WHAT IS A COTERMINOUS TOWN-VILLAGE?
A coterminous town-village is a unique form of local government organization. Geographically, one town and one village share the same boundaries. Depending on how the coterminous unit is formed, the town and the village function together as a single local government or as two separate local governments. As a single unit of government, the governing body of one unit of the coterminous government serves as the governing body of the other unit. This process results in one of the forms of government being the primary form of government – either town or village – effectively eliminating the other as far as administration is concerned. Where the coterminous entity functions as two local governments, separate officers and boards are chosen or selected and both town and village entities possess governance authority.
Currently, there are five coterminous town-villages in New York: Mount Kisco, Harrison and Scarsdale, in Westchester County, Green Island in Albany County, and East Rochester in Monroe County.
A coterminous town-village can be created in several ways. One way is for a new village to be incorporated in a town which has no existing villages, with the new village having the same boundaries as the existing town. This method would comply with the prerequisites for forming a new village under Village Law, §2-200. The coterminous Town-Villages of Harrison and Scarsdale were created in this way.
Another method is for an existing village to use the procedures of General Municipal Law, Article 17, to annex all of the adjacent territory in its town lying outside the village. Essentially, the village would expand its boundaries to become coterminous with the town. For this to occur, there would have to be no other villages already in existence in the town. Additionally, the procedure requires approval of both the existing village and town governing boards, plus the approval of the voters at a referendum held in the outlying territory which is to be annexed.
A third method is for the State Legislature to adopt a special act creating the coterminous town-village. Since it would be for the benefit of only two municipalities, such a special act would require that the two existing governments send a "home rule request" to the Legislature to enact the bill. In the special act, the boundaries of the new municipality would be set forth, and other provisions would be written regarding governmental administration, disposition of real property and other assets and obligations of the existing municipalities. Although a referendum is not required by any existing general statute, the Legislature may condition the creation of the town-village on the approval of the voters at a referendum. By utilizing the method of a special act, the boundaries of the new town-village could follow an existing town or village boundary, or they could follow newly-drawn boundaries. Both the Village and the Town of Green Island were created by separate acts of the State Legislature in the 19th Century.
A fourth method is for a public petition to be submitted under Article Five of the Town Law, calling for the division of the existing town into two towns, one of which would have the same boundaries as an existing village. The coterminous Town-Villages of Mount Kisco and East Rochester were created in this way, although in each of those cases two existing towns were divided to create the new town. The formation of Mount Kisco was also later ratified by an act of the State Legislature.
An Article Five petition may be signed by any registered voter of the town, whether a resident of the village or not. The petition must contain signatures totaling at least five per cent of the total number of votes cast in the town for the office of Governor at the last gubernatorial election--but not less than 100 in a first-class town or not less than 25 in a second-class town. The petition must be submitted to the county legislative body, which must hold a public hearing and then make a determination whether to grant the petition. The petition may only be granted by a two-thirds vote of the county legislative body. If granted, there will then be a referendum on the division of the town. All registered town voters, including residents of the village, will be eligible to vote on the proposition to divide the town.
Regardless as to how a coterminous town-village is created, there is permanent State legislation governing administration in the municipality once it has been created. Article 17 of the Village Law contains detailed provisions concerning such issues as alteration of boundaries, election of officers, their powers and duties, bonds and other indebtedness, assessments, and the administration of improvement districts. For example, Article 17 requires that, in a new town created with the same boundaries as an existing village, a referendum must be held to determine whether the voters wish the local government to operate "principally as a village" or "principally as a town." After the election, there will thereafter be a single governing body, with the members holding office as both the town and the village board, but functioning primarily as either the one or the other.
If a new village is incorporated to embrace the entire territory of an already-existing town, the town board may submit a proposition to the voters as to whether they wish the board of trustees to function also as the town board. (If at least 50 taxpayers petition for such an election, then the town board has no choice: it is required to submit the proposition to the voters.) If the voters turn down the proposition, then there will continue to be separate village and town boards, although the municipalities are coterminous.
Article 17 also provides that the creation of a coterminous town-village shall not affect the existence or boundaries of any school district or change the levy or collection of taxes for any school district. Similarly, the jurisdiction of existing town and village courts must be extended to cover any judicial actions pending at the time of creation of the new municipality.
Even though the new coterminous municipality may function primarily either as a town or as a village, it will be required to continue to perform at least some of the functions of both. The change of municipal status to that of a coterminous town-village will have a fiscal impact that cannot be determined until a thorough study has been conducted. While additional local assistance may be forthcoming, there will be additional expenditure responsibilities as well.
The Secretary of State is authorized to provide assistance to local governments and general information to the public pursuant to New York State Executive Law, Article 6-B. The information in this Memorandum is provided pursuant to that authorization, but is informal only and should not be construed as providing legal advice. Local governments and other persons or entities should consult with their own legal counsel for legal advice.
Updated January 2020