Local Government Structure

To paraphrase a former University of Wisconsin local government expert, James Donoghue, if one were to start out to create local governing structures in a state, one would not start from the hodge-podge and overlays of local government in existence today.  Wisconsin has 72 county governments, and within them, 1,269 towns, and within them but separate from the towns, 402 villages and 190 cities.  Counties and towns are created on a geographic-area basis, villages and cities are created on a population basis.

In addition to these local governments, there are 426 school districts whose boundaries do not match and often overlap counties, towns, villages, and cities.  Finally, there are a number of special local districts that may exist to govern specific services, such as sewage districts or the multi-county professional sports stadium districts, most of which cross several local government boundary lines.

Each of these different kinds of local government has a structure prescribed in state law.  You can find the specific laws at the state legislature’s website, in a searchable database.

Most cities have their own websites which you can easily find in a quick online search.  You can find the names and contact numbers for municipal officials at these sites.  The same is true for most counties and townships in Wisconsin.

Another handy website for research is maintained by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities where you can find bulletins, news releases, publications, and information about issues affecting the communities in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Towns Association maintains a useful and easily navigable website where you can get up to speed on issues affecting the 1.5 million Wisconsinites who live in rural and urban townships.

At the Wisconsin Counties Association website  you can find a county directory, a video and audio reference library, and news releases about governmental issues affecting county government.

A quick way to get up to speed on local government in Wisconsin and how it functions is at the University of Wisconsin Extension’s Local Government website, which has topical content areas about how services like firefighting, disaster preparedness, planning, and many other essential services function at the local level in Wisconsin.