FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-09-03


April 21, 2003

Mr. Ben E. Cooper
Member, Town Council
Appalachia, Virginia

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.

Section 2.2-3701 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
Executive Director

1 See Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Opinion 36 (2001).