Jennifer Campbell loads reusable grocery sacks into the back of her car Monday after shopping at City Market. Steamboat Springs City Council will hear a presentation Tuesday night about bag fee ordinances in other Colorado communities. The council is considering rules that could affect shoppers who use plastic instead of reusable alternatives.

Photo by John F. Russell

Jennifer Campbell loads reusable grocery sacks into the back of her car Monday after shopping at City Market. Steamboat Springs City Council will hear a presentation Tuesday night about bag fee ordinances in other Colorado communities. The council is considering rules that could affect shoppers who use plastic instead of reusable alternatives.

Bag fee proposal to go before Steamboat Springs City Council

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Past Event

Steamboat Springs City Council meeting

  • Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 4:30 p.m.
  • Centennial Hall, 124 10th St., Steamboat Springs
  • All ages / Free

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— A proposed fee on disposable plastic bags at Steamboat’s largest retailers would be considered a “special fee,” not a tax subject to voter approval as required by Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Steamboat Springs City Attorney Tony Lettunich will advise the City Council on Tuesday.

Lettunich will make a presentation to council members tonight that will include similar ordinances being considered by other Colorado communities, including whether to ban plastic bags altogether, how much to charge, how the revenue would be used and what retailers would be subject to a bag fee.

Lettunich also will present details of a case decided by the Colorado Supreme Court that he said indicates a bag fee ordinance would be considered a “special fee” and not a tax subject.

“I think that’s the consensus opinion,” Lettunich said Monday. “That’s my view and that’s the view of the other municipal attorneys I talked to.”

According to Lettunich’s memo to council, the key elements of a “special fee” are:

• It is not designed to raise revenues to defray the general expense of government.

• It is a charge imposed upon persons or property for the purpose of defraying the cost of a particular government service.

• The amount of the fee must be reasonably related to the overall cost of the service.

• Mathematical exactitude is not required and the particular mode adopted by a city in assessing the fee is generally a matter of legislative discretion.

• An ordinance creating a special service fee generally will be upheld as long as the ordinance is reasonably designed to defray the cost of the particular service rendered by the municipality.

Lettunich goes on to say that to meet the key elements, revenues from a potential bag fee in Steamboat “must be directed to a designated account and spent on an environmentally-related program and the costs of administering that program.”

Yampa Valley Recycles board of directors member Catherine Carson has led the push for the city to pass an ordinance requiring large retailers like City Market, Safeway and Walmart to charge customers a “green fee” for using paper and plastic bags. The hope is that the fee will motivate more folks to use reusable bags. As proposed by Yampa Valley Recycles, revenues from the fee would fund the purchase of reusable bags as well as education outreach efforts.

Not all Steamboat residents like the idea.

The topic has elicited strong reader reaction on SteamboatToday.com, and in a letter to the editor that appeared in Sunday’s Steamboat Pilot & Today, resident Rich Lowe dismissed some of Carson’s arguments that disposable shopping bags are costly and harm the environment while reusable bags are the solution. And he called the proposed charge of using disposable shopping bags a “use tax.”

Aspen and Carbondale delayed second readings of their bag fee ordinances last week while Basalt approved a first reading. Aspen is now considering an outright ban of disposable plastic bags. Telluride approved a ban of plastic bags in 2010 and imposed a 10-cent fee of paper bags.

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. with an hour-long executive session for City Council members to discuss unspecified personnel matters. The open portion of the meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. with a proclamation recognizing this as Constitution Week. Public comment is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council will:

• Hear an update about the Seminars at Steamboat summer speaker series.

• Have a joint meeting with the Steamboat Springs School Board.

• Consider an ordinance to close the Steamboat Springs volunteer firefighter defined benefit pension plan to new recipients.

• Consider a second reading of an ordinance to create a new article in the city’s Municipal Code to license businesses as pawn brokers.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

Well, the relevant case according to the packet is Bloom vs Fort Collins where Fort Collins created a road maintenance fee based upon a property's street frontage for the purpose of maintaining the streets. So the "fee" was directly related to a service provided by the City.

