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Local governments get more cash through Web auction
Gainesville brings in about $80K a year with online bidding site
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m asks not what you can do for your government, but what you can buy off it on surplus.

Hall County and local city governments are finding that the website auction is bringing in more cash for older vehicles and equipment than the local auctions that were used before.

"We have doubled what we have been paid in the past," Hall County Purchasing Manager Tim Sims said.

When government vehicles reach a mileage threshold, when well-used equipment becomes too at risk of breaking down, when technological upgrades leave behind unusable gadgets or when layoffs lead to more department vehicles than employees who need them, agencies try to sell those items for as much money as they can get.

"Most of the things we sell have completed their useful life," Sims said.

Traditionally, local governments have organized annual auctions to sell items to interested parties in the community, kind of like a big garage sale.

However, with staffing cutbacks making it more difficult to organize the auctions, local governments are catching up with many other Americans who find it easier to sell on the Web what they don't want. Think of GovDeals (no relation to Georgia's current Gov. Nathan Deal) as the eBay for government surplus.

The agency puts a photo and description of the merchandise for sale. Buyers make offers, with the sale going to the highest bid. Typically, the winning buyer picks up the item or arranges shipping.

This week the Hall County Board of Commissioners approved 19 vehicles to go up for auction on the website, and Gainesville City Council approved putting dozens of items, including confiscated vehicles, tractors and a metal detector, on the online auction block.

The city of Flowery Branch also sells old vehicles and equipment there.

Officials are quickly learning the website is much more lucrative because it's reaching a wider audience.

Beverly Williams, financial services manager for Gainesville, said the physical auctions were just no longer practical when the city started using GovDeals six years ago.

Not only was the process of putting together a physical auction "a lot of work," Williams said, it also delivered a lot less revenue.

Currently, she said, Gainesville recoups about $80,000 per year from selling old property on GovDeals. When the city was solely relying on traditional auctions, she said, that number was usually between $20,000 and $40,000.

Williams said the website works well for the city because bids get more competitive with a national audience looking to buy. Williams said the city has even sold items internationally to places as far away as Africa.

Hall County started using the website last fall. Sims said previous county commissioners were resistant to change because of the tradition of the physical auctions as a community event.

GovDeals, however, had a supporter with Commissioner Scott Gibbs, who is also a customer.

Gibbs said he uses GovDeals to find equipment for his business.

So far, Hall has sold 20 old county sedans and pickups on GovDeals; the county has brought in about $61,000. Compare that to about $72,000 the county netted from 53 vehicles sold at recent physical auctions.

Sims said it's surprising how many people are in the market for used Crown Victorias, but he's discovered many buyers use the vehicles for parts.

Not every government, however, has found a use for GovDeals just yet.

The city of Oakwood does not use the website, said City Manager Stan Brown, largely because it doesn't have enough stuff to sell each year.

Brown said the city generally cycles through about a vehicle or two a year, and puts that up through a traditional auto auction.

"We haven't accumulated a lot of junk," he said. "We rarely have anything that would be disposable (through the auction)."


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