County governments play a multi-faceted role in the state and local government relationship. That role has been recreated by the influence of our founding fathers, the court system, and the Wisconsin state legislature. The role of counties continues to evolve and change as the state-local partnership is re-examined.
History of Wisconsin County government: In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance created the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. 1818 led to the establishment of Wisconsin’s first three counties, Brown, Crawford, and Michilimackinac County. Due to mining, Southwest Wisconsin’s population increased due to the growth in lead mining, creating a fourth county, Iowa county, in 1829. In 1834, Milwaukee County was established as a fifth county. From 1836-1901, the number of counties increased to seventy one. In 1961, the reservation on Menominee Indians of Wisconsin became Wisconsin’s seventy second county – Menominee County. Today, in 2020 Wisconsin has seventy two total counties that perform essential services and government functions.
An excellent introduction to the role of counties in Wisconsin, Wisconsin County Government: History, Services and Funding , as well as the Wisconsin County Official’s Handbook can be found on the website of the Wisconsin Counties Association.
The Local Government Education web site contains the following information about county government.
Fact Sheets and more
- Fact Sheet #19 – County Government in Wisconsin – [Check back later – currently being revised and updated]
- Fact Sheet #8 – Self-Organized Counties – (PDF file, 23 kb, 2 pages)
- Fact Sheet #21 – Limits of County Board Administrative Authority – (PDF file, 137 kb, 6 pages)
- Map of County Forms of Government (PDF map file-ups dated 2020)
- County Government Roles and Responsibilities – (PDF file of PowerPoint, 62 slides). This presentation provides information on the basic structure of county government in Wisconsin and the roles of county government officials.
- Tenure of Wisconsin County Executives, Administrators, and Coordinators (PDF file, 150 kb, 2 pages)
- Supermajority Votes of the County Board – (PDF file, 320 kb, 3 pages)
- County Government Roles and Responsibilities handout from 2016 County Officials Workshops
- 2020 County Redistricting Handbook
Strengthening County Government: Three Cs for Effectiveness – (PDF file, 854 kb, 5 pages). Local Government Education’s role in supporting county board officials.
County Officials Workshops
Please visit the County Officials Workshops page for more information.