How County Administration and Finances Stack Up

August 2010


At the start of this year, 11 counties had a county executive, 21 had a county administrator, and 40 had an administrative coordinator. County board sizes ranged from seven to 38 members. Most recent (2008) finance figures show Wisconsin counties spent $5.05 billion on general operations and collected $5.19 billion in general revenues.

  • Between 2003 and 2010, only one county hired an executive, while eight changed to a county administrator.
  • The median 2009 salaries for county executives and administrators were $92,022 and $100,897, respectively.
  • In the five years prior to levy limits (2000-05), county property tax collections rose 5.7% annually vs. 2.9% since.

Wisconsin county government dates back to 1818, three decades before statehood. At the time, three counties—Crawford, Brown, and Michilimackinac—covered the entire territory. Today, Wisconsin has 72 counties, with populations ranging from over 930,000 people in Milwaukee County to fewer than 5,000 in Menominee.
Since 2003 (time of the last WISTAX survey), a lot has changed in county administration and finance. Fifteen counties have changed administrative type and nine have altered county board size. With levy limits beginning in 2006, growth in both tax and total revenues has slowed from the early 2000s. County administration information was collected from surveys sent to each of the state’s 72 county clerks.
County government is limited by state law to three forms of administration: county executive, county administrator, and administrative coordinator. Currently, 11 counties have an elected executive, 21 have an appointed administrator, 15 have a full-time administrative coordinator, and 25 have a part time administrative coordinator (see Figure 1 and Table 1).