of the Civil Service Law.

A charter is originally issued for a term of up to five years. Upon the expiration of each term, a charter may be renewed for five more years. The Board of Regents may not issue more than 460 charters statewide.

Financing Education

Property Taxes

With few exceptions, property taxation is the only major local revenue source available to school districts. Property taxes for schools totaled more than $26.3 billion in 2010-11, or 46 percent of all school revenues. School districts are not subject to constitutional or statutory tax limits, but resident district voters approve annual school budgets, except for the “Big Five” cities. A property tax cap, enacted for school districts and other municipalities in 2011, beginning with the 2012-13 school year, limits the growth of property taxes. If the voters defeat a proposed budget, a school board may only levy taxes equal to the prior year’s levy to meet costs for teachers’ salaries and a number of “ordinary contingent” expenses. Levy to support capital expenditures, increases in expenditures from court orders and increases in pension cost is excluded from the property tax cap.

In each of the state’s five largest cities, the city council determines the school tax levy. The board of education prepares its budget for approval by the city council. The council may increase or decrease the budget as a whole, but it may not change individual items. The levy for schools is then included in the overall city tax levy. Furthermore, the school tax levy must be accommodated within the two percent city tax limit allowed by the state constitution for Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers, and 2.5 percent allowed for New York City. Nonproperty Taxes. Nonproperty taxes represent a small revenue source for school districts. In 2010-11 school districts collected $271 million from non-property tax sources, or slightly more than one percent of total revenue collected from taxes.

The only nonproperty tax a school district may levy directly is a tax on consumers’ utility bills, which may be imposed at a maximum rate of three percent. This tax is limited to school districts with territory in cities of under 125,000 population. Of the 66 school districts eligible to impose this tax in 2010-11, only 24 actually did so.

While only cities and counties can impose a sales tax, the Tax Law provides that they may distribute all or part of the proceeds to school districts. Five of the counties which collected sales taxes in fiscal 2010-11 distributed a portion of the revenue to school districts.

State Aid

Receipts from state aid programs represented the second largest revenue source for school districts in the 2010-11 school year. Approximately $20 billion was received in that year, representing about 35 percent of total school revenues. There are two major categories of state aid to education: general and special aids. The latter is a group of relatively small programs, generally experimental or aimed at meeting the special needs of a specific group of pupils.

General aid is paid to all school districts, with variations related to formulas taking into account such items as taxable property, income of district residents per pupil, and district size and organization. General aid includes:

  • operating expense aid;

  • BOCES aid;

  • transportation aid;

  • high tax rate aid;

  • growth aid;

  • building aid;

  • reorganization incentive aid.

Operating aid, which represents more than one-half of total aid provided, is for support of the general operating expenditures of a district. Other general aid formulas exist to compensate for particular cost factors in school operations, building construction costs, high tax rates and transportation costs.

Federal Aid

The third largest revenue source, but one far smaller than state aid or local revenues, is federal aid. Federal assistance represented about $4.6 billion in revenues for the 2010-11 fiscal year, or 8.2 percent of total revenues.

Organizing for Fire Protection

Fire protection services in New York have long been viewed as an essential governmental function in densely populated areas. Early on, cities as well as many villages made provisions for fire departments and the organization of fire companies using both career and volunteer services. This did not happen in towns, however, where sparse development made fire, while no less catastrophic to the individuals involved, a more personal than a communal threat.

Traditional fire protection in rural areas consisted of close neighbors forming bucket brigades. The era of the bucket brigade was followed by the formation of loosely-knit groups which accumulated rudimentary firefighting equipment. Such groups were the precursors to the modern-day volunteer fire companies, which have developed a high degree of organization and capability.

For many years volunteer fire companies supplied reasonably effective fire protection to rural areas without government assistance or support. Gradually, however, greater demands for fire protection service, the high cost of modern and specialized equipment, and the need for giving volunteers economic security in the event of duty-connected death or injury, forced the independent fire services to request assistance from the government.

In towns, the answer came through the establishment of special districts on an area-by-area basis. These districts took two basic forms: fire districts, which were true district corporations and enjoyed autonomy from town government; and other types of districts, including fire protection districts, fire alarm districts and certain water supply districts, which were little more than assessment areas that received fire protection.

