Distinctions Between Cities & Villages

While the powers of cities and villages are similar, there are differences in the way they are organized. Generally speaking, city government consists of a mayor or city manager and a common council. The mayor or manager is the chief executive officer and the council is the legislative arm of the city. The members of the council are elected from aldermanic districts and the mayor is elected at large. Village government consists of a village board made up of trustees and a village president. The village board serves as the executive officer and legislative body of the village. The village president and the trustees are elected at large.

Since 1933, villages have had the same broad statutory home rule powers to change the structure of their local government or exercise corporate powers as cities. Secs. 61.34(1) (villages) and 62.11(5) (cities), Stats. Most state or federal grants-in-aid or shared revenue laws distinguish between local general purpose units of government on the basis of population or need rather than on legal nomenclature. Therefore, although statutory differences still exist between the basic structures and powers of city and village government, the distinctions tend to become blurred with the passage of time and local ordinances.

Summary of Differences
In cities, when district boundaries are coterminous, the office of alder person may be consolidated with the office of county supervisor. In villages, only the office of village president may be so combined. Sec. 66.0503(1)(a), Stats. A village changing to a city would not, however, thereby acquire greater representation on the county board, since supervisory districts are based on population. Sec. 59.10(3), Stats.

Mayors Have More Power Than Village Presidents
A mayor has the veto power, is the city's chief executive officer and is the head of the police and fire departments, except in cities that have adopted optional powers for police and fire commissions under sec. 62.13(6) Stats. Sec. 62.09(8), Stats. A mayor presides at common council meetings and votes on matters before the council only in cases of a tie. While the mayor is a member of the council, the mayor is not counted in determining whether a quorum is present at a meeting. Village presidents preside at village board meetings but are not considered the chief executive officer of the village. Village presidents do not have veto power and, like any other trustee, may vote on all measures that come before the board. Village presidents are members of the village board and are counted in determining whether a quorum is present at the meeting.

Police & Fire Commission
Cities with populations of 4,000 or more must establish a police and fire commission. Sec. 62.13(2), Stats. Nothing in the state statutes requires cities to provide police or fire protection services. Villages over a certain population are, on the other hand, mandated to provide police and fire protection services. Villages with a population of 5,000 or more must provide police protection services by creating their own department, contracting for those services with another local governmental entity, or by creating a joint department with another city, town or village. Sec. 61.65(l)(a), Stats.

Villages with a population of 5,500 or more must provide fire protection services by any of the 3 permissible techniques available for the provision of police services or by using a fire company organized under ch. 213, Stats. Sec. 61.65(2)(a), Stats. Each village with a population of 5,000 or more that creates a joint police department must create a joint board of police commissioners to govern the department. Similarly, each village whose population exceeds 5,500 that creates its own police department or a joint police department with another municipality must create its own or a joint board of police commissioners to govern the department.
  • Villages, but not cities, with programs established prior to 1987, may provide combined police and fire services. Sec. 61.66, Stats.
  • Nominations are generally made by caucus in villages and are always made by nomination papers in cities. Secs. 8.05(l) and 8.10, Stats. If a village board opts to use nomination papers for candidates for village office, the caucus method cannot be used. Sec. 8.10(4), Stats.
  • Cities may be held liable for mob damage under sec. 893.81, Stats. Counties may also be held liable for such damage under this law, but there is no direct village liability.
All cities are required to have an official newspaper and to publish all legal notices, council proceedings and ordinances in it. Sec. 985.06, Stats. In villages, no official newspaper is required, although publication in newspapers is required in some instances. Secs. 61.32, 61.50 and 985.05(l), Stats. Also, in villages only ordinances that impose a forfeiture must be published or posted. Sec. 61.50, Stats.

Statutory Officers
The list of statutory officers for cities is somewhat longer than for villages. For example, fire chiefs and police chiefs are listed as city officers in ch. 62, Stats., but they are not listed as village officers in ch. 61, Stats. Compare sec. 62.09(1)(b), Stats., with sec. 61.19-29, Stats. However, both cities and villages are authorized to create additional offices not listed in the statutes and eliminate offices listed in the statutes. Other statutory city officers that are not mentioned as village officers in ch. 61, Stats., include comptroller, attorney, engineer, local health officer or local board of health, street commissioner and board of public works. Except for the offices of city attorney and health commissioner, these offices may be eliminated and their duties transferred as provided under sec. 62.09(l)(b), Stats.

Village presidents under sec. 61.31, Stats., and trustees are officers of the peace, and may suppress riotous or disorderly conduct in public places and may command the assistance of private citizens. Formerly, city council members were given such powers by sec. 62.09(14), Stats. That section, however, was repealed by the legislature in 1983.

The extraterritorial zoning and plat approval jurisdiction of first, second and third class cities extends to the unincorporated area within 3 miles of their corporate limits. Fourth-class cities and villages have extraterritorial zoning and plat approval jurisdiction for only 1.5 miles beyond their corporate boundaries. Secs. 62.23(7a)(a) and 236.02(5), Stats.

Village Boards
In villages, a majority of the members-elect constitutes a quorum of the village board. Sec. 61.32, Stats. The village president, being a trustee is counted in determining whether a quorum is present. In cities, two-thirds of the members of the common council constitutes a quorum, except that in cities having not more than 5 alder persons a majority constitutes a quorum. Sec. 62.11(3)(b), Stats. While the mayor is considered a member of the common council, the mayor is not counted in determining whether a quorum is present at a meeting. Sec. 62.11(l), Stats.
  • Cities, but not villages, are expressly authorized by sec. 66.0923, Stats., to jointly construct or otherwise acquire, equip, operate and maintain a county-city auditorium.
  • Cities, but not villages, are expressly authorized by sec. 66.0925, Stats., to jointly construct or otherwise acquire, equip, operate and maintain a county-city safety building.
Library Boards
Village library boards consist of 5 members while library boards in cities of the fourth class consist of 7 members and library boards in cities of the second or third class consist of 9 members. Sec. 43.54(1)(a), Stats. Library boards in first class cities consist of 12 members as specified in sec. 43.54(1)(am), Stats.