By Gary H. Bernier, Esq.
As time goes by, municipalities find themselves confronted with how to handle the seemingly endless stream of paper associated with the operation of government. As populations grow, there are more and more subdivision applications, building permits, abatement requests, tax cards, zoning appeals, and even dog licenses. What do we do with all of these documents? Here are some of the answers.
Q. Who decides how municipal records are to be retained?
A. The state municipal records board was formed pursuant to RSA 33-A:4-a. The duties of the board include establishing rules governing the “standards, procedures, and regulations for the effective and efficient management of municipal records,” including the retention, preservation and disposition thereof.
Q. Where may I find the rules established by the municipal records board?
A. One may view the rules online at http://gencourt.state.nh.us/rules/mur300.html.
Q. What type of information falls within the definition of municipal records?
A. Pursuant to RSA 33-A:1, IV, “municipal records” are “all municipal records, reports, minutes, tax records, ledgers, journals, checks, bills, receipts, warrants, payrolls, deeds and any other written or computerized material that may be designated by the board.” Pursuant to a rule established by the board (Mur 301.03), the term “records” is defined as “information required by statute, regulation or administrative rule, in any format, created by or on behalf of a municipality within the state of New Hampshire.”
Q. What is the general municipal responsibility relative to records retention?
A. Pursuant to RSA 33-A:3, the selectmen (or city manager/mayor) along with the clerk, treasurer, assessors and tax collector of each municipality shall constitute a local records committee. The committees are responsible for the disposition of municipal records pursuant to RSA 33-A and the rules established by the municipal records board.
Q. In what form must municipal records be maintained?
A. Records may be retained in their original form, “if such form can be read without use of any equipment other than the human eye,” or the record may be microfilmed. Consult rule Mur 302.02 for detailed specifications relative to microfilming. Pursuant to RSA 33-A:5, if microfilms are made, two films must be produced, one for storage by the municipality in a fireproof container and one to be “transferred to a suitable location for permanent storage.” If the original record is created in electronic format, a paper or microfilm copy of the record must be made and retained.
Q. How long must municipal records be retained?
A. The answer to this question varies depending on the type of record. For example, some records must be retained for only five years. These include abatement records, property inventories and checklists. Other records must be retained permanently. These include annual reports, building permits and applications, insurance policies, intergovernmental agreements, minutes (final or approved) of all boards and committees and road layouts and discontinuances. Consult rule Mur 303.02 for a complete list of records and minimum retention periods. Also, pursuant to rule Mur 302.05, local records committees have the authority to retain records for periods longer than required by the municipal records board.
Q. What if a particular record is not included on the list under Mur 303.02?
A. Any record that is not addressed by the municipal records board must be retained until such time as the board determines the minimum retention period for that particular record and amends the rules accordingly. Moreover, pursuant to rule Mur 302.04, if any member of a local records committee becomes aware of a record that is not listed on the retention schedule, that person has an affirmative duty to notify the municipal records board.
Q. How do we dispose of original records once the retention period has run?
A. If the local records committee does not elect to extend the minimum retention period, “any interested party may take custody of original records which are open for public inspection and which will otherwise be destroyed. Such request shall be made to the municipality prior to the expiration of a record’s retention.” An “interested party” includes a local historical society, a local library or the New Hampshire Historical Society. If no interested party requests the record, the municipality must destroy it “by any method available in keeping with the confidentiality of the record.”