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For sale: firetruck, Huro the police dog

Miami-Dade County made an extra $1,400 by selling two trash compactors. Huro the police dog found a new home. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office raked in more than $26,000 by auctioning three Rolex watches.

It may not be your typical fare for online auctions, but even governments have to clean out their closets. And when something has outlived its usefulness for the government, finding buyers for the surplus takes more than hanging out a "for sale" sign.

Inventories can include airplanes, helicopters, firetrucks, police cruisers, street sweepers, used hospital equipment and old computers, just to mention a few.

Helping bring sellers and buyers together on the Web are companies such as GovAssets4Sale in Clearwater, which Miami-Dade uses for its surplus equipment sales.

"You get a much wider audience than you would if you rely on your own mailing list or local bidders," said Andy Boyle, chief of surplus properties for Miami-Dade. "More competition in general is more bucks for the county. That's my job."

For Miami-Dade's trash compactors, sealed bids for both totaled a little more than $200. But selling online, each fetched about $800.

GovAssets4Sale, which opened in 2002, describes its work more as a marketplace than an auctioneer. It doesn't conduct the auctions, but it does assist agencies in providing the forum, promoting sales and collecting money from the transactions.

Dealing with government agencies, the variety of rules governing disposal of surplus property and getting the business going have been a learning experience, says Len Russek, the company's president.

A lot of his time is spent going to meetings and introducing the concept to agencies. He touts its services and relies on word of mouth by satisfied clients to build the company.

"We are a new idea," Russek said. "New ideas sometimes struggle to get accepted by governmental agencies. All it takes, typically, is one person in the room makes a comment and everything gets tabled."

In fact, Russek sent out a survey to 400 agencies before he started the business. The response was overwhelmingly positive, he said, but "I can't tell you that one of them has used us."

He understands some of the caution: "They realize every time they mess up, you guys (the media) will be writing it up and telling the world," Russek said.

Russek, 57, has worked with companies on mergers and acquisitions, including for Florida Power. He also served as a longtime member of the board of directors of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch, which let him get acquainted with sheriffs from across the state.

So far, the privately held company has done enough to keep going, with a lot of work by Russek and the three other co-owners.

"It's taking twice as long and twice as much money as I thought it would take," Russek said. "And I was giving it a long time."

The company has competition, including sites such as GovDeals and E.surplus. In addition, some agencies use online auction giant eBay to sell their surplus equipment.

Then there are specialty auctioneers who might handle used cars but won't do as well with firetrucks, Russek says. There also are regulations that make some sales more difficult, such as Huro the police dog.

Huro's handler at the Starke Police Department was called up for military duty in the Middle East. Police dogs can be sold only to other law enforcement agencies, and Starke found a match across the state in Cedar Key, which had budgeted up to $8,000 for a police dog and ended up spending only $2,000 for Huro.

In addition to helping the agencies comply with regulations governing such sales, GovAssets4Sale is a no-nonsense operation: "We aren't doing PayPal, and we're not doing credit cards," Russek said. "A buyer can pay either by cashier's check or wire transfer. They have two days to get it to us."

That's one of the reasons Boyle in Miami-Dade uses the site. "It's much easier for us if they do the collecting," Boyle said. "In many cases, these bidders are far, far away."

GovAssets4Sale has clients across the state and country. Russek isn't sure how fast or how much the company will grow, but he plans to stick with it.

"Once you've started something like this from scratch," he said, "you just don't want to see it go away."

Dave Gussow can be reached at (727) 771-4328 or gussowsptimes.com.

On the Web:

eBay: www.ebay.com

E.surplus: www.esurplus.com

GovAssets4Sale: www.govassets4sale.com

GovDeals: www.govdeals.com

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