Surplus County Property – MRSC

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This page provides an overview of state laws involved in the sale or disposal of surplus county property in Washington State, including statutory requirements, alternative local procedures, and examples of surplus resolutions.
For an overview of city and town surplus requirements, see our page Surplus City or Town Property. For special purpose districts, see our page Surplus Property for Special Purpose Districts.
Counties frequently need to sell or convey equipment or property that is no longer needed. The primary statutes concerning procedures for sale of surplus property are found in chapter 36.34 RCW. For the statutes covering leases of county property, refer to RCW 36.34.135 through 36.34.310.
This is a summary of the basic requirements concerning county sale of surplus property:
As an alternative to the statutory procedures in chapter 36.34 RCW, counties are authorized to adopt their own comprehensive procedures for the management of county property consistent with the public interest (RCW 36.34.005). Some counties have established property management committees to provide recommendations to the board of county commissioners.
Below are selected examples of alternative property management procedures adopted by counties:
Generally, donating surplus property to a nonprofit organization or other entity is prohibited as a gift of public funds under the state constitution, unless specifically authorized by law (such as transferring real property for affordable housing or transferring property to another government entity for non-monetary considerations as discussed earlier).
However, if the recipient organization provides assistance to the “poor and infirm,” the donation could potentially be allowed under the constitutional exception for the “necessary support of the poor and infirm.” For more information on gifting of public funds generally, see our page Gift of Public Funds.
In addition, the property may likely be donated if the cost of selling or otherwise disposing of it would exceed the fair market value (in which case the agency is saving itself money by donating the property). In such cases, the governing body should adopt a resolution declaring the property to be surplus and including documentation that the property has no monetary value or that the cost of disposing of the property would exceed the property’s fair market value.
For policy examples, see:
Before disposing of surplus grant-funded property, the county should consult the award documents and the granting agency to ensure that the sale or disposal is consistent with the granting agency’s requirements.
For information on disposing of property acquired or improved with federal grant funds, see 2 CFR 200 Subpart D, Post Federal Award Requirements – in (particular 2 CFR 200.313 (equipment), 2 CFR 200.311 (real property), and 2 CFR 200.314 (supplies).
When obtaining appraisals and valuation services, public agencies should make sure they are receiving independent and impartial opinions on value. Agencies should not obtain estimates or appraisals from individuals or entities who have expressed interest in purchasing the property, which could result in the agency receiving less than fair market value.
Agency officials who were involved in the decision to surplus the property (the board of county commissioners or county council) or responsible for administering the sale (the county executive/administrator or other administrative staff) should not purchase the surplus property due to conflict of interest concerns. See RCW 42.23.030; Washington’s common-law conflict of interest doctrine may also apply.
This prohibition also applies to the spouse and dependent children of anyone prohibited from purchasing by RCW 42.23.030. For more information, see our page on Ethics and Conflicts of Interest.
Although a sale at public auction or by sealed bids would seem to avoid direct conflict of interest issues, our conservative guidance has been to treat auction sales the same as direct sales and prohibit those individuals from submitting bids.
However, other agency employees who were not involved in the decision to declare the property surplus are generally allowed to purchase surplus property, unless a local code or policy provides otherwise.
Below are selected examples of resolutions declaring certain items to be surplus and authorizing their sale or disposal. We are in the process of updating this section and will be adding more examples soon.
Note: Many of these counties have adopted their own local procedures under RCW 36.34.005; make sure to follow the statutes and/or local procedures applicable to your county and the type of property you are surplusing.
Are there bid requirements if a town desires to lease real property to an individual or is a private transaction acceptable?
Must a code city advertise vacant space for lease in a city building?
Surplus City or Town Property
Surplus Property for Special Purpose Districts
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