This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.
FIRE DISTRICTS -- Appropriations and Expenditures (membership in volunteer firefighters museum) -- Powers and Duties (authority to become member of volunteer firefighters museum)
HISTORIC PRESERVATION -- Fire Districts (authority to become member of volunteer firefighters museum)
TOWN LAW §176(10), (13), (14), (21), (25): A fire district may expend monies to become a member of a volunteer firefighters museum if the board of fire commissioners determines that the fire district's statutory functions will be enhanced thereby and that the fire district will receive sufficient benefits in furtherance of its statutory purposes to constitute fair consideration for the cost of membership.
You ask whether a fire district may expend monies to pay membership dues in a volunteer firefighters museum.
According to the information accompanying your inquiry, the museum is a non-profit organization, which operates under a charter granted by the State Board of Regents and is open to the public without charge. The purposes of the museum are: to preserve and chronicle the history of the local volunteer fire service by acquiring, categorizing and displaying that history; to preserve and restore antique and modern day fire apparatus and equipment in order to trace the evolution of fire suppression; and to provide fire prevention education and hands-on instruction to those who visit and tour the museum.
Fire districts are established for the purpose of providing fire protection and responding to certain other types of emergencies (see Town Law §176, ; General Municipal Law §§209, 209-b; Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law §5; 1992 Opns St Comp No. 92-41, p 105; 1986 Opns St Comp No. 86-34, p 55). In furtherance of these purposes, fire districts have only those powers expressly granted by statute and necessarily implied therefrom (Town Law §176; 1993 Opns St Comp No. 93-24, p 42; 1992 Opns St Comp Nos. 92-4, p 9 and 92-41,
supra; see also 1982 Opns St Comp No. 82-242, p 302; 1981 Opns St Comp No. 81-196, p 209; 17 Opns St Comp, 1961, p 252; cf. Wells v Town of Salina, 119 NY 280).
There is no express or implied authority for a fire district to donate money to a museum (see Opns St Comp No. 91-19, p 62). Moreover, there is no express authority for a fire district to otherwise financially support a museum (cf. Arts and Cultural Affairs Law §61.05; Education Law §§253, 255, 256, 259, 260). Similarly, with certain limited exceptions relating to local government records management, retention and disposition (Arts and Cultural Affairs Law article 57-A [§57.13 et. seq.]), those statutes that expressly provide authority for local government historic preservation programs do not make reference to fire districts (see, e.g., Arts and Cultural Affairs Law §§ 57.07, 57.09; General Municipal Law §§72, 96-a, 119-aa through 119-dd).
We have, however, expressed the opinion that local governments have implied authority to pay membership dues in certain associations if the governing board of the local government reasonably determines that the performance of its statutory functions will be enhanced by such membership and that it will receive sufficient benefits to that end to constitute fair consideration for the cost of membership (see, e.g., 1982 Opns St Comp No. 82-38, p 49 and 1979 Opns St Comp No. 79-71-A, p 13, membership in local chamber of commerce; 1982 Opns St Comp No. 81-255, p 255, p 272, membership in local association of school boards; see also 1981 Opns St Comp No. 81-166, p 175, membership in local historical society). In making its determination, the local government must point to a reasonable connection between activities of the particular association and the statutory powers or duties of the municipality (see Opn No. 81-166, supra).
With respect to the payment of membership dues in a firefighters museum, we note that section 176(10) of the Town Law authorizes fire districts to "organize, operate, maintain and equip fire companies …" Section 176(14) of the Town Law also authorizes fire districts to acquire real property and suitable buildings "[f]or the preservation, protection and storing of fire apparatus and equipment …" In our view, these express powers necessarily imply the authority for a fire district to preserve documents, equipment, apparatus and other items which have historic significance to the fire district, the fire district fire department, or both.
Moreover, section 176(13) of the Town Law authorizes a fire district to purchase apparatus for "the extinguishment and the prevention of fires." In addition, section 176(25) of the Town Law authorizes fire districts to investigate whether the provisions of laws relating to "fire prevention and fire equipment" are being complied with within the district. Based on these express provisions, we have previously concluded that a fire district has implied authority to engage in fire prevention educational activities for the benefit of the residents of the district (see 24 Opns St Comp, 1968, p 758).
Accordingly, it is our opinion that a fire district may expend monies to become a member of a firefighters museum if the board of fire commissioners determines that: (1) the fire district's statutory functions will be enhanced thereby, such as by the museum's preservation of documents, equipment, apparatus and other items that have historic significance to the fire district or the fire district fire department, or by the museum's conduct of fire prevention educational activities that benefit of the residents of the district; and (2) the fire district will receive sufficient benefits in furtherance of its statutory purposes to constitute fair consideration for the cost of membership.
December 1, 2000
Laura LaBianca, District Secretary
Brookhaven Fire District