Surplus sales mean millions for Oregon

SALEM, Ore. (AP) Stacked on the top tier of a warehouse rack is a grayish lavender sofa with peach piping that once graced the governor's mansion. A vintage desk from the mansion is nearby, wrapped in plastic.

A dozen pieces of furniture from Mahonia Hall are among a multitude of items stored at a 72,000-square-foot building in Salem and at an outdoor lot that's nearly as large.

This is the Property Distribution Center, headquarters of Oregon's surplus property program. Its mission: extract value from government cast-offs, predominantly by selling them to the public or other government agencies.

"Just like a consignment shop, we take a little percentage and that's what keeps the lights on," said Darren Kennedy, an analyst with the surplus property program. "We don't take any general fund money."

When a state or federal agency, local jurisdiction, or school district has property it no longer needs it ends up at 1655 Salem Industrial Drive NE.

The Mahonia Hall furniture, for example, had been sitting in a storage area at the mansion before arriving here. The hodgepodge at the warehouse includes diesel engines, pumps, snow tires, first-aid kits, fire extinguishers, carpet tiles, official U.S. Coast Guard running shorts, a set of timpani drums, and more.

In the outdoor lot, an orange 1977 Tucker Sno Cat, once used by the Bonneville Power Administration, is looking for a buyer.

Commonplace items are sold to the public at a "general store" on site. The selection typically includes office furniture. Low cost bicycles, many of which have been recovered by Portland-area police but whose owners were never located, are another staple.

Unique or more valuable items, such as the Mahonia Hall furniture, are sold on eBay. The Mahonia Hall furniture will be put on eBay gradually; only a few pieces at a time will be released for sale.

Federal property is donated to public agencies with a number of conditions, including a service charge.

Oregon's surplus property program sells $10 million to $12 million of property per biennium, Kennedy said. Of that amount, $7 million to $9 million is returned to government agencies. About $3 million is retained to cover the program's cost, including paying 17 state workers.

The self-supporting program is operated by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.

Of all the goods handled by the surplus property managers over the years, one case stands out. In 2003, Oregon's selling expertise was called on to unload objects from the former Mustang Ranch, a Nevada brothel.

The IRS seized the bordello after its parent company got into legal trouble. At auction, the IRS sold the best of the Mustang Ranch collectibles. Oregon's surplus agency was tasked with selling the leftovers on eBay, including a kitchen sink.

"We even sold empty wine bottles," Kennedy said. "People just bought it up like crazy."

Rarely does something arrive at the warehouse that won't eventually sell. Wrecked patrol cars are purchased for parts. Parking meters have become a hot item for hobbyists, who turn them into banks. Old voting machines appeal to political junkies.

In the midst of the vast array of things, Kennedy can't even think about grabbing some bargains for himself. Employees of the Property Distribution Center are prohibited from making purchases.


Information from: Statesman Journal,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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