Thursday, April 23, 2015

Research Q of the Week: City-Sponsored Festivals (4/23)

Question: Can the city hold a festival?

Answer: 'Tis the season for festival planning! The answer depends on whether spending your city's funds will be a valid public purpose expenditure. What is considered a “valid public purpose expenditure” you ask?

valid public purpose expenditure = public purpose + authority

So a city should ask itself: is the reason we want to put on this city festival for the public? And if so, does the city have the authority to spend city funds in this way?

While the purpose is a city-specific question, I can help on the authority question. There is no general authority for festival expenditures, but there is specific authority in state statute in limited circumstances:

County Fairs
Any city can appropriate money to a county and district agricultural society or association if the following conditions are met:
•    The society or association is a member of the Minnesota State Agricultural Society and
•    The city has a county fair held within its city limits or in close proximity

Memorial Day Observances
All cities have the authority to spend money for Memorial Day observances in "commemoration of the noble and valiant deeds of the nation’s soldier dead," as law puts it so eloquently. Cities can spend up to $300 annually for each 75,000 of population.

Centennial and Historical Celebrations
While state statute doesn’t specifically give cities authority to spend money for city centennial celebrations, an argument can be made that cities can spend money on such local celebrations under a statute allowing cities to spend money to commemorate important historical events that occurred in the city. All statutory cities and second, third, or fourth class charter cities can spend money to commemorating the anniversary of any important and outstanding event in the city’s history. Does your city host one of these festivals commemorating a historic event? We'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Interested in learning more about public purpose expenditures? For more information, see the League’s Public Purpose Expenditures Memo.

Written by Irene Kao, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1224

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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