Municipal Corporations FAQ 1

League references to first class cities are often followed with parentheses around the name Milwaukee. Why is Milwaukee the only first class city when sec. 62.05(1)(a) says that cities of 150,000 population and over shall constitute 1st class cities and at least one other city has the population required to be a first class city?
A city changes from one class of city to another only when all of the following conditions are met: (1) a federal census shows that the city’s population has reached the required population; (2) provisions for any necessary changes in government have been duly made; and (3) a proclamation by the mayor (manager), declaring the change, has been published under ch. 985. Sec. 62.05(2).  Presently, the city of Milwaukee is the only first class city in Wisconsin.

Currently, there are cities, such as Madison, whose populations would permit their inclusion in a higher or lower classification but which have not taken the two discretionary steps necessary to alter their official classification. Indeed, Wis. Stat. sec. 990.001(15) expressly provides that “[i]f a statute refers to a class of city specified under s. 62.05(1), such reference does not include any city with a population which makes the city eligible to be in that class unless the city has taken the actions necessary to pass into the class under s. 62.05(2).” Section 990.001(15) was enacted in response to City of Madison v. Town of Fitchburg, 112 Wis.2d 224, 332 N.W.2d 782 (1982), in which the court treated Madison as a first class city even though it had not taken the steps to change its classification.