County governments frequently need to sell or convey equipment or property which is no longer needed for county purposes. The disposition of surplus property is the final step in the county’s purchasing cycle. County officials and department heads should become familiar with the various laws and/or private acts that govern the sale and/or transfer of surplus property for their respective county. A review of the laws pertaining to the disposition of surplus property follows.

General Law.  When there are no specific requirements imposed by general law or private act, the disposal of county property is within the discretion of the county legislative body. See T.C.A. § 5-7-101 (authorizing the county to dispose of its property) and T.C.A. § 5-1-103 (authorizing the county legislative body to act for the county). The county legislative body would have to act at a meeting that complies with the open meetings law. See Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. U86-112 (August 1, 1986), Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. 03-131 (October 3, 2003).

County Financial Management System of 1981. In counties that have adopted the County Financial Management System of 1981 (1981 Act), it is the duty of the finance director under T.C.A. § 5-21-118 (b) to conduct public sales of county property when the county legislative body declares the property surplus. In a county operating under the 1981 Act, all sales of county surplus property must be by public sale.  Op. Tenn. Att'y Gen. 13-84 (October 31, 2013).  For property of the board of education, this statute must be interpreted in conjunction with the provisions of T.C.A. §§ 49-6-2006 and 49-6-2007, which give the board of education certain authority over the disposition of its property. See Disposition of Surplus Property in the Education Department.

County Purchasing Law of 1957.  In counties that have elected to be governed by the provisions of the County Purchasing Law of 1957, the county purchasing agent must sell surplus real or personal property pursuant to T.C.A. § 5-14-108(o) by public auction or by sealed bid after the county legislative body has declared the property surplus (for property of the board of education, the board would make the determination that the property is surplus, and may conduct the sale if the department of education is not under the 1957 law; see Disposition of Surplus Property in the Education Department). The county purchasing agent, with the assistance of the county purchasing commission, may adopt rules for requiring reports from county departments of surplus equipment and supplies, and the transfer of surplus equipment and supplies that may be used by other county departments, and rules for the sale, after receipt of competitive bids, of surplus equipment (T.C.A. §§ 5-14-107(5) and 5-14-107(6)).  In these counties, the county legislative body is authorized under T.C.A. § 5-14-108(o) to establish by 2/3 vote a procedure whereby the purchasing agent, upon request of the county mayor, may dispose of surplus personal property with an estimated value of $1,000 or less by selling on the open market or by gift, trade, or barter to a nonprofit or charitable organization.

Transfers of Surplus Property Among Governmental Entities.  There are two statutes that authorize counties to transfer surplus property to other governmental entities.  Under T.C.A. § 12-2-420 (formerly T.C.A. § 12-3-1005), counties may  transfer surplus personal property to other governmental entities by sale, gift, trade, or barter upon such terms as the county legislative body may authorize, without public advertisement or competitive bidding, regardless of any other law to the contrary. The approval of the governing bodies of both entities is required.  A similar statute, T.C.A. § 12-9-110, authorizes public agencies, including county legislative bodies and boards of education, to convey or transfer both real property and personal property to other public entities without sale or competitive bidding.  The conveyance may be made by an agreement between the governing bodies of the public agencies authorizing the conveyance and determining that the terms and conditions are appropriate.  The public agency or agencies receiving the conveyance or transfer must use the property for a public purpose. This provision may be used without declaring property surplus, and it supersedes any contrary requirements in any other general law or private act. T.C.A. § 12-9-110.

County Officials and Employees Prohibited from Privately Purchasing Surplus County Property—Under T.C.A. § 5-1-125, county officials and employees are prohibited from purchasing surplus county property unless the property is being sold by public auction or by competitive sealed bid.

Sale of Surplus Property by Internet Auction—Under T.C.A. § 5-1-128, counties are authorized to sell surplus property by internet auction.

Sale of Historic or Scenic Property.  Under T.C.A. § 12-2-501, counties may sell real or personal property by private negotiation and sale if (1) the property is significant for architectural, archaeological, artistic, cultural, or historical purposes or for its open, natural, or scenic condition, and (2) the property is sold to a nonprofit corporation or trust in furtherance of tis preservation or conservation purposes, and (3) a preservation or conservation agreement is placed in the deed and the nonprofit may only dispose of the property subject to covenants promoting preservation or conservation. or if applicable, securing the right of public access.

Disposition of Confiscated Property or Property Acquired at Tax Sales. These types of property are not considered surplus county property that can be disposed of using the methods outlined above, but rather are governed by their own procedures which are covered elsewhere.

Sale of Real Property to Certain § 501(c)(3) Entities.  Notwithstanding any rule, regulation or other law to the contrary, any county, upon two-thirds (2/3) vote of the county legislative body, may dispose of real property at a nominal cost by private negotiation and sale to a nonprofit corporation incorporated under the laws of this state that has received a determination of exemption from the Internal Revenue Service pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3), and whose purpose includes providing educational and vocational training services to children and adults with disabilities.  T.C.A. § 5-7-119.

Property Taken by Eminent Domain.  If a condemning entity determines that property taken by eminent domain is not used for the purpose for which it was condemned, or for some other authorized public use, or if the condemning entity decides to sell the property within 10 years of taking the property, then the condemning entity must first offer the property for sale to the persons from which the property was taken.  Such persons may purchase the property for not less than fair market value plus costs and have 30 days to sign a purchase agreement for the property. If the former owner does not purchase the property within the 30 days, then the property may be sold in any commercially reasonable manner for not less than fair market value plus costs.  T.C.A. § 29-17-1005.