Surplus laws in Louisiana provide a fascinating case study in “protecting the people” or, more appropriately, “protecting the taxpayer.”   

Their purpose is to protect both the taxpayer on the front end of any municipal transaction, and the government worker on the back end. For instance, there are certain technological minimums that schools must maintain to help keep up with educational standards – lest teachers might still be dialing up to the Internet on a IBM brick from 1996.

On the back end, the governmental body can declare property “surplus” if it meets certain requirements that makes it unfit for use and that declaration is approved, in most cases, by a board.

Makes sense, outside of schools the rules apply to a variety of political subdivisions wherein the rule could be abused. Perhaps to prevent one group to lend a backhoe to another without any due compensation, just because they want to be a “good neighbor.”

That’s all well and good, but taxpayers paid for that particular entity to use that particular backhoe for its particular work. What if, say, the backhoe is returned broken? Or overworked? Who then foots the bill? Something for the lawyers to work out, with a decree from a judge, but in the end the answer is the taxpayers in some way, shape, and form.

So surplus laws and equipment protection laws exist to keep municipal bodies in their lane, so to speak, until equipment reaches a point where it is no longer fit for use and then it is declared surplus or the needing governmental entity is willing to pay “fair market value” for the item.

If a political subdivision is governed by a board, that group must vote on the process of designating something as “surplus.”

Now, this is how everything is supposed to work but, in many cases, no two instances of disposal are the same for a wide variety of reasons – usually based upon the definition of “fair market value,” which can be discovered for any item very creatively.

Some folks will donate their equipment, as is the case of the Council on Aging, to another taxpaying entity that might need it if the item was, indeed, past its prime.

They’re just following the rules, much like any group – such as the City of Denham Springs – which can declare a police cruiser surplus due to mileage and maintenance issues, sending it off to the state for auction.

The fascination comes in the form of in almost all cases, someone wants this old stuff. One person’s trash becomes another’s treasure, so to speak. And yet, when some believe that no one might want it – or the law states they probably don’t – the items are just … thrown away?

Take a recent renovation of the inside of the Louisiana Workforce Commission headquarters on Acadian in Baton Rouge. Office equipment of all types is simply being disposed with no thought toward, perhaps, a small-business owner needing some desks at a premium, or perhaps a conference table?

Look at the demolition methods of two schools – Southside Junior High and Denham Springs Elementary. At the elementary sit massive piles or bricks, cider block, wood, aluminum and metal. At the junior high, buildings are being completely stripped of anything worthwhile and sold on the private market.

Even the junior high gym is being cleaned, dismantled, shipped, and put back together – in another state.

The salvaging process saved the schools – and FEMA – several hundred thousand dollars.

This should be the process of any disposal of materials or equipment purchased by governmental entities. Buildings should be salvaged, parts should be kept and sold piecemeal; office implements should be auctioned at a premium – it has been proven that someone will buy. Those funds can go to defray the costs of any replacements or new equipment.

Sure, in many cases there may not be a crew that’s willing to salvage a multi-acre school site, but in any case where the public’s money is on the block for any movable or immovable property, it should be up to that governmental entity to do everything they can to get some value back out of the equipment.

Nothing should ever be “thrown away” or “donated.” It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.

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