This page provides an overview of state laws involved in the sale of surplus county property in Washington State, including examples of county codes with alternative procedures. For an overview of the statutes concerning cities and towns, see Sale of Surplus City or Town Property.
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.
Practice Tip: County commissioners and county officials and employees whose department would benefit from the sale should be prohibited from buying surplus property sold by their jurisdiction because such a purchase would violate RCW 42.23.030(6). This prohibition also applies to county officers and employees who administer the sale. Though sale by public auction would seem to avoid direct conflict issues, our conservative advice has been to treat sales by auction the same as direct sales. Note that this prohibition should also apply to the spouse and dependent children of anyone prohibited from purchasing by RCW 42.23.030.
This is a summary of the basic requirements concerning county sale of surplus property:
- The board of county commissioners has the authority to decide whether real or personal property owned by the county is surplus to the needs of the county (RCW 36.34.010).
- Notice of the intended sale must be published during two successive weeks in a legal newspaper of general circulation in the county, except (RCW 36.34.020):
- when selling to a governmental agency;
- when the county is trading in personal property upon the purchase of a like item;
- in the event of an emergency; or
- when the value of the property is less than $2,500.
- A public hearing is required prior to sale of surplus county property, unless the sale falls under one of the exceptions above (RCW 36.34.040).
- Written findings and a decision regarding whether to sell surplus property must be included in the commissioner's minutes following the public hearing (RCW 36.34.050).
- The commissioners can set a minimum sale price (RCW 36.34.050). If the county commissioners set a reasonable minimum price after determining the fair market value, the county can avoid violating Article VIII §7 of the state constitution, the "gift clause" (RCW 39.33.010).
- If the county wishes to sell timber, minerals, or other resources separate from the land that it owns, the county can do so by following the procedures set forth in Chapter 36.34 (RCW 36.34.010).
- Sales of personal property must be for cash except when the property is being transferred to a governmental agency, when the property is being traded in as part of the purchase of a similar item, or when a public auction sale is conducted through electronic media (RCW 36.34.060).
- There is a specific statute dealing with sales of used highway or other equipment: RCW 36.34.070.
- All sales must be through a public auction or a public auction sale by electronic media (or a privately operated consignment auction that is open to the public) or by sealed bids supervised by the county treasurer (RCW 36.34.080). Notice of the auction must be both published and posted in accordance with RCW 36.34.090 and RCW 36.34.100.
- The proceeds of the sale (except in trade-in situations) must be paid to the county treasurer, and title cannot be transferred until full payment is made (RCW 36.34.110).
- The proceeds of the sale of used equipment must be credited to the fund from which the original purchase was paid (RCW 36.34.120).
- Intergovernmental sales and transfers may be made by the county commissioners upon such terms and for such consideration as may be deemed adequate. Two separate statutes provide this authority: RCW 36.34.130 and RCW 36.34.010. Note that RCW 39.33.020 requires a public hearing if the value of the property to be transferred exceeds $50,000. RCW 39.33.020 also specifies the notice which must be given for the public hearing.
- Counties are authorized to exchange county real property for private real property of equal value. A superior court proceeding is required. See RCW 36.34.330 for details of the required court decree.
- As an alternative to the above procedures, counties are authorized to establish comprehensive procedures for the management of county property consistent with the public interest (RCW 36.34.005). For examples, see the code sections referenced below.
Examples of Alternative Procedures