But it would seem that SB would be pushing new limits on exactly what service is being provided to the payer of a plastic shopping bag fee. Since the customer is not using a reusable shopping bag then what service is being provided to customer paying the fee? Seems to me that SB's claim on providing a service crosses the line of collecting a fee from one class of people (those that use plastic shopping bags) and intends to use the money to benefit another class of people (those that receive subsidized reusable shopping bags).

And I have no idea how a plastic shopping bag "fee" would not be an excise tax because: (from Bloom vs FC) While the transportation utility fee at issue here is imposed on all owners or occupants of developed property fronting a public right of way, it is not conditioned on the performance of an act, event, or occurrence.

But the plastic shopping bag tax would precisely be an excise tax because it is condition on the act of using a plastic shopping bag. The legal brief made no attempt to explain that.

Regardless, go ahead and play legal games. We have a far easier way to solve this than a protracted court fight. The public can vote out those that impose annoying taxes without a public vote.

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1999 2 years, 7 months ago

what service is being provded by consumers paying this "special fee"?

The tax is going directly to a special group who decided they want to be funded by the public. no service provided at all.

as a matter of fact they propose to use the money they collect from us to buy something to then sell it back to us.

gee...I wished I thought of that.

Cars polute the air....so my proposal is that anyone who drives a car gets taxed every time they drive their car. the money collected goes to me. then I use that money to buy more bikes (at cost) to sell back to people (at retail)

WOW!!!!! what a great deal for me!!!

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RPG 2 years, 7 months ago

This proposed tax would just be another reason NOT to shop local. If you must tax us then put the tax on the useless downtown stores, where all the tourists shop for their T-shirts, not on the food stores and Walmart where the locals have to shop.

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rhys jones 2 years, 7 months ago

I never had much respect for anybody who just talks for a living, especially those who steal my money in the process.

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sedgemo 2 years, 7 months ago

How is this fee "defraying" the cost of service... we already pay for the bags, more and more checkout counters aren't operated by humans, and I read lately the cost of these bags is around one cent, though the fee suggested is nearly 100 time that. Does anyone have actual hard info on cost of these sterile bags by the gross delivered in Steamboat? Maybe we can buy our own by the gross and store them in our vehicles...

If this is not an optional fee, then it looks, quacks, and walks like a tax, IMHO.

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howard_roark 2 years, 7 months ago

I promise to campaign against any city council member that votes for this proposal. I understand this idea is rooted in good intentions, but it is misguided and lacks principle.

P.S. I use reusable bags every time I go to the grocery store.

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housepoor 2 years, 7 months ago

It would be very interesting to do an analysis of the cost of maintainingplowing our county roads in relation to property's road frontage and the amount of taxes they pay

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

If I was on the City Council then I'd ask the City legal dept if they'd stake their jobs on the courts finding this is a fee. Because it'd be shameful if the city passed it as a fee only for it to be overturned as a tax.

And as not a lawyer it defies common sense that this is a fee and not an excise tax. If the city attorney's legal theory is to be believed then gasoline excise taxes are actually fees as long as the money is used for something vaguely related to transportation or the environment. And the government service being provided to the person paying the "fee" is not the sort of obvious benefit to the person paying the fee used as examples in the court's decision, but only vaguely related where the direct benefits will be for those that use subsidized reusable bags and thus do not pay the "fee".

At the very least it would be the honorable thing from a public policy perspective to error on the side of caution and consider it a tax that under Colorado law needs to be passed by the voters. Plus, if it is such a good thing then an election would educate the public on the issues and winning the election would mean there was now community buy in.

BTW, from the packet and the cited evidence of harm, there was no evidence presented that plastic shopping bags are a substantial source of the plastic trash issue. The logic is that plastic is not good and plastic shopping bags are made of plastic and so are bad. No suggestion that any of the far more voluminous plastic packaging is less harmful than the plastic shopping bag. Nope, only argument is that plastic shopping bags are avoidable. And ignoring the BBC's research that plastic shopping bags are highly reused instead of other plastic (trash) bags.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

housepoor, County could presumably collect a road frontage tax for road maintenance and snow removal. I'd expect it to be highly controversial since then the large ranches that would claim they are doing good by preserving open space would pay far more than 35 acre or smaller ranchettes that are viewed as chewing up open space.

sedgemo, You can go online and buy 1,000 for less than 3 cents a bag and that includes shipping. So big stores with the wholesale access and centralized distribution are paying about 1 cent per bag.

