New Retention Schedule Model for North Carolina Local Governments

Since 1960, when the State Archives of North Carolina (SANC) first published a retention schedule for county governments, SANC has updated local government records retention and disposition schedules as records, recordkeeping processes, and the laws governing local agencies have changed. Currently, SANC amends schedules when legal changes necessitate only a few records series to be updated, and full updates are postponed until recommended changes reach a critical mass.  This approach to writing retention schedules is practical, but it results in different retention periods for the records commonly created by all local government agencies, depending on when a particular schedule was most recently updated.  This can present challenges:

  • Counties that have a centralized Records Management program cannot effectively create uniform retention policies that apply to all departments
  • Employees who perform the same work in multiple agencies have to keep track of multiple retention schedules for their day-to-day records
  • Agencies with a large quantity of unique, program-specific records may have to wait longer to receive current retention periods for their general office records because their schedules may take longer to update
  • Certain County programs like Animal Control and GIS may have different retention periods for their records depending on where the county has located them administratively

To mitigate these challenges, the Government Records Section of the State Archives of North Carolina is transitioning the process for updating local records retention schedules to a new model.

General Records

While some local government records are specific to the mission of the agency that creates them (for example, a Sheriff’s case files, or a Health Department’s patient records), many of the records created on a daily basis (for example, payroll and personnel) are common to all government agencies. Under the new model, we will update all of these general records on an annual basis.  This will also allow us to keep local records retention periods consistent with State records retention periods where applicable, creating greater consistency in records management for the State of North Carolina as a whole.

Records standards that will update on an annual basis include:

  • Administration and Management Records
  • Budget, Fiscal, and Payroll Records
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) Records
  • Information Technology Records
  • Legal Records
  • Personnel Records
  • Public Relations Records
  • Risk Management Records

Program Records

Most local government records retention schedules have a section titled “Program Records,” which includes those records unique to the creating agency’s mission. Retention schedules that don’t have this section, such as the County Management and Municipal Schedules, still have sections of the schedule that apply to only one department (for example, Parks and Recreation records).  These standards will update on a rotating cycle.  We will also be updating Law Enforcement Records on a rotating basis, for greater consistency between municipal police departments and sheriffs’ offices.  The current timetable for updating the program records standards is as follows:

  • 2019 – Local Health Departments, Soil and Water Conservation Districts
  • 2020 – Agricultural Extensions, County Management, Local Education Agencies, Municipalities, Regional Councils of Government, Tourism Development Authorities
  • 2021 – County Social Service Agencies, County Veterans Services, Law Enforcement Agencies, Public Libraries, Public Transportation Systems and Authorities
  • 2022 – Alcoholic Beverage Control Boards, County Boards of Elections, County Tax Administrations, Local Management Entities, DMH/DD/SAS Local Management Entities (LME),
  • DMH/DD/SAS Provider Agencies
  • 2023 – County Registers of Deeds, Land Use and Environmental Services Agencies, Public Hospitals, Water and Sewer Authorities and Sanitary Districts

What Does This Mean for You?

Beginning in 2019, all local records retention schedules will update on an annual basis.  These annual updates will include any updates to the General Records Standards as well as any scheduled updates to the Program Records Standards.  Updating the schedules in this fashion will create greater consistency among government agencies and will allow agencies with older schedules to use the most current retention periods for their general office records, even if their program records standards are not updated simultaneously.  We are planning the first update on March 1, 2019.  All subsequent updates will be issued on January 1 of each year.

Municipal clerks and clerks to other governing boards should be made aware of this change and plan to begin adopting the new retention schedules on an annual basis at the beginning of the calendar year.

While we update these schedules, we welcome feedback from general users and subject matter experts within your local government agency. We will be convening groups of stakeholders for all applicable program records standards during the calendar year prior to those schedules’ updates.  Once the drafts to these schedules are finalized, they will be posted on our website for feedback from all users.

What About Amendments?

Agencies that require localized amendments to their retention schedules are still welcome to request them from the Records Analysis Unit. If we determine that the requested change is a good practice for all agencies in North Carolina, we will then roll out that change on a statewide basis during the next annual update.

Most changes to the retention schedules that would have required an amendment in the past will now be implemented during the annual updates; however, when the laws governing a set of records change, we will still issue necessary amendments to the schedules even if they do not coincide with the annual update in January.