LAFAYETTE — In the market for an emerald-cut diamond wedding ring, a collection of Fossil watches or gold necklaces?
City-parish government has you covered.
“We also have a really cool pit bull ring that’s looking for a good home,” said Melinda Felps, a controller with the Department of Finance and Management, which is gradually rolling out old evidence from the Police Department onto the Internet auction site publicsurplus.com.
City-parish government, like most public agencies, auctions off its surplus property, but the work in the past has been handled by a local auction house, where bidders come in person to snatch up old vehicles, computer monitors and office furniture at discount prices.
Lafayette began experimenting with Internet auctions a few months ago, starting with jewelry, rare coins and other items that have sat unclaimed for years in the evidence room at the Lafayette Police Department.
“We take in thousands of pieces of evidence each year. To just keep it just because, we can’t do that anymore,” police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton said.
Items up for auction include a purple-and-gold Yeti ice chest, rings, watches, necklaces and rare coins.
The high bid for the emerald- cut diamond wedding ring was at $555 on Friday afternoon, with about three weeks left to go for the auction.
A collection of gold necklaces was at just over $500. The Yeti ice chest had attracted a top bid of $108.
One of the earliest items to go up earlier this year was a fancy pool cue that fetched $295.
Items tagged for future auctions include more jewelry, cameras, a rifle scope, DVD players, CD players, a compound hunting bow and video game consoles.
Felps said she was surprised at the amount and variety of items as staff begin to sort through the old evidence.
“It was kind of like Christmas. You didn’t know what you were going to get,” she said.
City-Parish Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said there was so much jewelry that city-parish government bought a diamond tester and scale to give potential bidders more information about the quality of the goods, and staff occasionally take a piece to a friendly pawn shop owner to double-check.
Everything is sold as-is, though, with no assurances of whether it’s genuine or not, she said.
Felps said a bidding reserve is set for items known to be valuable.
“We want to a maximize our return,” she said.
But even the cheap stuff goes online because state law generally prohibits government agencies from simply trashing surplus property.
“We are not supposed to throw away anything, even if it’s fake,” Toups said.
All the money raised in the auctions goes back into city-parish coffers.
The state Legislature in 2004 approved the use of Internet auctions for surplus property held by any board, commission, agency or department of state government.
The Legislature expanded the law in 2006 to apply to parish and municipal governments, and several local governments have already taken advantage of eBay-like sites that cater to government surplus auctions, such as publicsurplus.com, govdeals.com and municibid.com.
Toups said a big advantage of the Internet auction site is low overhead, in part because city-parish government does not have to pay to transport the items to a physical auction house, an expense that sometimes exceeds what’s raised at an auction.
The current Internet auctions are for small items, and Toups said she is still uncertain whether the process would work for larger items, like furniture and cars, that require a lot more space to keep in storage pending a successful bid.
“We are just starting to get into it,” she said.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.