And from the city council packet comes the news that plastic bags take about one fifth the energy to make compared to paper bags and about a 20th of the energy to recycle. So using and recycling plastic shopping bags is far more green than using paper bags.

So it'd make the most sense to ban plastic and paper shopping bags. Right, if it is all the environment then require that all people always use reusable bags.

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addlip2U 2 years, 7 months ago

I second RPG's comment: "This proposed tax would just be another reason NOT to shop local"!!

Yampa Valley Recycles board of directors member Catherine Carson's cause is preposterous!

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Sheila Weekly 2 years, 7 months ago

This city is making a huge mistake if they pass this "fee" and the damage will have been done that cannot be undone when the tourists come to town this winter.

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Sheila Weekly 2 years, 7 months ago

When does the micro-managing stop. Enough already.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 7 months ago

If you've attended a free concert or other large event in Steamboat or nearby, the lady taking your trash to sort into recycling was Catherine Carson, or her volunteers. Feel free to disagree with the value of recycling. But Carson's effort is sincerely well intended. To say her motives are selfish and about revenue is simply not the case. Carson led the effort many months ago bringing those green bags to Routt County. Thousands have been sold for a buck. No one made a dime.

And I'll write to express my disappointment that the Pilot chooses to ignore the studies Carson has presented. Simply put, they show that fees work and incentives do not. An Ireland bag fee started in 2002 has diminished plastic bags by 97%. That's a best case, but if the Pilot wanted to present both sides of bag fees, they might show some interest in Carson's information. Instead they report, "The hope is that the fee will motivate more folks to use reusable bags."

If this effort were preposterous, we wouldn't see 4 other Colorado communities making a similar effort. I'll be satisfied with the choice of council on this issue, but it would be nice to see less derision and more facts in the considerations that lead to it.

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mtroach 2 years, 7 months ago

Anyone know what our bag use numbers are and how much this would raise? Is it really going to be a big source for funding or just an annoying charge that barely brings in any funding?

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rhys jones 2 years, 7 months ago

I see a previous post of mine disappeared, so I will word it differently: If council passes this illegal tax, that only reaffirms that we should replace every one of those arrogant bloodsuckers as soon as opportunity permits. And the city attorney waters at the same trough.

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Oshkoshgirl 2 years, 7 months ago

So how will this be regulated? What if I bring my used plastic bags back and use them again? Do I get charged again? When going thru the self check, will we have to get the (usually missing) attendant to count how many plastic bags we have and then wait around to have the cost added on to our bill, or will we have to wait in a 2nd line for a checker to count the bags and make a separate payment? It seems like a big cluster to me! I will use the free produce bags and then I will still have doggie pick up bags at least. Guess I will have to buy plastic Glad trash bags since they will be cheaper than plastic grocery bags now. Seems to be defeating the purpose of this tax, but I like to have trash bags in my garbage can and to pick up after my dog. I used to use the newspaper bag, but now there isn't daily delivery, so another source of doggie bags is gone. It would be nice if there would be a credit for reusing plastic bags or bringing a reusable bag - which I do, but very often I forget them, and must use plastic.

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bandmama 2 years, 7 months ago

What stupidity. I see many of us making less daily trips to Safeway and City Market in favor of driving to Denver once a month for "supplies" Cheaper there anyway and almost worth the price of the gas.. What if I want to reuse my plastic bags that I have already paid for and are "recycling" by using them more than once. Encourage the grocers to buy American made bags that have acceptable levels of lead or whatever other deathly chemical may be in them. I am personally disguted with this debate when you consider that in todays paper, it was announced that some locals may not be able to heat their homes due to cuts this winter and you folks are arguing about what sort of bags you are using when many cant even afford groceries in the first place.Time, effort and money can be spent in a much wiser more benificial way.

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bandmama 2 years, 7 months ago

On second thought, why not use up some of those cardboard boxes???????

