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Janesville considers the consequences of possibly losing metro status

Dark storefronts along Milwaukee Street in Janesville.
Dark storefronts along Milwaukee Street in Janesville.(NBC15)
Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 6:39 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Janesville city leaders are still trying to determine the consequences of the federal government potentially yanking away its metropolitan status – and there could be some major dollars at stake.

The Office of Management and Budget is proposing changes to how it defines metropolitan statistical areas that would leave 144 cities nationwide, including Janesville, that currently have that designation on the outside looking in.

“My take is that the proposal is not good for Janesville,” City Manager Mark Freitag told NBC15 News, adding that the city was “quite surprised” by the plan.

The new plan would require a metro area to have at least 100,000 people in its core city to count as an MSA. That would double the 50,000-person threshold that has been in place for 70 years. Cities that fall in that middle ground between 50,000 and 100,000 people would be re-classified as micropolitan statistical areas.

Beyond Janesville, four other Wisconsin cities could lose MSA status: Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, and Wausau-Weston. Just across the Mississippi River, Dubuque, Iowa, also falls just under the six-digit threshold.

A committee of representatives from federal statistical agencies recently made the recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget, saying it’s purely for statistical purposes and not to be used for funding formulas. As a practical matter, however, that is how it’s often used.

Several housing, transportation and Medicare reimbursement programs are tied to communities being metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, so the designation change concerns some city officials.

Freitag said Janesville leaders are in the process of trying to determine if the city would stand to lose funds because of the change – and, if so, just how much.

Statisticians say the change in designations has been a long time coming, given that the U.S. population has more than doubled since 1950. Back then, about half of U.S. residents lived in metros; now, 86% do.

Nancy Potok, a former chief statistician of the Office of Management and Budget who helped develop the new recommendations, acknowledged that officials in some cities will be upset with the changes because they believe it could hurt efforts to lure jobs or companies to their communities.

As for Janesville, Freitag says the city plans to take advantage of the OMB’s public comment request to make sure its voice is heard.

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