CHICAGO (AP) â€” When the Pecatonica fire district put the word out in area newspapers that its 1965 fire engine was up for sale, maybe seven or eight bids came in.
``We opened them and they ranged from $400 to $1,060 â€” for a 35-year-old truck with only 15,000 miles on it!'' said District President Meryln Eickman.
No way they were going to let anyone drive off with their fire engine for a measly $1,060.
So the fire protection district turned to the Internet. Ten days online and about three dozen bids later, one from as far away as upstate New York, the district had a check for $4,175 and an antiques dealer had a fire engine.
Across the country, cities, counties and state agencies are following the lead of private individuals and going online to unload items that have been gathering dust in municipal offices. Items range from the mundane (wheelchairs) to the unusual (unclaimed tickets to an Elvis Presley concert) to the bizarre (road signs to Tiger Stadium).
In Ford City, Pa., when a new bridge was built, the struggling community decided to raise its profile by auctioning the right to help blow up the 85-year-old bridge. In September, a man who bid $455 pressed down on a dummy plunger as an explosives crew blew up the bridge for real.
The growing number of calls from the public sector has prompted eBay Inc., the popular online auction company, to reach out aggressively to other government agencies, causing the market to expand, said company spokesman Kevin Pursglove.
``Every month interest continues to pick up,'' said Don Coy, manager of business development for eBay. ``Small towns and big states are doing it.''
Ed Smith, former mayor of Pecatonica, a northern Illinois town of 1,800, isn't surprised. ``Everyone's perking up, saying, 'Hey, there's a whole world out there that can bid on this stuff.'''
The Web has allowed the sales of some white elephants that government agencies never thought they'd unload.
``We had a 128-foot lightship (used to guide ships off the coast of Cape Cod) and we offered it around to other state agencies and we couldn't give it away,'' said Paul Guerino, state surplus property coordinator for Massachusetts. ``We put it on eBay and we got 15 bids and ended up selling it for $126,000. I would have been happy with a dollar.''
The tax collector's office in Riverside County, Calif., after years of in-person auctions to sell tax-delinquent time-share vacation homes in Palm Springs, also has gone online.
In three sales this year, the county sold 130 units for a total of $218,000. ``That's 90 percent of the units offered,'' said Paul McDonnell, the county's treasurer-tax collector. ``If we sell 50 percent in one of our regular in-person auctions that's a fabulous success.''
Not only that, but McDonnell said the county is getting full price or more. ``We would have been lucky to get half the price at a regular auction,'' he said.
Property seized by police and surplus also is being sold. The state of Oregon created a Web site, OregonSurplus.com, where mountain bikes, wheelchairs and even breast pumps have been sold.
``If it was stolen and was recovered, we'll sell it,'' said Nole Bullock, program representative for the state's Department of Administrative Services.
In the program's first 16 months, Oregon grossed $300,000 in online sales for items that would have brought in $115,000 in traditional auctions, said Bullock.
It was on Michigan's Web site called MiBid where a pair of tickets to a 1975 Elvis Presley concert at the Pontiac Silverdome went for $410, said Stephanie Comai, director of e-Michigan, a new state agency that oversees the Web site.
MiBid also sold three state police Harley-Davidson motorcycles and four signs leading to Tiger Stadium, former home of the Detroit Tigers.
``One guy was going to use his (sign) as his back fence,'' said Comai, ``so he could see it all the time.''
On The Net: