Houston & Peach

Houston can’t unload fire truck at surplus auction

PERRY -- A local government can’t use Craigslist or have a yard sale when it has stuff it no longer needs.

State law requires that governments put surplus items up for auction to ensure everyone has an equal shot at buying things that taxpayers own.

In Houston County the surplus auction is an annual spring tradition. More than 200 people arrived at the county warehouse Thursday to bid on items that ranged from security cameras to a fire truck.

The fire truck was the only item with a reserve price, and it was the only thing that didn’t sell. Mark Baker, the county’s purchasing agent, said he wanted to get $5,000 for the 1989 Ford D80 fire truck, which runs but has a defective pumper. The highest bid was $2,500. He plans to either put it on a government online auction website or see if another fire department wants to buy it. The county can sell items to other government agencies without having an auction.

Aside from that, Baker said he was happy with the results of this year’s auction in which 15 Ford Crown Victorias, several other vehicles and a large amount of office equipment was liquidated.

The $37,000 raised in the auction will be put in the county’s general fund.

Bill Carstensen of Lyman, South Carolina, got up at 3 a.m. to drive 250 miles to the auction, as he has done every year for the past 15 years.

“The county workers here are awesome,” he said when asked why he makes the drive.

He went back home with a 2009 Crown Vic, with 142,000 miles, that was loaded onto the back of a wrecker. Carstensen used to have a car lot, but he was buying this one for his personal use. He admitted the $3,000 he paid for it wasn’t exactly a steal, but he likes the cars.

“I’ve been driving these things for 20 years,” he said. “Once you fix them up, they run for a long time.”

The vehicles are the biggest draw, so those were auctioned first. After that the auction moved into the warehouse where the items for sale were a little easier on the pocketbook.

First up was lot 201, which was five computer monitors that were not flat-screens. No one bid, so Baker decreed that lot 202, which had six more computer monitors, would be lumped with it. After still not getting a bid, he added lots 203 through 206, which was 19 more monitors. Finally it all sold for $5. The winning bidder declined to discuss what he planned to do with the monitors.

“Don’t you want to buy them?” he asked.

After that, some other lots that were less obsolete did better. A lot that included 17 flat screen monitors and some keyboards sold for $160.

The highest-priced item sold was a dump truck with a bad transmission that went for $3,800. A small Ford tractor, not much bigger than a riding lawn mower and with a seized engine, sold for $1,400.

Shirley Kempf-Symicek celebrated her 71st birthday by snapping up a couple of lots at the auction. One was a pallet of five large printers that she won for $70. She planned to keep one, give one to her church and maybe sell the others.

She has long enjoyed going to auctions and said her father was an auctioneer.

“I like seeing the bargains people can get, and it kind of reminds me of my dad,” she said.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.