Distinctions Among Classes of Cities

For the most part, few differences exist between the structures of government in the first 3 classes of cities. Moreover, since all Wisconsin cities have home rule powers, both constitutional and statutory, the basic governmental powers of all classes of cities are essentially the same.

Structure & Authority
The greatest discrepancies in structure and authority exist between first class cities and the other classes of cities. In 1921, the legislature repealed all special city charters except the City of Milwaukee's and provided that cities would subsequently operate under ch. 62 of the Wisconsin statutes. The City of Milwaukee, at its discretion, was authorized to adopt the provisions of ch. 62, Stats., by simple ordinance. However, the legislature did not refer to the City of Milwaukee by name but rather as a "city of the first class."

Over the years, special grants of authority and other provisions relating to cities of the first class have been adopted with only the City of Milwaukee in mind. These laws include ch. 119, Stats., relating to the "Milwaukee school system;" sec. 62.50, Stats., governing police and fire departments in first class cities; sec. 62.73, Stats., relating to discontinuance of streets in first class cities; secs. 74.81, 74.83 and 74.87, Stats., authorizing first class cities to sell land for nonpayment of taxes; and secs. 65.01 to 65.20, Stats., relating to municipal budget systems in first class cities.

Budget Systems
Part of the municipal budget system applicable to first class cities may be adopted by cities of the second, third and fourth class. Specifically, the common council of any second, third, and fourth class city may by ordinance adopted by three-fourths of all its members, accept the provisions of secs. 65.02, 65.03 and 65.04, Stats., relating to the creation of a board of estimates. Sec. 65.01, Stats. All cities besides the City of Milwaukee that have not adopted secs. 65.02, 65.03 and 65.04, Stats., are governed by sec. 65.90, Stats., when developing or modifying an annual budget.

Zoning Laws
Fourth class cities have extraterritorial zoning and plat approval jurisdiction for only 1.5 miles beyond their corporate boundaries as contrasted with 3 miles for other classes of cities. Secs. 62.23(7a)(a) and 236.02(s), Stats. Certain regulations with respect to firefighters also differ for fourth class cities. Secs. 62.13(lla) and 213.13, Stats.

Library Boards
Library boards in fourth class cities consist of 7 members while 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.

Shared Revenue
With respect to shared revenue and other financial provisions of the Wisconsin statutes, distinctions are based on population rather than class of city. In recent years, little use has been made of class distinctions among cities except with respect to Milwaukee, the state's only first class city. Therefore, the act of changing from 1 class of city to another, except for the change from a second to a first class city, will have a relatively minor effect on the structure or powers of city government.