Board mulls surplus property policy

FLINT TWP. — A request from the Fire Department to sell surplus equipment online came with a legal opinion from the township attorney about public property sales.

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a request last week from Fire Chief John Ringwelski to sell 100 lengths of fire hose and 15 used air tanks on the eBay auction or Craigslist websites.

But it raised an ongoing issue about surplus equipment being sold in the past without board approval. A link provided on the township’s website to its eBay account shows the most recent sale was in October of last year. A separate link to a police department eBay account shows a history dating back to 2008 of sold items including vehicles.

Trustee Frank Kasle said he was glad to see the fire department’s plans come before the township board first.

Kasle referred to a memo from Attorney Stephen O. Shultz on the propriety of selling township property on ebay. Kasle said he hoped it established a precedent for any future items being sold by the fire or police department or any other township entity.

Township Supervisor Karyn Miller said that Shultz’ opinion has been provided because the board does not have a sales policy and needs something in writing. She said Township Treasurer Sandra Wright is working on drafting a written policy.

Shultz’ memo covered whether it is permissible to sell public property without advertising or competitive bidding and also if ebay is the proper venue for such sales.

“When issues involving the purchase or sale of public property arise, Board members and the public alike are often of the impression that competitive bidding is required by law in such transactions,’’ Shultz wrote. “Such is not the case, however. There is nothing in state law that mandates any particular purchasing practice by a township.”

He referenced a provision prior to the 1990s when state law did require competitive bidding for certain purchases and sales asaaconditionofreceivingstateaidbut that has been repealed. Now it falls to the township board to determine a preferred practice for the acquisition or sale of public property, he said.

He also said it is becoming common for public entities to sell property on ebay because of the ease of listing and low administration costs. In brief research, Shultz said he found that the University of Michigan has been selling its surplus property on eBay since 2006.

Established legal opinions recommend that townships should establish written policies for the lawful disposal of township property, regardless of value, according to Shultz’ information.

Ringwelski said the fire hose offered for sale dates back to 1980 and is no longer being used. If kept, it would just rot and become useless, he said.

The air tanks also are no longer used.

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