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AGO 1955 No. 145 - October 13, 1955
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington


(1) Use by private non-profit [[nonprofit]]corporation designated or employed by county commissioners of county land for fair purposes is a public purpose within the meaning of chapter 257, Laws of 1955.

(2) The holding of fairs and agricultural exhibits is a matter incidental to agricultural purposes within the meaning of RCW 36.34.180.

(3) The provisions of RCW 36.37.040 as amended by chapter 297, Laws of 1955 have no application to the purchase of the state fair grounds for public purposes under the provisions of chapter 257, Laws of 1955.

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                                                                October 13, 1955

Honorable Don J. Clark
Prosecuting Attorney
Yakima County
Yakima, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 145

Attention:  Mr. Lon Boyle, Deputy

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of August 25, 1955, previously acknowledged, you request our opinion on certain questions concerning the possible purchase by the board of county commissioners of the state fair grounds located in Yakima County under the authority granted by the legislature in chapter 257, Laws of 1955.

            The questions proposed are as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "1. Would a lease to, and the use by the Central Washington Fair Association be such a public use or purpose as required by the proviso to the act?  * * *

            "2. Under the limitations of RCW 36.34.180 ‑ Lease Terms ‑ would the four or five day exhibition of livestock, agricultural, horticultural, and like farm products be 'incidental to‑-agricultural purposes ‑-' whereby the Board of County Commissioners could lease the land to the Fair Association for a period exceeding ten, but not exceeding thirty-five years, following the statutory requirements for public hearing and bid acceptance?

            "3. Are we correct in assuming that the amended provisions contained in Chapter 297 of the 1955 Session Laws, 'Fairs-County and District', limiting the expenditures by the Board in any year for acquiring grounds, would not apply to the County if it were to purchase the Fair Grounds, since the County has no intention of conducting a County or District Fair?"

            Our conclusions are all in the affirmative.


            (1) Chapter 257, Laws of 1955, reads as follows:

            "Section 1. The director of agriculture is authorized and empowered to offer for sale and to sell the state fair grounds located in Yakima county to the county of Yakima, if it shall appear that such a sale and conveyance is in the best interest of the state; such conveyance to be executed by the governor upon payment to the state treasurer of the reasonable value of the land and the buildings:  Provided, That the county of Yakima shall use said property for public purposes only."

            In reaching our first conclusion we have referred to RCW 36.37.010, which reads as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "The holding of county fairs and agricultural exhibitions of stock, cereals, and agricultural produce of all kinds, including dairy produce, as well as arts and manufactures, by any county in the state, and the participation by any county in a district fair or agricultural exhibition, is declared to be in the interest of public good and a strictly county purpose."

            It is clear from a reading of the foregoing statute, together with chapter 15.76 RCW, that the legislature has declared the conduct and operation of fairs and agricultural exhibitions to be a public purpose for the promotion of which the legislature may appropriate, and a political subdivision expend public funds.  This proposition finds even further support under the provisions of chapter 36.37, RCW, which provide that the county commissioners of any county may acquire property to conduct fairs and may employ or designate persons (which would include non-profit corporations) to assist in the management of fairs.

            (2) RCW 36.34.180 provides, in part, as follows:

            "At the day and hour designated in the notice or at any subsequent time to which the meeting may be adjourned by the board of county commissioners, but not more than thirty days after the day and hour designated for the meeting in the published notice, the board may lease the property in such notice described for a term of years and upon such terms and conditions as to the board may seem just and right in the premises. No lease shall be for a longer term in any one instance than ten years, and no renewal of a lease once executed and delivered shall be had, except by a re‑leasing [[releasing]]and re‑letting [[reletting]]of the property according to the terms and conditions of this chapter: Provided, That if a county owns property within or outside the corporate limits of any city or town or anywhere in the county suitable for municipal purposes, or for commercial buildings, or owns property suitable for manufacturing or industrial purposes or sites, or for military purposes, or for temporary or emergency housing, or for any requirement incidental to manufacturing, commercial,  agricultural, housing, military, or governmental  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] purposes, the board of county commissioners may lease it for such purposes for any period not to exceed thirty-five years:  Provided further, Where the property involved is or is to be devoted to airport purposes and construction work or the installation of new facilities is contemplated, the board may lease said property for such period as may equal the estimated useful life of such work or facilities but not to exceed seventy-five years."

            From the foregoing it can be seen that leases for requirements incidental to agricultural purposes are among those for which the county could lease for a period exceeding ten but not over thirty-five years. It does not appear that our courts have ever considered the question of whether a fair falls within the definition of "agricultural purposes". However, in Fairview Inv. Co. v. Lamberson (Idaho), 136 Pac. 606, it was stated:

            "A fair, conducted for making an agricultural exhibit, the exhibiting of horses and cattle and giving exhibitions of the speed of horses, has been frequently and quite generally recognized as a proper exercise of a corporation for agricultural purposes."  (Citing cases).

            We feel this proposition to be entirely sound and that, therefore, the board of county commissioners could enter into a lease in excess of ten years, but not of course exceeding thirty-five years. In the light of the history of agricultural fairs and legislation concerning them, no other conclusion could be reached. For example, in the 1893 act providing for a state fair to be held each year at North Yakima, we find that it is therein stated that it is the object and purpose to promote and further the advancement of all agricultural, stock-raising, horticultural, etc. pursuits in this state.

            (3) It is a generally accepted rule that a county may exercise only such powers as are specifically conferred by the legislature or directly incidental to a power so conferred. Having specifically declared the holding of fairs to be a public purpose, it might be presumed that the legislature was not only aware of this but equally aware of the reasonable value of the state fair  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] grounds located in Yakima County in passing chapter 257, Laws of 1955, authorizing its sale to Yakima County. It must be kept in mind that a legislature here was dealing with a specific piece of property belonging to the state which for more than half a century had been devoted to fair purposes, with improvements thereon designed to effectuate those purposes.

            We believe it would be inconsistent and defeat the very purpose of the act to hold that Yakima County could purchase this property for all "public purposes" except the conduct and operation of a fair. It is our opinion, therefore, that the legislature in this specific instance made an exception to the provisions of RCW 36.37.040 as amended by chapter 297, Laws of 1955, and intended that its provisions do not apply.

            For your information and assistance, we are enclosing a copy of an opinion written to the Honorable John N. Leavitt, Prosecuting Attorney, Okanogan County, dated July 19, 1954 [[AGO 53-55 No. 286]], together with an amplifying letter dated August 12, 1954. In addition, we are enclosing a form of lease approved by this office for the use of Walla Walla County and others which should prove of value to you in the event the sale of this property is consummated.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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