Opinion 88-74

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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

MUNICIPAL FUNDS -- Appropriations and Expenditures (contributions to private organizations -- veterans memorial committee)

ARTS AND CULTURAL AFFAIRS LAW, §57.07; COUNTY LAW, §226; GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §§72, 72-b, 77-a; NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION LAW, §1405; TOWN LAW, §§81(1)(a), 220(1): A county, city, town or village may, in accordance with pertinent statutory requirements, contribute public funds to a veterans memorial committee for the purpose of erecting a memorial monument.

You advise that a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee, a not-for-profit corporation, is currently seeking contributions to erect a permanent monument to honor those residents of a county who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. You ask if, in our opinion, it is legal for municipalities to contribute to the monument fund.

There are numerous statutes which expressly or impliedly authorize municipalities to participate in the erection of memorial monuments for veterans of the armed forces (General Municipal Law, §§72, 72-b, 77-a; Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, §1405; County Law, §226; Town Law, §§81 [1][a], 220[1]; see also Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, §57.07). Taken together, all of these statutes seem to constitute a clear statement that the erection and maintenance of a war memorial building or monument is a public purpose.

General Municipal Law, §72 contains broad authorization for direct contributions by a municipality to a private group for a veterans memorial. That section provides that the governing board of a municipal corporation, or the trustees of a monument association, may acquire land for the erection of a memorial monument for veterans of the armed forces. It provides further that:

"The governing board of such municipality may provide funds for the construction and maintenance of such memorial in whole or in part and to this end may authorize payments of public funds to the trustees of such a monument association for such purpose." (emphasis added

The term "municipal corporation" is defined in General Municipal Law, §2 to include a county, town, city, or village. Under section 72, therefore, if an entity qualifies as a "monument association", a county, city, town or village may contribute funds to the committee for the erection of a monument.

The term "monument association" is not defined in section 72 or elsewhere. However, in view of the clear indication that participation in construction of a veterans monument furthers a public purpose, it may be argued that the term was intended to be broadly construed to carry out the statutory purpose. In this regard, we note that Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, §1405(f) provides that any unincorporated association formed for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a monument or memorial to perpetuate the memory of persons who served in any war in which the United States has engaged may, by majority vote of its members, transfer its money or other property to an incorporated association having a like object. Pursuant to this authority, an unincorporated association which has received a gift of public funds under section 72 could in turn transfer the gift to a monument corporation. Given this result, a literal reading of the term "monument association" to apply only to unincorporated associations may not be warranted. Therefore, it may be argued that a private entity, although constituted as a corporation and not an association, would be included within the term "monument association", and that municipalities could contribute public funds to the entity for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a memorial monument for veterans pursuant to General Municipal Law, §72.

Another statute which authorizes municipal contributions to a private organization for erection of a soldiers' memorial monument is section 1405 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law. Subdivision (c) of that section requires that, upon the petition of 25 resident taxpayers, a proposition be submitted at a town or village election for a contribution of not more than $500 in any one year to a soldiers' monument corporation. A soldiers' monument corporation is described in that section as a corporation formed for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a monument or memorial to perpetuate the memory of persons who served in the armed services of the United States in any war in which the United States has been engaged (Not-For-Profit Corporations Law, §1405[a]). Therefore, if a private entity constitutes a soldiers' monument corporation within this definition, in addition to the authority found in General Municipal Law, §72, towns and villages within the county may also be authorized to make contributions to the entity in accordance with section 1405.

Several statutes also authorize municipalities to erect a veterans' memorial building or monument, but do not provide for contributions to a private organization. These include County Law §226, which authorizes a county board, by two-thirds vote, to erect a monument or memorial in commemoration of members of the armed forces of the U.S.; General Municipal Law, §72-b, which authorizes towns or villages to acquire lands and erect memorial building, subject to majority vote by electorate on proposition, at a total cost not to exceed 1% of assessed valuation of town or village; General Municipal Law, §77-a, authorizing a county or city, singly or jointly, by two-thirds vote of governing board, to construct or maintain a memorial through creation of a committee, composed entirely of members of governing board, to have charge of construction and maintenance; and Town Law, §§81(1)(a), 220(1), which provide general authority for a town, either by an election upon a proposition or subject to a permissive referendum, to "erect a monument or monuments within the town in commemoration of any person or event". Also, Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, §57.07(1) contains broad authority for a county, city, town or village to "expend moneys for historical purposes within their several jurisdictions, including historical edifices, the erection of historical markers and monuments ...." Subdivision two of that statute authorizes the same municipalities, either singly or jointly, to contract with the trustees of an historical association for the support and maintenance of historic edifices. Although, as noted, these statutes do not authorize contributions to private entities, we call them to your attention because they may enable the municipalities themselves to undertake the erection of the proposed monument if that is determined to be an appropriate course of action.

June 24, 1988
Cornelius F. Healy
Deputy State Comptroller