Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1962 No. 108 - Apr 3 1962
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


The county commissioners of a third class county have the authority under RCW 36.34.180 to lease a portion of the county fair grounds, for a period not exceeding thirty-five years, to a nonprofit rodeo association.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    April 3, 1962

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
Ephrata, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 108

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office concerning a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Do the county commissioners of a third class county have the authority to lease a portion of the county fair grounds, for approximately twenty (20) years, to a nonprofit rodeo association?

            We answer this question in the affirmative.


            The facts implicit in your question are assumed to be as follows:

            For a number of years there has been, in conjunction with the county fair, a rodeo operated as an integral part of the fair on a concession basis.  The county commissioners have authorized a fair board to manage the fair and it in turn has given a rodeo concession to a local civic nonprofit organization.  At the present time the rodeo facilities (chutes, grandstand, corrals, etc.) are in need of replacement.  The rodeo organization is seeking ways and means of financing improvements and it is possible to obtain this financing if a long-term lease, of approximately twenty years, can be obtained from the county of that portion of the county fair grounds used by the rodeo.  The fair board, as the exclusive agency of the county operating the fair, wishes to execute this type of lease arrangement with the approval of the county commissioners of Grant county.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            RCW 36.37.040, relating to the management of county fairs, reads as follows:

            "The board of county commissioners of any county may appropriate and expend each year such sums of money as they deem advisable and necessary for (1) acquisition of necessary grounds for fairs and world fairs, (2) construction, improvement and maintenance of buildings thereon, (3) payment of fair premiums, and (4) the general maintenance of such fair.  The board of county commissioners of any county may also authorize the county auditor to provide a revolving fund to be used by the fair officials for the conduct of the fair.  The board of county commissioners may employ persons to assist in the management of fairs or by resolution designate a nonprofit corporation as the exclusive agency to operate and manage such fairs."

            The foregoing statute grants the county commissioners the power, by resolution, to designate a nonprofit corporation as the exclusive agency to operate and manage a county fair.

            The term "operate and manage such fairs" cannot be construed to include the leasing of county property.  Thus, we must look to the authority of the county commissioners to determine whether such a lease may be executed.  It is well settled that counties, as political subdivisions of the state, have no powers except those expressly conferred by the constitution and state laws, or those which are necessarily implied from granted powers.  State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575, 98 P. (2d) 985 (1940).

            RCW 36.34.180 relating to leases of county property provides, in part, that:

            "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  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] 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 and re‑letting 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 governmentalpurposes, 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."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            This statute grants the county commissioners the authority to lease county property for any requirement incidental to an agricultural purpose for a period not to exceed thirty-five years.  However, in our opinion, the board of county commissioners cannot delegate that power to the agency appointed to manage the fair.

            The remaining question to be answered is whether the lease contemplated herein is incidental to an agricultural purpose.

            Although we find no case in Washington on this point, there is authority for holding an agricultural fair falls within the definition of "agricultural purpose."  InFairview Investment Co. v. Lamberson, 25 Idaho 72, 81, 136 Pac. 606 (1913), the court set forth the following rule:

            "A fair, conducted for making agricultural exhibits, 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 the powers of an  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] organization and corporation formed for 'agricultural purposes.' . . ."

            Also, our court in the case of State v. Christensen, 18 Wn. (2d) 7, 22, 137 P. (2d) 512 (1943), defined the general term "agriculture" as follows:

            "'"The art or science of cultivating the ground, and raising and harvesting crops, often including also feeding, breeding, and management of livestock; tillage; husbandry; farming; in a broader sense, the science and art of the production of plants and animals useful to man, including to a variable extent the preparation of these products for man's use and their disposal by marketing or otherwise.  In this broad use it includes farming, horticulture, forestry, dairying, sugar making, etc."'  [Italics omitted.]"

            So also has the legislature of this state recognized the need for agricultural fairs by this declaration of public policy in RCW 36.37.010:

            "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."

            Furthermore, this office has previously concluded that an agricultural fair is an "agricultural purpose" within the meaning of the statute relating to the leasing of county property for agricultural purposes.  See AGO 55-57 No. 145 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Yakima County on October 13, 1955]], a copy of which is enclosed.  On the same reasoning, in our opinion, a rodeo would be within the meaning of the broad phrase: ". . . requirement incidental to . . . agricultural purposes."  According to common knowledge a rodeo consists of "exhibiting horses and cattle and giving exhibitions of the speed of horses" ‑-"breeding and management of livestock and husbandry": just to mention a few of its functions and purposes; along with the following definition found in Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged, 2nd Edition:

            "3. an exhibition or competition of the skills of cowboys, as horsemanship, lassoing, etc., for public entertainment."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            This lease, entered into under specific statutory authority, would be valid and binding for any period up to and including thirty-five years.  State ex rel. Schlarb v. Smith, 19 Wn. (2d) 109, 141 P. (2d) 651 (1943).

            Therefore, it is our opinion that the county may, pursuant to RCW 36.34.180, execute a lease of a portion of the county fair grounds to the rodeo association for a given period, not to exceed thirty-five years, provided the statutory requirements of chapter 36.34 RCW are met.

            We have also enclosed for your information two opinions of this office dealing with county property and agricultural fairs.  See, opinion dated April 26, 1950, to the prosecuting attorney of Spokane County [[Opinion No. 49-51-261]]; and an opinion dated October 15, 1946, to the state auditor [[1945-46 OAG 1090]].

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General