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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.
COUNTIES -- Powers and Duties (naming of public facilities after corporate grantor) -- Social Services Districts (acceptance of corporate grant for day care purposes)
MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS -- Powers and Duties (acceptance of gift on condition that public facility be named after donor)
SOCIAL SERVICES LAW §§61(2), 131-g, 410; COUNTY LAW, §215(3): A county social services district may not accept a corporate grant for the purpose of providing day care services pursuant to the Social Services Law on the condition that a day care room be permanently named in a manner which identifies the grantor. The county governing board, however, may accept the grant conditioned upon naming a day care room in a county building in a manner which identifies the grantor, subject to the board's power to rename the room.
You ask whether a county social services district may accept a corporate grant to furnish, carpet and provide toys for a day care room on the condition that the room be named in a manner which identifies the grantor.
It is our policy to render opinions in relation to matters arising under provisions of the State Constitution or the various State statutes which define the rights and obligations of municipal corporations and their officers. Therefore, the discussion below is limited to provisions of State law of general applicability and does not take into consideration county charter provisions which may be pertinent.
Each county outside the City of New York constitutes a "county social services district" (Social Services Law, §61). A "social services district" is authorized to apply for and accept private gifts of money, property and services for any purpose provided for by the Social Services Law (Social Services Law, §131-g; see also 18 NYCRR 390.1). Social Services Law, §410 authorizes a county public welfare official to provide day care services. Therefore, since a county social services district is authorized to apply for and accept gifts of money for any purpose provided for in the Social Services Law and that law authorizes a county public welfare official to provide day care services, it is our opinion that a county social services district may apply for and accept a corporate grant for the purpose of providing day care services (see also Social Services Law, §410, declaring day care to be a proper municipal purpose and authorizing counties to receive and expend moneys from private individuals, corporations and associations for furnishing day care; County Law, §215,authorizing county governing boards to accept gifts of real and personal property for lawful county purposes).
With respect to whether a county social services district may apply for and accept a corporate grant on the condition that a room in a county building be named after the grantor, we note initially that the authority of a local government to accept a gift generally includes the authority to accept a gift upon reasonable conditions and restrictions (2A Antieau, Municipal Corporation Law, §20.12; 10 McQuillin, Mun Corps, §28.16; cf. 18 NYCRR 390.2 authorizing State reimbursement for expenditures of donations to a social services district for social services only when, inter alia, the donations are made "on an unrestricted basis"). In the absence of express statutory authority, however, a local government may not accept a gift upon a condition that the governing body of the local government surrender or renounce powers and duties vested in it by the legislature (Atlantic Beach Property Owner's Association v Town of North Hempstead, 3 NY2d 434, 165 NYS2d 737).
County Law, §215(3) empowers the county governing board to name county buildings and, in our opinion, by necessary implication, to name and rename rooms within those buildings. This power to name public buildings and rooms therein, which is vested by statute in the governing body of a municipality, is a legislative power which, in the absence of express statutory authority, may not be limited by acceptance of a conditional gift (see Belden v City of Niagara Falls, 230 App Div 601, 245 NYS 510). Therefore, we believe that it would be improper for a county social services district to apply for or accept a grant which is conditioned upon a county facility being permanently named after a particular donor.
It is permissible, however, to name public facilities after an individual in recognition of community service (see Antonetty v Cuomo, 131 Misc 2d 1041, 502 NYS2d 902; cf. Tuck v Heckscher, 29 NY2d 288, 327 NYS2d 351, where a city was to acquire a museum building named, pursuant to an agreement to which the city was not a party, after a family providing moneys for the building). Further, we have previously concluded that a municipality may acknowledge gifts accepted by the municipality by publishing a statement of acknowledgement or placing a name plate with the donor's name on property purchased with donated moneys (1979 Opns St Comp No. 79-475, unreported; 33 Opns St Comp, 1977, p 62; cf. 1980 Opns St Comp No. 80-735, unreported, concluding that, with certain exceptions, municipal buildings may not be used for the display of commercial advertisements). It has also been our opinion that a municipality may expend nominal amounts on plaques or other mementos to be given in recognition of extraordinary or voluntary municipal service (see, e.g., 1983 Opns St Comp No. 83-15, p 15; 1979 Opns St Comp Nos. 79-6, p 2 and 79-882, p 203), in part, because it is in the public interest to encourage performance of such services (see 1980 Opns St Comp Nos. 80-282, p 83 and 80-775, p 212). Therefore, based on the foregoing, we believe that a county governing board, in its discretion, may accept a corporate grant for the purpose of providing day care services which is conditioned upon naming a day care room in a county building after the grantor or installing a plaque of nominal value identifying the grantor, so long as the condition is subject to the board's power to rename the room in its discretion in the future.
March 20, 1990
Kenneth S. Beskin, Esq., Department of Law
County of Suffolk