Fire Districts

A fire district is a public corporation established for the purpose of providing fire protection and responding to certain other emergencies. The New York State Constitution (Article X) recognizes that fire districts have certain characteristics of general purpose municipal corporations, such as powers to incur indebtedness and to require the levy of taxes. Generally, fire district taxes are levied by the county and collected by the town or towns where the district exists. A fire district is almost a completely autonomous political entity; it has its own elected governing body, its own administrative officers, and it must observe its own expenditure limitations. However, it is dependent upon the parent town or towns for its initial creation and extension pursuant to Article 11 of the Town Law; to consolidate or dissolve, a fire district must follow the procedures in Article 17-A of New York State General Municipal Law.

As of December 31, 2010, New York had 864 fire districts. They are of varying sizes, including smaller districts with annual budgets of several thousand dollars and large districts, some of which feature departments that have both career and volunteer firefighters and annual budgets of several million dollars.


A fire district is created to provide fire protection to areas of towns outside villages. Villages usually provide fire protection on their own. Towns and villages may establish joint town-village fire districts.

A town board may establish a fire district on its own motion or upon receipt of a petition from owners of at least 50 percent of the resident-owned taxable assessed valuation in the proposed district. Whichever method is used, the town board must hold a public hearing and determine that: all properties in the proposed district will benefit, all properties which benefit have been included and that the creation of the district is in the public interest.

If the town board decides to establish a district and proposes to finance an expenditure for the district by the issuance of obligations, it must request approval from the State Comptroller, who must first determine that the public interest will be served by the creation of the district and that the cost of the district will not be an undue burden on property in the district. If such approval is not required, a certified copy of the notice of hearing must be filed with the State Comptroller.

After a fire district has been established, the town board appoints the first temporary board of five fire commissioners and the first fire district treasurer. At the first election, five commissioners are elected for staggered terms of one to five years so that one term expires each year. At each subsequent election one commissioner is elected for a full term of five years. The fire district treasurer is elected for three years, although the office may subsequently be made appointive for a one-year term. A fire district secretary is appointed by the board of fire commissioners for a one-year period.

Operational Organization

After establishment and initial appointments by the town board, the fire district becomes virtually autonomous from the town in its day-to-day operations.

A fire district has only those powers that are expressly granted by statute, or which are necessarily implied by the statute. Unlike towns, villages, cities and counties, a fire district does not possess home rule powers.

The powers granted to a fire district board are extremely specific and narrowly limited. A listing of some of the more important and general powers granted to the board of fire commissioners in Town Law serves as a quick synopsis of many of the important areas of operation for fire districts:

  • They shall have the powers to make any and all contracts for statutory purposes within the appropriations approved by the taxpayers or within statutory limitations;

  • They may organize, operate, maintain, and equip fire companies, and provide for the removal of members for cause;

  • They may adopt rules and regulations governing all fire companies and departments in the district, prescribe the duties of the members, and enforce discipline;

  • They may purchase apparatus and equipment for the extinguishing and prevention of fires, for the purpose of the emergency rescue and first aid squads and the fire police squads;

  • They may acquire real property and construct buildings for preservation of equipment and for social and recreational use by firefighters and residents of the district;

  • They may construct and maintain fire alarm systems;

  • They may purchase, develop, or contract for a supply of water for firefighting purposes; and

  • They may contract to provide firefighting or emergency services outside the fire district where such services can be supplied without undue hazard to the fire district.


Fire districts are not governed by the constitutional tax or debt limits that restrict most municipal corporations. However, statutory limitations are imposed on their spending and financing authority.

Under section 176(18) of the Town Law, every fire district has a minimum basic spending limitation of $2,000, plus an additional amount related to full valuation of district taxable real property in excess of one million dollars. Several important expenditures are exempt from this spending limitation, such as certain insurance costs, salaries of career firefighters, most debt service and contracts for fire protection or water supplies. The basic spending limitation may be exceeded only if a proposition for the increase is approved by the voters of the district. Further, many capital expenditures proposed for a fire district, which would exceed the spending limitation, also require voter approval. Certain expenditures which are not chargeable to the spending limitation may also be subject to voter approval under other provisions of law (e.g., General Municipal Law §6-g, relative to capital reserve funds).

A fire district may incur debt by issuing obligations pursuant to provisions of the New York State Local Finance Law. Fire districts are subject to a statutory debt limit (generally three percent of the full valuation of taxable real property in the fire district) and mandatory referendum requirements.

