Overview of Classes of Kentucky Cities

Section 156a of the Kentucky Constitution delegates power to the Kentucky General Assembly to “create such classifications of cities as it deems necessary based on population, tax base, form of government, geography, or any other reasonable basis and enact legislation relating to the classifications.”  It also provides, “All legislation relating to cities of a certain classification shall apply equally to all cities with the same classification.”

The Kentucky General Assembly has provided for six classifications of cities.  Those classes are based in large part on population though other factors are also considered in establishing a city’s classification.  The listing of first through sixth class cities are found at Chapter 81 of Kentucky Revised Statutes at Section 81.010.  Louisville is classified as a first class city even though Louisville and Jefferson County merged in 2003 to form the consolidated Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.  The merger preserved all other cities within Jefferson County as semi-autonomous entities which have distinct jurisdiction as second through sixth class cities.  Current statutory classifications of cities in Kentucky and their corresponding population references are as follows:  First Class -100,000 or more; Second Class – 20,000 to 99,999; Third Class – 8,000 to 19,999; Fourth Class – 3,000 to 7,999; Fifth Class – 1,000 to 2,999; and Sixth Class – less than 1,000.  The current number of cities of each class in Jefferson County, Kentucky are: First Class: 1, Second Class: 1, Third Class: 2; Fourth Class: 8, Fifth Class: 16, and Sixth Class: 57.

Classification  Population Requirements Current Number
in Classification
First 100,000 or more 1
Second 20,000 to 99,999 13
Third 8,000  to 19,999 19
Fourth 3,000  to   7,999 107
Fifth 1,000  to  2,999 116
Sixth Less than 1,000 162
Totals: 418

Cities in Jefferson County  

Classification Current Number in Classification
First  1
Second  1
Third  2
Fourth  9
Fifth  14
Sixth  57
Totals 84

Note: Office of Jefferson County Clerk; Municipalities of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Class - Dec. 28, 2010


Forms of Local Government in Jefferson County, Kentucky

Kentucky Law provides for specific organizational forms of city government.  In November 2000 the voters of Jefferson County approved the consolidation of Jefferson County with the City of Louisville.  The Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government began operation in January 2003 and is governed pursuant to a state statue providing for a Mayor and Legislative Council form of government.  The semi-autonomous cities in Jefferson County utilize either a Mayor-Council Plan of government or a Commission Plan of government.  Currently 21 of those cities utilize the Mayor-Council form and 62 of those cities utilize the Commission form.  The larger cities tend to utilize the Mayor-Council form and the smaller tend to utilize the Commission form.  In the Mayor-Council form the executive authority of the city is vested in and exercised by the mayor and the legislative authority is vested in and exercised by the council.  In the Commission form all legislative, executive and administrative authority is vested in and exercised by the Commission.


State Law Affecting Different Classes of Jefferson County, Kentucky Cities

Many Kentucky statutes grant or deny authority to cities, or otherwise affect cities differently based on their classification.  Several of the areas where statutes affect cities by classification are listed below.

Occupational license fee/ tax
All Kentucky cities are allowed to levy an occupational license fee/tax for the privilege of working in or conducting business within the city. This general revenue measure may be imposed as a percentage of gross payroll, gross receipts or net profits in cities of the first through fifth classes. Sixth class cities are prohibited from imposing an occupational or business license fee measured as a percentage of gross payroll or net profits.  Any fee imposed by a sixth class must be based on a flat annual rate.

Restaurant tax
Kentucky cities of the fourth and fifth classes that have established a tourist and convention commission may levy a restaurant tax not to exceed three percent of gross retail sales of restaurants within the city.  Receipts are to be dedicated to the funding of the local tourism commission.

Mandatory police and fire departments
Police and fire departments are mandatory in Kentucky’s first, second and third class cities.  All other classes of cities may create a police and/or fire department at their option.

Police department countywide jurisdiction
Certified police officers in cities of the first through fifth classes have full police powers throughout the county in which the city is located. Certified police officers in sixth class cities only have police powers within city limits.

Planning and zoning powers
In Jefferson County cities of the first, second, third and fourth classes have planning and zoning powers specific to their jurisdictions.   That power is granted by state statute to Louisville Metro as well as all semi-autonomous cities of the second, third and fourth class.  Kentucky statutes [KRS 100.137(3)] provide for counties containing a consolidated local government that all legislation implementing planning and zoning “which affects cities of the first through fourth classes shall be enacted by such cities…”  Therefore planning and zoning in Jefferson County often involves a two-tiered process coursing through Louisville Metro planning and zoning as well as the planning and zoning entities of a second, third or fourth class city.  In most cases the governing bodies of second through fourth class cities in Jefferson County sit separately as the planning commission entity for their cities.

Civil Service
Civil service systems addressing the dismissal and reprimand of city employees are mandatory for Kentucky’s first class cities. It is not mandatory for cities of the second through fifth classes, but these cities have the option to adopt such a system. Sixth class cities may not adopt civil service.

Nuisance code enforcement
Kentucky cities of the first through the fourth class may abate nuisances through powers granted under Kentucky state statutes.  They may establish violations and penalties in the city’s Codes of Ordinances.  Enforcement and appeals of violations are often handled through the city’s code enforcement board.  Cities of the fifth and sixth class may use alternative procedures available under Kentucky state statutes with regard to abatement of nuisances.


Breakdown of the Current Major Laws That Vary by Classification

Selected laws affecting cities by class  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Occupational license fee as percent (earnings/profit)  X  X  X  X  X
Restaurant tax  X  X
Mandatory police and fire departments  X
Mandatory public safety, collective bargaining  X  1
Firefighter work schedule  X  X
Police department countywide jurisdiction  X  X  X  X  X
Police force merit system  X
Police and firefighter disciplinary procedure  X  X
Civil Service  X  2  2  2  2
Local option elections for alcohol sales  X  X  X  X
Liquor-by-the-drink ordinance  X
Planning and zoning preemption  3  3
Nuisance code enforcement in KRS 82.700-82.725  X  X  X  X
Community improvement district  X  X  X  X
Local development authority  X  X


  1. Lexington has mandatory collective bargaining with public safety officers as an urban county government.
  2. It is not mandatory.
  3. Only fifth and sixth class cities located in a consolidated local government are preempted.