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Published: Thursday, 7/4/2002

Surplus auction goes on net

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - After profiting by more than $3,100 by selling three used Harley-Davidson motorcycles on the internet last month, county officials are reassessing the decades-old way they get rid of surplus property.

For 10 days last month, the county listed on the online auction site E-Bay three 1994 FXR/P Harley-Davidson motorcycles - each of which had about 8,000 miles on the odometer, and two of which were sequential serial numbers, a feature prized by collectors.

When the auctions were completed, the bikes sold for $8,500, $9,700, and $9,722 respectively, or $3,322 more than the $24,600 the county paid for them under former Sheriff Carl VanWert. The online auction site charged the county $162.60 to conduct the sale, a price based in part on the initial listing price and the final selling price of the motorcycles, said county purchasing agent Mike Bosanac.

Monroe County Administrator Charlie Londo called it the county's first foray into the world of electronic commerce, and promised that more such ventures would follow on other prized items in the county inventory.

“It's one of the best investments the county's made,” Mr. Londo said. “We were able to get more than we paid for [the motorcycles] eight years ago. We're going to be using [online auction sites] more for our auctions of surplus equipment.”

County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield's office holds regular auctions of surplus, seized, and abandoned property each year. The auctions are advertised in local newspapers, usually held on a Saturday morning, and feature what can only be described as an eclectic cacophony of items for sale.

Held in recent years at the county Drain Commission barn off South Raisinville Road, the auctions feature everything from old computers and office equipment, to boats and cars, to massive tangles of computer cables thrown into boxes. The auctioneer generally donates his time for the event, and sheriff's trusties are used to set up the display.

“The stuff we have is usually junk,” Sheriff's Department administrative Major Tom Scott explained, adding that most of the valuable items that end up in the department's property room are reclaimed by their rightful owners well before they would end up in the county auction. “We end up selling a lot of the stuff in lots, like if we have a number of bike frames, for example.”

Sheriff Crutchfield said it wouldn't make economic sense to sell most of those items online because shipping charges might actually lower the amount of money a potential buyer was willing to bid, even if there potentially would be more bidders in the audience.

“If somebody's willing to pay a maximum of $5 for a bike frame, let's say, are they going to bid $5 online for that frame, knowing that they're going to have to pay another $5 to have it shipped? Or are they going to bid 50 cents instead, which would put less money in the county's pocket,” the sheriff asked.

The online auctions might also prove more expensive than holding the regular sheriff's auctions, Major Scott said. The auction sites all charge fees for their listings, and the county would also have to have each item photographed and prepare it for shipping once the auction is completed. In each instance, the state statutes surrounding sheriff's sales would still have to be followed, meaning the office would still have to advertise the online auctions in the local media to notify residents of the opportunity to buy.

Following the success of the online motorcycle auctions, the county has listed some specialized diving equipment from the department's marine unit on E-Bay, a practice the sheriff said will continue so long as it's profitable to do so.



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