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Surplus County Property

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



Overview

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.


Statutory Procedural Requirements

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.
  • Counties may transfer, lease, or dispose of property at low or no cost for affordable housing and related facilities for low-income and very low-income households consistent with local regulations and comprehensive plans. See RCW 39.33.015.
  • The disposal of tax title property (real property deeded to the county due to lack of bidders at a tax foreclosure sale) is governed by chapter 36.35 RCW. In general, tax title property must be disposed of through a bid process as set out in RCW 36.35.120. However, tax title property may be disposed of through direct negotiation in certain situations established by RCW 36.35.150, including:
    • Sale to another governmental agency for a public purpose
    • If the county legislative authority has determined it is not practical to build on the property due to its physical characteristics or legal restrictions
    • If the property has an assessed value of less than $500 and is sold to an adjoining landowner, or
    • If no acceptable bids were received at an attempted public auction and the sale is made within 12 months from the date of the auction.

Alternative Surplus Procedures

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:


Examples of Surplus Resolutions

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.

Surplus Real Property

  • ‚ÄčMason County Resolution No. 2022-021 (2022) – Declares real property purchased for right-of-way easement for a now-canceled road project to be surplus and authorizes its sale back to the previous owner via direct negotiation, in accordance with county code

Tax Title Property

  • Mason County Resolution No. 2020-109 (2020) – Authorizes sale of surplus tax title property to local nonprofit via direct negotiation under RCW 36.35.150(1)(d), following attempt to sell the property at tax title auction less than 12 months earlier with no interested bidders

Vehicles, Equipment, and Other Personal Property

  • Grant County Resolution No. 22-024-CC (2022) – Simple resolution declares vehicles to be surplus and authorizes their disposal in accordance with RCW 36.34.080. Includes vehicle information, salvage value, and reason for surplus.
  • Okanogan County Resolution No. 73-2018 (2018) – Authorizes sale of surplus vehicles/equipment for several departments; public hearing and legal notice were conducted in accordance with chapter 36.34 RCW. Items will be sold at county auction; unsold items with value under $250 will be disposed of in most cost-effective method
  • San Juan County Resolution No. 14-2021 (2021) – Authorizes sale of surplus vehicles through private online auction due to limited resale market within county; public hearing was held in accordance with county code. Includes vehicle information, mileage, fair market value, and salvage value (minimum sale price)
  • Whatcom County Resolution No. 2021-038 (2021) – Authorizes sale of surplus vehicles and other equipment by public auction or sealed bid in accordance with county code; includes vehicle information as well as general descriptions of other obsolete or broken equipment

Last Modified: July 01, 2022