Within the statutory constraints, the district has general autonomy in developing its budget. When completed, the budget is filed with the town budget officer of each of the towns where the district is located. The town board can make no changes in a fire district budget and must submit it with the town budget to the county for levy and spreading on the town tax roll. When the taxes are collected, the town supervisor must turn over to the district treasurer all taxes levied and collected for the fire district.

In 1956, the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law was enacted to provide benefits similar to those provided by Workers’ Compensation for volunteer firefighters injured, or die from injuries incurred, in line of duty. Cities, towns, villages and fire districts finance these benefits through their annual budgets.

Fire Department Organization

The board of fire commissioners exercises general policy control over its fire department, while the chief of the department exercises full on-line authority at emergency scenes. The fire department of a fire district encompasses all fire companies organized within the district, together with career employees who may be appointed by the board of fire commissioners. Fire companies usually are, but need not be, volunteer fire companies incorporated under the provisions of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law. They can be formed within the fire district only with the consent of the board of fire commissioners and, thereafter, new members can only be admitted with board consent.

All officers of the fire department must be members of the department, residents of the state and, if required by the board of fire commissioners, residents of the fire district. Officers are nominated by ballot at fire department meetings, and appointments by the board can be made only from such nominated candidates.

Joint Fire Districts in Towns and Villages

Article 11-A of the Town Law and Article 22-A of the Village Law allow for the establishment of joint fire districts in one or more towns and one or more villages. Under the provisions of the Town Law, if it appears to be in the public interest, the town board(s) and village board(s) shall hold a joint meeting for the purpose of jointly proposing the establishment of a joint fire district. If, at the joint meeting, it is decided by majority vote of each board to propose a joint district, the boards must hold, upon public notice, a joint public hearing at a location within the proposed district. If, after the public hearing, the town board(s) and village board(s) determine that the establishment of the joint fire district is in the public interest, each board may adopt a separate resolution, subject to a permissive referendum, establishing the joint fire district.

The new joint fire district established pursuant to Article 11-A of the Town Law is governed by the provisions of Article 11 of the Town Law unless there is an inconsistency between the two articles. In such case, Article 11-A would provide the prevailing language. Management of the affairs of joint fire districts is under a board of fire commissioners composed of between three and seven members, who are either appointed by the participating town boards and/or village boards of trustees in joint session, or elected as provided in Article 11.

Upon the establishment of a joint district, the town board or village board of trustees of each participating municipality shall by local law dissolve any existing fire, fire alarm or fire protection districts contained within the joint fire district. The board of trustees of a village or the board of commissioners of a fire district, all of the territory of which is embraced within the boundaries of a joint fire district, may by resolution authorize the sale or transfer of any village-owned or district-owned fire house, fire apparatus, and fire equipment to the joint district. Such transfer may occur with or without consideration, and subject to the terms and conditions deemed fitting and proper by the board of trustees or board of commissioners.

Fire Protection and Fire Alarm Districts

Fire protection districts and fire alarm districts are not public corporations. Both types of districts may be described as assessment areas within which a town can provide limited services and assess the cost back against the taxable properties within the district.

Fire protection districts are established for the sole purpose of providing fire protection by contract. After establishing a fire protection district, a town board may contract with any city, village, fire district or incorporated fire company maintaining suitable apparatus and appliances to provide fire protection to the district for a period not exceeding five years. A town may also acquire apparatus and equipment for use in the district and may contract with any city, village, fire district or incorporated fire company for operation, maintenance and repair of the apparatus and equipment and for the furnishing of fire protection in the district. The cost of the contracted services, together with certain other expenses incurred by reason of the establishment of the district, is then levied against the properties of the district on the annual tax roll.

Fire alarm districts are formed primarily to finance the installation and maintenance of a fire alarm system. However, a town board can contract for fire protection for these districts in a manner that is similar to the way it provides protection for fire protection districts.

Public Benefit Corporations

The Nature of Public Benefit Corporations

Public benefit corporations and other special purpose entities created for specific limited public purposes are often referred to as authorities. Many of these entities, however, carry other terms within their titles such as commissions, districts, corporations, foundations, agencies or funds. For the sake of clarity, this chapter limits discussion to municipal level authorities and special purpose entities.

