Janesville, 143 other cities will remain metropolitans after all

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 5:28 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A federal classification change that could have potentially cost Janesville and over 140 other U.S. cities major funding dollars is being put on hold.

On Tuesday, the Office of Management and Budget walked back a proposal that would have reclassified cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 residents as micropolitans, rather than metropolitans. The agency noted the course chase keeps the policy in line with revised recommendations by the Standards Review Committee.

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 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.

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

NBC15 News has reached out to Freitag for a follow up comment following Tuesday’s OMB announcement and will update this story with any response.

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.

Statisticians had argued 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.

The proposal garnered significant bi-partisan pushback as well, with Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin and Republican Rep. Bryan Steil joined bipartisan letters within their respective chambers urging the Office of Management and Budget to reconsider the plan.

In its statement, OMB indicated the agency is still concerned about metropolitan status keeping up with population growth and stated it plans to work with the Standards Review Committee with an eye toward conducting more research and reaching out to affected parties so they can revisit the issue when it comes time for the 2030 standards update.

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