eBay anyone? Cuomo plan similar to Westchester County’s online auction

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Governor Andrew Cuomo today announced that the state would sell vehicles, furniture and supplies and eBay. Any bidders?

“By selling unneeded equipment and supplies, New York State will reduce operating costs and cut back on excess spending and inventory,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This initiative is a small part of our work to overhaul government operations and make the state work more efficiently for the taxpayer

The sale will start in early April, and inventories will be updated regularly, reports Cara Matthews of Gannett News Service in Albany.

It sounds similar to something that County Executive Andy Spano started four years ago in Westchester when the county made $282,000 by selling its surplus equipment. The common thread, perhaps, is Larry Schwartz, Spano’s then deputy who now works with Cuomo.

Here’s a story we ran in The Journal News in 2008:

County makes $282G on eBay

WHITE PLAINS – Westchester County knows how to cash in on its clutter.

The county government has sold everything from old computers, lab equipment and furniture to larger items like a harbor boat and a heavy-duty tractor to the highest bidder.

For years Westchester has used the online auction house eBay to sell its surplus supplies and has fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. The county is one of a number of governments, including New York state, that unload excess equipment on the auction site.

“What is surplus or junk to us is not necessarily surplus or junk to the public,” Deputy County Executive Larry Schwartz said.

Since 2004, the county has made $281,993 from auctioning goods that would have either been sold at a traditional auction or simply thrown away.

The county paid eBay user fees on dozens of occasions totaling $4,146.19, all of it charged on Schwartz’s county credit card. Those records were obtained as part of a The Journal News review of county finances under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Anything “that has outlived its life” and is not wanted by other departments, nonprofits or schools is put on the Internet auction site, Schwartz said.

“If there are no users or takers, we put it on eBay,” he said.

Schwartz and Jim Ferrara, director of purchasing, manage the county’s sale of surplus items, which are identified by department heads and then analyzed by the Purchasing Department.

The county’s policy on selling its surplus is simply that items must go to the highest bidder, Ferrara said.

The county initiative is modeled after the state’s eBay auction program, which state officials said has helped streamline the process and generated revenues.

The county pays eBay, a San Jose, Calif.-based company that made $348 million in 2007 and has been profitable since 1996, a percentage based on its original asking price and then again on its final sale price, Ferrara said. Generally, the county does not ship goods, he said.

A review of the county’s current eBay page shows computers, printers, and ink cartridges for older models starting for as little as $5 and ticking up depending on the number of bidders.

The market generally dictates item prices and revenues go into the county’s general fund, Ferrara said.

Larger and more unique items go for more, Ferrara added. A heavy-duty 1997 John Deere wheel loader went for $42,000 this month to Pinso Equipment Co. in Quebec, Canada, he said.

Last year the county sold a 1983, 23-foot fiberglass police harbor boat for $7,200 and a set of 20 lake docks once used at Mountain Lake Camp for $9,000 to Thomas Robertson of Cold Spring.

“It was a gold mine,” Ferrara said of those wooden docks. “They hadn’t been used in years.”

Customers are giving the count government good reviews and, in one case, going as far as calling it a “great eBayer.”

The county does not auction weapons, cars, trucks or vans on eBay, Ferrara said. Surplus vehicles are sold in more traditional government auctions.

“We don’t like eBay for vehicles,” he said. “We get the same, if not more, at public auction.”

The obvious benefit of using eBay is that the county makes money, but a lesser known perk is that it does not have to pay for removing the unwanted goods.

“We would have to hire somebody to cart this away,” Schwartz said. “Not only are we generating money for the taxpayers, we are saving on disposal expenses.”

Reach Gerald McKinstry at gmckinst@lohud.com or 914-696-8285.

Going once, twice

A sampling of Westchester County goods sold on eBay:

– A 1997 John Deere wheel loader sold for $42,000 to Pinso Equipment Co. in Quebec, Canada.

– A headspace sampler that tests for chemicals and pollutants in liquids, such as water, went for $6,000 to Ontario-based Sherry Snow Technical Lab Services.

– A 1983, 23-foot fiberglass police harbor boat for $7,200 and a set of 20 lake docks once used at Mountain Lake Camp for $9,000 to Thomas Robertson of Cold Spring.

– Other popular items include antiquated bus fare boxes, which generally go for $50 to $150.

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