Does your Christmas gift list include riot helmets, a baggage X-ray machine or a hot dog warmer/popcorn maker with a nacho cheese dispenser?
What about a not so gently used state highway patrol cruiser, minus flashing lights and siren?
Those are among the items available in two online auctions being conducted at lonestarauctioneers.com for the Texas Facilities Commission, the agency responsible for disposing of state surplus items as well as belongings surrendered at airport checkpoints.
Over the past two fiscal years -- through its auctions, including two eBay seller pages, and at its storefront in Austin and its warehouses in Fort Worth and San Antonio -- the agency has generated $14.6 million in sales, according to figures obtained through a public information request. Some of those funds are returned to the originating agency, and some cover program costs. Anything left over goes to the state's general fund.
The agency also transferred 14,600 pieces of property those two years at little or no cost to other state agencies, further saving money.
"The state surplus property program affords other state agencies and the general public the opportunity to purchase property from knives to vehicles at a cost that is generally below market, which creates a significant savings both for the state budget and for its customers," program Director James Barrington said.
You never know you might find. Occasionally, eight-liners and other gambling devices seized by law enforcement agencies are put up for auction. But don't bet on winning one if you live in Texas, where they are outlawed. Potential purchasers' qualifications for owning such items are checked by the auctioneer, Assistant Director Kristy Fierro said.
Firearms confiscated at airports also don't go to the state program, but guns seized by the Parks and Wildlife Department do. They can be found at the online auction site gunbroker.com.
Items from airports
Because there are so many airport items, they are available only at the agency's Austin storefront.
"We have a vast selection of items," Barrington said. Knives, which the agency sometimes offers in packages, range from $1 to $300, he said.
"We have many watches, from the inexpensive to the very expensive," he said. "We have jewelry of all kinds -- you name it. We have weights and dumbbells, power equipment like drills, and tools."
Cameras, cellphones and other electronics are common items. And you can't miss the snow globes -- rows and rows of them. Tourists forget that they can't carry more than 3.4 ounces of liquid onto airplanes, so the mementos from the Alamo and other landmarks wind up on the store shelves.
Some of the more unusual items collected over the years aren't for sale but are put in a display. Those include a bottle of liquid presumed to be liquor that contains a cobra with a scorpion in its mouth and a knife with a snakeskin handle, Barrington said.
"We use it as a marketing tool to create interest in the program," he said of the exhibit. Plus, Fierro added, it would be difficult for the agency's staff to appraise the value of such items.
Because of its eclectic mix of merchandise -- much of it priced far lower than it would be elsewhere -- the Austin store is nicknamed the "Texas Treasure Chest."
An outlet in Fort Worth
The commission is responsible for disposing of surplus property from participating state agencies. It also helps dispose of federal surplus property, although only qualifying entities like nonprofit groups, local governments, school districts and small businesses can buy it.
The commission runs a warehouse outlet in northeast Fort Worth where federal items including heavy equipment, appliances and tools can be obtained. The outlet also has a limited inventory of state surplus items.
"We have customers that are [Small Business Administration] construction companies," store manager Toby Marks said. "They can put in a claim on a bulldozer, and if they get it, it's a good deal for them. Volunteer fire departments are a big part of our donee base. Those guys are really creative and can find a way to build something if they need it."
Patrick M. Walker,