144 cities could lose metropolitan area status

A committee of experts tasked by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with developing new standards for what defines a metropolitan center has recommended that dozens of cities be downgraded from metropolitan to “micropolitan” designations.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that 144 municipalities across the U.S. were recommended to be downgraded, including smaller cities such as Sheboygan, Wisc., as well as so-called college towns such as Charlottesville, Va., and Corvallis, Ore. Under the new designation, only cities with permanent populations of 100,000 or more would be considered metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

Other cities facing the downgrade include the capitals of New Mexico and North Dakota, Santa Fe and Bismarck, and cities that have seen population loss such as Cumberland, Md.

The news reportedly caught officials in some cities off guard. The director of communications for the city of Charlottesville questioned AP in a statement as to whether the ruling was a “mistake,” while others worried that the designation change could lead to significant federal funding changes to affected cities.

“I won’t lie. We would be dismayed to see our MSA designation go away. We aren’t a suburb of any other, larger city in the area, so this is very much part of our community’s identity,” said a spokesperson for the city of Corvallis, according to the AP. “Losing the designation would also have potentially adverse impacts on recruitment for local businesses, as well as Oregon State University.” 

“It won’t change any formulas … but we see this as a first step leading down that path,” a city official in Bismarck told the AP. “We anticipate that this might be that first domino to drop.”

At least one affected city official, the mayor of Opelika, Ala., reportedly wrote to OMB in response that the plans to change the designations should be reversed.

News of the designation changes comes as cities around the country took the lead over the last year on encouraging their residents to respond to the 2020 census, as city officials around the country feared undercounted figures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues could lead to some areas losing much-needed federal funding.

Some state-level officials mounted similar campaigns, most notably in California where officials spend nearly $190 million urging state residents to respond to the census.


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