There are 707 local governments in West Virginia, including 55 counties, 55 school districts, 231 municipalities, and 366 special districts. Each is subject to the West Virginia Constitution, which places rather severe limits on their autonomy, saddles them with institutional rules and organizational structures that make it difficult for them to be innovative and creative, and imposes upon them relatively severe fiscal restraints that cause them to be heavily dependent on state assistance. Thus, despite the existence since 1936 of a home rule provision for municipalities with populations of two thousand and more, West Virginia's local governments continue to have a classic unitary relationship with their state government.
The current structure of county government was put into place by a state constitutional amendment, adopted in 1880, clearly establishing that counties were administrative arms of the state government, not autonomous political entities. Their main constitutional duties were to record deeds and other papers presented for record within their geographic boundaries, conduct elections for county and district officers, serve as judges when the outcome of county or district elections were contested or when the qualifications of those running for county or district office were challenged, and assist the state government in the administration of justice by enforcing state laws within the county's boundaries and by providing and maintaining a county jail. They were also allowed to construct and maintain county roads, bridges, public landings, ferries, and mills and to set levy rates on property located within their boundaries to pay for these services.