The first public authority in New York State was created in 1921 by an interstate compact that required the approval of the United States Congress. However, the idea of public benefit corporations or local authorities with independent powers, including the ability to incur debt and by extension the power to levy taxes in order to retire debt, was not quickly embraced by the public. In 1956, only 90 such entities existed in the state. As of 2012, 1266 such entities, including local housing authorities, urban renewal agencies, industrial development agencies and others, filed separate financial statements with the Office of the State Comptroller.[1]

Table 2. Local Authorities and other Special Purpose Entities [2]
Type Number of Entities



Housing authorities


Parking authorities


Urban Renewal Agencies


Industrial Development Agencies


Public Libraries


Library Systems


Association Libraries


Soil & Water Conservation Districts


Other Town Special Districts


Consolidated Health Districts


The traditional purpose of the public authority was to construct, operate and finance specific types of improvements. This concept has broadened, however, and many authorities now exist to meet such diverse needs as housing, parking, water supply, sewage treatment, industrial development, solid waste management, urban renewal, transportation, and community development.


Public benefit corporations have been created for a number of reasons, including to:

  • overcome jurisdictional problems in the operation of facilities or services that are best provided on a regional, interstate or even international basis;

  • provide an administrative entity with the ability to operate and manage public enterprises, without being subject to many of the limitations which apply to the operations of the state and its political subdivisions;

  • facilitate a transition from private to public operation;

  • finance public improvements or services by using rents or user charges from the improvement or service itself without having to levy additional taxes;

  • permit the use of revenue bonds (secured by revenues which the improvement) in order to finance the project, rather than general obligation bonds of a municipality;

  • permit financing without being subject to voter approval or constitutional debt limit restrictions; and

  • provide a vehicle which can take advantage of certain types of federal grants and loans that are not easily available to general purpose municipal corporations.

Powers and Restraints

Public benefit corporations have many of the same powers as general purpose governments, plus some powers that are not enjoyed by general purpose governments. In addition, authorities are not subject to some of the traditional constitutional and statutory restraints imposed upon general purpose governments, such as:

  • constitutional debt limitations, but they may be subject to statutory limits set forth in their own enabling legislation;

  • provisions of the State Finance Law or the Local Finance Law relating to the issuance and sale of obligations, except to the extent provided in their enabling legislation, and they have greater flexibility in scheduling debt payments;

  • the type of public bidding provisions applicable to state and municipal governments.

The power of each public benefit corporation is set forth in its own legislative authorization. The tendency has been to put some of the requirements applicable to general purpose governments (such as the requirement for public bidding) into the special acts establishing authorities, although often in different forms. In addition, several provisions of the Public Authorities Law contain requirements applicable to all or a class of authorities, such as requirements to adopt investment guidelines and rules for awarding personal services contracts. However, the basic financial provisions that distinguish authorities from municipalities, again subject to the requirements of their own special acts, have been kept reasonably intact. Since enhanced fiscal powers often are the most important incentive for using authorities to provide public services, it is useful to explore these powers in greater depth.

Fiscal Powers

Authorities generally have one fiscal limitation that distinguishes them from municipal corporations. No authority may be established having both the power to incur debt and the power to levy or require the levy of taxes or assessments.[3] This is a constitutional power generally reserved for true municipal corporations. Also, an authority cannot be created with both debt-incurring power and the power to collect rentals, charges, fees or rates for services provided, except by special act of the State Legislature.

Generally, an authority may not be created within a city with power to both contract indebtedness and to collect charges from owners or occupants of real property within the city for a service formerly provided by the city, without approval of the electorate.[4]

Subject to these restrictions, authorities may use their fiscal power to finance their authorized functions. They sometimes may even finance improvements and services that cannot be provided directly by the municipal corporations included in the area of the authority. They also often enjoy the same income tax exempt status as municipal corporations on the interest on their obligations. In consideration of these factors, many municipalities to turn to authorities to provide capital-intensive improvements or services.

In the issuance of their financial obligations, authorities generally are not bound by the maturity and certain other requirements in the provisions of the Local Finance Law. Authorities, on the other hand, may have to pay somewhat higher interest rates to borrow money, since their obligations are secured by prospective revenues only and are not backed by the full faith and credit of a municipal corporation with the ability to levy taxes.

Neither the state nor any municipality may become liable for the payment of the obligations of any authority. However, the state or a municipality, if authorized by the Legislature, is not precluded from acquiring the properties of an authority and paying its indebtedness.

1. Source: NYS Department of Education.
1. Office of the State Comptroller, 2013
2. Entity totals reflect units (not including joint activity units or component units) that file separate financial statements with the Office of the State Comptroller. Note: Housing Authorities are not required to file financial statements with the Office of the State Comptroller.
3. State Constitution, Article VIII, section 3
4. State Constitution, Article X, section 5

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