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Merged documents muddy issue of surplus property disposal

In talking about cars, the Grundy County Board had the cart before the horse Tuesday night.

Or, perhaps more specifically, the resolution before the ordinance.

As a result, the board -- following an extended discussion -- voted 16-1 to table one or two  documents (depending on how you look at it) related to the disposition of surplus county property in general, and seven old Grundy County Sheriff's Department squad cars specifically.

The matter, simply enough, was put forth in light of the fact the county had purchased the new squad cars -- at a cost of $142,000 -- and was trying to determine the most equitable and profitable way of disposing of the cars that were no longer needed by the sheriff's department.

In discussions with Sheriff Kevin Callahan, State's Attorney Jason Helland learned that there was no policy in place regarding the disposal of surplus property. In the past, he said, surplus vehicles were either given away or sold to a private buyer.

Helland, therefore, put forth a proposed ordinance mirroring an existing one in Kankakee County mandating the disposal of surplus property with a value of more than $500 be conducted through a competitive bidding process. The squad cars were to be the first items declared surplus and sold under the new ordinance.

"The competitive bid process is how other counties handle that procedure," noted Helland, who presented an ordinance to that effect to the board's Rules Committee.

Or so he thought.

"What came out of committee was solely an ordinance," he told the board on Tuesday.

By the time the proposal came before the full county board on Tuesday, however, the general ordinance governing all surplus property in the county had -- perhaps inadvertently -- been blended into a resolution specifically declaring the old squad cars as surplus. As a result, only the resolution was placed on the agenda, putting it before any ordinance authorizing the declaration and prescribing the bidding process.

"It almost looks like you have two things here," observed John Almer. "It looks like you're trying to jump between a resolution and an ordinance... in my mind they should be two different things."

In fact, they were.

The resolution was submitted as page 1 of a four page document, instead of as a single page document accompanying what should have been the separate, three-page ordinance.

Where the mistake was made remained uncertain Tuesday night.

County Clerk Lana Phillips said they came to her office for inclusion on the board's agenda as one document.

And, according to Eric Rasmusson, the discussion at committee approached the ordinance and resolution as one matter.

"We talked about a resolution concerning the sheriff's department," Rasmusson said, "not so much an ordinance. It's in its infancy on how to make this an ordinance for the rest of the surplus."

Assistant State's Attorney Perry Rudman noted that the "infancy" of the ordinance was intended.

"It's out there for review," he said, adding that the state's attorney's office was "certainly willing" to fill in any details.

Richard Joyce asked that the committee, as it reconsiders the tabled proposal, attempt to establish how often the auctions would occur.

"I don't want the county to look like a used car lot for six months. That doesn't look good," he said.

Frank Halpin stressed that it would not just be cars the county would have to worry about piling up, since the policy would include any items with a $500 value.

He noted that the county had tried similar programs in the past and that storage had been a problem. He also wondered who would determine the value of the property and, therefore, whether it had to be put out for bid.

"It could become quite a burdensome task," the former board chairman warned.

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