Public Records FAQ 1

How long must public records be retained before they can be destroyed?

The governing body of a city or village must, in general, retain public records for the time set forth in the statutes or ordinances. The ordinance may prescribe a retention time of not less than 2 years for water stubs, receipts of current billings and customer's ledgers of any municipal utility. The ordinance must provide for at least a 7 year retention period for other records, unless the state Public Records Board, attached to the Department of Administration, provides for a shorter period. Wis. Stat. sec. 19.21(4)(b). However, tape recordings of the meetings of municipal governmental bodies may be erased or destroyed after 90 days have elapsed since approval of the body's minutes, if the recording was made to assist in making minutes. Wis. Stat. sec. 19.21(7). In addition, other statutes and requirements, such as Public service Commission rules, may require records to be kept for longer periods.

The city council or village board may provide by ordinance for the destruction of obsolete public records, subject to the retention periods mentioned above. However, before records may be destroyed, at least 60 days' written notice must be given to the State Historical Society. The Historical Society may, upon application, waive such notice. In the case of assessment rolls containing forest crop acreage, prior approval of the Department of Revenue must be obtained before such records are destroyed. Wis. Stat. sec. 19.21(4)(a). If the Historical Society decides that records are of historical interest, the Society may take title to the records. Wis. Stat. secs. 19.23(2) and 44.09.

Questions concerning disposition of public records should be addressed to the State Historical Society, (608) 262-0629. For information on records retention schedules, contact the Public Records Board, (608) 266-2996.