Classes of Cities

Wisconsin law divides cities into 4 classes for purposes relating to governmental administration and the exercise of corporate power. The division is based on population as determined by the last federal decennial census or a special interim census. Section 62.05(l), Stats., provides that the 4 classes of cities are as follows:
  • Cities of 150,000 population and over constitute cities of the first class.
  • Cities of 39,000 and less than 150,000 population constitute cities of the second class.
  • Cities of 10,000 and less than 39,000 population constitute cities of the third class.
  • Cities of less than 10,000 population constitute cities of the fourth class.
Altering City Classifications
A city changes from 1 class of city to another only when all of the following conditions are met:
  • A federal census shows that the city's population has reached the required population
  • Provisions for any necessary changes in government have been duly made
  • A proclamation by the mayor (manager), declaring the change, has been published under ch. 985. Sec. 62.05(2), Stats
The city of Milwaukee is the only first class city in Wisconsin. There are 16 cities of the second class, 30 cities of the third class and 143 cities of the fourth class.

Taking Steps Toward Reclassification
There are cities, such as Madison, whose populations would permit their inclusion in a higher or lower classification but which have not taken the 2 discretionary steps necessary to alter their official classification. Indeed, sec. 9901(15), Stats., 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 9901(15), Stats., 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.