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Public property is property and real estate that is owned by a government, generally a government chosen by the people. The concept is that the government is made up of the people, and that therefore the people own the property that is entrusted to the government for care. This does not necessarily mean that the property is available for public use or access, however — it simply recognizes that the property was bought and likely maintained with taxpayer dollars.
There are many cases where public property is available for use by the general public. A couple of prime examples are libraries and parks, in which the property owned by the library in the form of books, audio equipment, and visuals can often be used by the public and many times be borrowed for a certain period of time. Parks are another form that serves a public purpose by enhancing the quality of life for area residents and visitors.
Those in charge of these properties often must answer to a governing board, such as a city council, county commission, or state board. These governing bodies may be elected or appointed, depending on the situation. Their main job or priority is simply to make sure the property is being maintained for its original use, and that it is open to the public on an acceptable schedule. In other words, they are supposed to look out for the public's interests.
There are times when certain types of public property is not available for public use. This is especially true when it comes to issues where national security may be at stake. For example, while a space shuttle under the direction of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) may have been paid for with public funds, the public generally does not have direct access to it. This is because the nature of the equipment is very sensitive, and a larger public purpose is served by restricting access to specific individuals.
Along the same lines, access to military bases is often restricted not only for reasons of national security, but also the safety of the general public. If the public were able to use military bases as their own property, then serious disruptions in operations could take place, and there would be a chance for the situation to become unsafe. That is why such property must sometimes have restrictions on who can use it and when.
If public property is sold, it may have to go through a number of different steps before the sale is completed. First, it may need to be announced that the property could be sold, which gives the public the chance to comment on the issue. Second, the property may require a bid. This is often the case, for example, with government surplus vehicles. The highest bidder generally receives the property.