City auction helps close growing budget shortfall

HOUSTON - An auction of aging city vehicles is proving to be a financial windfall for Houston as it works to bridge a growing budget shortfall.

The city doing everything it can to cut costs and generate revenue, including auctioning off its aging fleet of vehicles, with starting prices as a low as $500.

It's proving to be a financial windfall, according to Christopher Newport from the City of Houston's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

"Our customers go as far north as Wisconsin, as far east as Florida and as far west as California," said Newport. "Many of them are repeat customer from right here in the city of Houston."

The vehicles are sold through the Public Surplus Web site.

The city has sold old fire engines, aging police cars and tractors. It has sold close to 400 vehicles since July. That has brought in more than $1 million for Houston's bottom line.

"Any time you talk about increasing the return to the taxpayer dollar by 278 percent you're obviously on the right track," Newport said.

The program is expected to gain popularity with the public.

"A lot of people don't have the credit to go to a car lot, or they don't have the money to go to a car lot," said Cristyl Marshall, a Houston resident. "If they can help themselves two ways -- a cheaper car and putting money back into the City - I mean, you can't beat that," she said.

The online auctions started last summer. They have been so successful the City plans to expand it by selling as much as 97 percent of its aging fleet by 2011.