The Rolex watch Laddy Ratliff plans to give as a gift to his father has a unique history. It’s previous owner was a convicted drug dealer.
“There are probably some stories there,” Mr. Ratliff said after purchasing the 14 karat gold timepiece from the Walker County, Ga., Sheriff’s Department. “But, I don’t mind.”
The watch sat in an evidence locker for 15 years before the Walker County Sheriff’s Department decided to sell it on the Internet auction site www.govdeals.com.
That’s where Mr. Ratliff, a real estate agent in Huntsville, Ala., purchased it for $3,700, less than half the $9,000 price a jeweler estimated it would cost to replace the 1978 watch.
It’s one of many successes the Walker County Sheriff’s Department reports having with online sales. The department has netted about $39,000 from such sales since November 2006, Sgt. Donny Phillips said.
Whitfield County and Dalton began about the same time using the Internet to sell old police cars and dump trucks. They have pulled in a combined $172,000, records show.
Proceeds from the sales go into each the government’s general fund.
“It’s true that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” said Brooke Bennett, spokeswoman for Whitfield County and Dalton governments. “These are items that were just sitting around taking up a lot of our space.”
Not everyone is jumping on the online bandwagon.
Catoosa County Detective Mike Tinker said the sheriff’s department in his county still holds local auctions at venues like Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School to sell off surplus or seized goods. He said he doesn’t recall how much was earned at the last sale, but he said it’s easier to hire an auction company to prepare items because the department doesn’t have a full-time evidence custodian.
“Anything we can do to spend less time (in the evidence locker) is what we have to do,” Detective Tinker said.
Jeff Potts, owner of Potts Auction Co. in Rock Spring, Ga., said he’s unsure if Internet sites have affected his business. He said local auctions are best because customers typically live in a 20- to 50-mile radius.
“It gives the local people a chance to come buy what they helped pay for (through paying taxes),” Mr. Potts said.
Sgt. Phillips said Walker County went to online sales because surplus items were being sold for “pennies on the dollar” at local auctions. He said opening sales to the worldwide Internet audience of potential buyers results in substantially higher bids, which makes up for the 7 percent seller’s fee the Web sites charge.
Coin collections, power tools and a Harley Davidson motorcycle are among the 88 items that have been sold by the Walker County Sheriff’s Department. The department doesn’t ship merchandise, and buyers travel long distances to collect goods.
Sgt. Phillips said one man paid $3,300 for a motor home that was in such bad condition he had to tow it back to his home to Dayton, Ohio.
“It was a regular pig-in-a-poke,” Sgt. Phillips said. “You never know if this stuff (on the Internet) will go for $25 or $250, but I’ve been surprised at what things sell for. It’s the best thing we could have done.”
Popular government surplus auction Web sites include:
BY THE NUMBERS
Proceeds from online auctions since November 2006:
* $39,000: Walker County
* $45,000: Whitfield County
* $127,000: Dalton
Source: Individual governments