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County Daycare Operator Subject to FOIA

The Appalachian Regional Community Services, operator of the Buchanan Daycare Center, is supported principally by public funds and is a public body under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act; a Buchanan County Circuit Court says ARCS must produce financial records in response to a FOIA request filed by a regional newspaper.

At a hearing, the court heard substantial argument over the definition of the term “public body.” The controversy centers on the meaning of the phrase “supported … principally by public funds.” This phrase is not defined within the FOIA, nor has it been interpreted by a court of this commonwealth. The court is tasked with deciphering this statutory language before turning to the merits of this case.

Whether an organization is supported principally by public funds depends on the total contribution from public funds as measured against the number and magnitude of individual private contributions. The court’s interpretation of the statutory language is reaffirmed by several opinions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

Upon reviewing the records produced under seal, the court finds, as a matter of fact, that ARCS received at least 54.94 percent of its financial resources from public funds. The court finds ARCS received three checks from the Buchanan County General Fund totaling $316,000, and it received approximately $240,000 through a number of smaller payments from private sources. The total public funding for ARCS undoubtedly falls below the 66.6 percent threshold, but the facts of the present case present a situation nearly identical to that contemplated by the Advisory Council: ARCS received three large payments from public funds while receiving a number of smaller payments from a variety of private sources.

ARCS’ financial records filed under seal show that in 2006 and 2007, when ARCS was an infant organization, private funds comprised nearly its entire yearly budget. Then, from October 2007 through October 2010, funds obtained from the Buchanan County General Fund were the sole source of support for ARCS; it appears no private contributions were made. From November 2010 through March 2012, ARCS was supported by a mix of public and private funds; the private funds comprised a number of small donors as well as one larger donation of approximately $37,000. From April 2012 until it closed in March 2013, ARCS appears to have been funded entirely by private funds.

Payments from the Buchanan County General Fund were the principal – indeed, the most important, chief, leading and primary – source of funds for ARCS. These public funds provided a constant influx of capital from May 2008 through March 2012. The cumulative impact of additional private funds was not insubstantial, but, with a few exceptions, the marginal impact of each private contribution was limited. The county was by far the largest single contributor. The court finds ARCS was supported principally by public funds.

The Voice v. Appalachian Regional Community Services Inc. (Johnson) No. 483-13, Nov. 10, 2014; Buchanan County Cir.Ct.; T. Shea Cook for petitioner, James E. Slone for respondent. VLW 014-8-109, 5 pp.

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