Pa.-based Web site aids municipal sales
By Kristin E. Holmes
Inquirer Staff Writer
The sale of a government fire truck in Montgomery County used to be a process teeming with paperwork.
The required mailings, bid applications, and newspaper advertising cost money, and often resulted in selling government property on the cheap.
The Pottstown-based municibid.com has changed that. Township merchandise is now a click away from a vast online audience, resulting in more bids and more money. And the selling process has been streamlined. It's post, bid, and pick up.
"I can absolutely say that it has broadened what we are able to sell," F. Thomas Snyder, chief procurement officer for Montgomery County, said of municibid.com. "It has been a tremendous increase in revenue, actually to the taxpayers, because they are the ones that ultimately benefit from increased revenue."
About 200 local government entities have joined municibid.com, including Montgomery County, Media, West Conshohocken, Delaware County, Hatfield Township, East Whiteland, and Upper Makefield.
Hatfield recently sold an old street sweeper for $5,000 to a buyer from Massachusetts, said Andrew Haines, township manager. The winning bidder drove down and picked it up.
West Conshohocken sold a 1980 dump truck for $30,050, soliciting 67 bids. Upper Salford sold a 2005 tractor for $25,200, getting 13 bids.
East Whiteland has taken in as much as $1,000 more than it typically received for a used car before online auctions, said William Steele, township director of public works.
Local municipal governments and agencies have sold police cars, trash trucks, tractors, cleaning supplies, fire trucks, and even a silo of harvested corn.
"Many municipalities already do it, but the usage [of online auctions] is going to be growing," said Gordon Ball, executive director of the South Jersey branch of the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, an association of government procurement professionals.
Ball is the purchasing agent for the City of Wildwood. The municipality also sells online, but uses govdeals.com, a municipal auction site based in Montgomery, Ala.
Ball appreciates the increased cash in the town coffers, but dislikes the impersonal nature of doing business online. He says it's not as much fun.
In addition to Wildwood, Philadelphia, Bucks County, Mount Holly, and PATCO are among the municipalities and agencies that have used govdeals.com.
Municibid.com is the work of Greg Berry of Pottstown, the owner of an information technology consulting company and a former member of the Borough Council.
In 2007, Berry launched the site in his home after dealing with the cumbersome process of selling borough merchandise.
"Government has been slow to use technology to solve its problems," said Berry, 30. "I think it's fear of the unknown, and also of costs when you're looking out for the taxpayers' money."
Berry is chief executive officer, and runs the firm with partners Matt Bieber and James Romeo.
They charge a flat annual fee for membership that starts at $250 for the smallest clients. Most subscribers pay $500. For that, members can sell as much as they want. Municibid.com does not charge a commission on its sales.
Govdeals.com has no membership fee, but charges clients a premium that starts at 7.5 percent and decreases to 3.5 percent as the sale price rises.
This week, J.C. "Sarge" Bohleman picked up a 1983 Pierce fire engine that he says will one day star in a movie. It is one of two engines that he recently purchased on municibid.com.
Bohleman, of Maple Shade, owns the Philadelphia-based Klassy Karz, which supplies vehicles to movie sets. One of his fire trucks was just sent to a set in Montreal.
The Pierce cost $2,500. The other truck cost $3,050. He also has bought cleaning supplies from Hatfield Township.
He says he has spent $30,000 to $40,000 on municibid.com.
"I can bid from the comfort of my home," Bohleman said. "And if I win, I make arrangements to pay and pick it right up."
Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or [email protected]