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Red tape for surplus goods spurs Newberg charity

Unused and unsellable surplus items help out an Oregon community in dire need


Change is coming in the way the city of Newberg sells off surplus property. At the Jan. 5 City Council meeting, councilors took action to amend the city surplus property ordinance, changing language that formerly only allowed state officials to handle surplus items.

The state has ceased handling surplus property auctions internally, opting instead to contract with several outside companies. This meant it could no longer conduct auctions for the city of Newberg, but the city’s code did not allow for other options.

“Our code was specific that we were to deal with the state, so we had to change that,” said City Attorney Truman Stone. “Now it’s the state or an online auction service company.”

Russ Thomas, city public works superintendent, said the new system of auctioning surplus city property online will be a great improvement on the former process.

“In the past it’s been difficult to dispose of the surplus city property,” he said. “In most cases, we’d maybe recover the expense of doing it.”

The in-person auctions involved a fair amount of planning and work, Stone said. Items up for auction had to be sold within sight of the auctioneer, so everything had to be physically present at the auction event.

“They had tables and tables out at public works, full of parts and stuff,” Stone said. “And it would go on all day, and they’d have it open a couple days before so people would inspect.”

With the change in procedure that will no longer be necessary, saving the city and taxpayers money.

“We’ll get more money in return, less work for city staff, which means less cost for the city to do it,” Thomas said.

Since the code has taken some time to be amended, surplus property has been collecting.

“We had just started piling stuff up waiting for this to change, we just had piles of it hidden here and there,” Thomas said.

The surplus items collecting dust in Newberg turned out to be serendipitous for another Oregon community.

Sodaville is a small town of about 350 just south of Lebanon. In October a break-in occurred at Sodaville’s city hall, which also houses the public works department.

“They took all their tools, equipment, everything they had,” Thomas said. “Left them with a rake and a shovel. For a small city that’s pretty devastating.”

Sodaville Mayor Suzie Hibbert set up a GoFundMe page, which displays a long list of items stolen, totaling more than $13,000 in value. The list includes a laptop and printer, more than $900 in petty cash, a Weed Eater, a chainsaw, a number of Craftsman toolsets, a pressure washer, a backpack sprayer, yard maintenance equipment, clothing and much more.

“They took the maintenance guy’s rain jacket,” Thomas said.

Sodaville is home to Oregon’s first state park, according to some accounts.

“It’s kind of their pride and joy, and they had a rake and a shovel to take care of it,” Thomas said.

The city asked other communities for assistance in its time of need. In December Newberg answered the call.

“We had some surplus equipment that was being replaced, that they could definitely put to use since they were in a bad way,” Thomas said. “At the time we had nothing else we could do with (it) until we got the ordinance changed. I asked (City Manager Jacque Betz) and got permission from her to donate what would be surplus.”

Newberg donated a leaf blower, Weed Eater, backpack sprayer, rain gear, clothing, eye and ear protection, gloves, various tools and more.

“I know how our public works guys would feel if somebody broke in,” Thomas said. “So we gave them some surplus stuff, adopted them kind of.”

Thomas is also secretary of the Oregon chapter of the American Public Works Association, and he asked the board if they could help as well.

“They gave Sodaville a grant for $2,500 to use as they prioritized, as they needed,” Thomas said. “And that’s what the APWA is about, is about helping out public works members.”

Sodaville was not a member of the APWA at the time, so the board also sprung for the city’s $87 admission dues.

Other cities including Beaverton and Aumsville donated items as well, including a laptop and a stacked toolbox.

Newberg’s surplus property ordinance situation meant the city was able to be particularly generous with the amount it could give.

“It just happened at the right time for us to help them out,” Thomas said. “They had a very specific need, we were able to donate to them, get some more benefit out of the surplus stuff and benefit another community in the state.”

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