FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Mr. Ben E. Cooper
The staff of
the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized
to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion
is based solely upon the information presented in your e-mail
of February 7, 2003.
Dear Mr. Cooper:
You have asked whether
the Appalachia Volunteer Fire Department ("the Department")
is a public body under the Virginia Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA), and whether it must comply with the provisions
of FOIA. You indicate that the Department receives nearly
$55,000 of a budget of $61,477.00 from the Town of Appalachia,
Wise County, and the Virginia State Fire Program.
of the Code of Virginia defines a public body to include any
legislative body, authority, board, bureau, commission, district
or agency of the Commonwealth or of any political subdivision
of the Commonwealth, including cities, towns and counties,
municipal councils, governing bodies of counties, school boards
and planning commissions; boards of visitors of public institutions
of higher education; and other organizations, corporations
or agencies in the Commonwealth supported wholly or principally
by public funds. (Emphasis added.) Whether the Department
is a public body for purposes of this definition depends upon
whether or not it is supported wholly or principally by
public funds. FOIA does not define the word "principally,"
but this office has previously opined that as a general rule
an entity that receives at least two-thirds, or 66.6 percent,
of its operating budget from government sources would be supported
principally by public funds.1 However, because
this is just a guideline, the question of whether an entity
is supported wholly or principally by public funds is a question
of fact, and must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Applying this rule
to the Department, it appears that it would fall under the
definition of a public body. It receives nearly 90 percent
of its funding from state and local government sources, with
the remaining ten percent of its funds coming from donations
and contracts. As such, the Department must comply with the
procedures set forth in FOIA regarding access to public records
and meetings, if any are held, by citizens and representatives
of the media.
Thank you for contacting
this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Maria J.K. Everett
See Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Opinion 36 (2001).