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heboprotagonist 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm ashamed of my fellow liberals when I see this sort of bs.

A few highly motivated individuals think they are saving the planet, and then partner with the giant corporation to promote "awareness", and ultimately the effort backfires and hurts the environment even more.

If the city council just wants to take action so they can claim to have done something, simply ban the bags. Force Safeway and City Market to adapt along with the customers.

I hope they allow me to eschew the use of bags altogether. I'll just go from the cart directly to the trunk. How's that for green?

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steamboatsconscience 2 years, 7 months ago

Well I'm gonna save as many as I can now and I'll be out in front of City Market selling them for $.10 each to the tourists! I'm gonna be rich!!!

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bandmama 2 years, 7 months ago

hebo- the problem with directly to the trunk is then getting it to the house. All dem apples ROLL...... steamboatsconscience- DOUBLE BAG NOW BEFORE IT IS TO LATE!!!! And would I get a locals discount? Why cant the stores PROVIDE fabric bags at a low cost. (yes I know they already do but hear me out) THEN the next trip return those you have in exchange for clean ones and let the Grocer wash them. ALSCO would make a killing (jobs for locals!!!!) and then someone can complain about the chemicals used to wash said bags.

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Scott Ford 2 years, 7 months ago

Just returned from City Council Meeting. Council voted 4 to 3 to table the issue. City Council asked if the City manager could allocate staff for this purpose of studying the issue more and Jon said no problem. Staff will be directed to study the experiences of other communities and make recommendations to city council. City council will not take up the issue again until July 1st. I have the sense that at this time the CC is likely leaning toward a ban on plastic bags rather than a fee. Scope of the ban / TBD.

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Rob Douglas 2 years, 7 months ago

Scott: I will buy you the donut(s) of your choice (highly recommend Milk Run glazed) the next time we gather. I'll even pay the "donut tax." You can even spill coffee on me. Good job.

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Scott Ford 2 years, 7 months ago

Hi mtroach - The City of Aspen which is moving toward a "bag fee" is forecasting to raise in excess of $400K anually. Aspen Daily News / Aug 23rd According to estimates provided by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), the average American uses 400 disposable grocery bags per year. This would result in an average of $80 per person a year if bag consumption is not reduced under the city’s proposed fee. The city is hoping the fee would reduce bag consumption by 65 percent, which would leave about 2.17 million bags consumed by Pitkin County residents each year, and about $434,000 in fees. The estimates do not account for disposable bag consumption by tourists.

I think 400 bags per person is too high / perhaps 400 bags per household is more realistic. If we assume 400 bags per household and we have about 8,000 year round households in the immediate Steamboat Springs area we would be using 3.2 million bags. If after a full year plastic bag fee it is successful in changing community wide behavior so that plastic bag use was reduced 65% this would mean it would generate over $220K. That would just be us locals. Factor in another $100K of bag fees paid by visitors - the revenue from a fee could easily be in the $300 to $350K range.

This brings a whole different meaning to going $$GREEN$$.

I think City Council is struggling with the issue of taking more money from its citizenry even if it is called a fee for a "good cause". I was very encouraged to hear this and Cari H. to acknowledge and spoke to this fact very well. This is why I sense that if CC does anything about the plastic bag issue they will move toward banning plastic bags totally and skip the fee.

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bandmama 2 years, 7 months ago

Alright, bandmama has had enough..... Let's look at it from the "common Joe" point of view. Budgets are tight. Throughout this "debate..." many instances of the use of these horrible nasty bags have been brought to light, trash, doggie poo, re-use AT said stores. I use them to pack my lunch in. This is a community that REuses those silly bags often, with a real effort in REusing them. Martha Stewart makes bucks in telling us how to reuse a coffee filter. (oh YEAH, what about THEM????). The fact is, when I go shopping, and I dont have a FABRIC bag with me at all times and I support local bussiness & they want to CHARGE me extra for a da*m bag? I wont shop there again. This is stupid. People are cutting back every way they can. The simple fact that SOME have time on their hands to waste time on THIS issue in todays ecomonic disaster is asinine. Get a real life. I will be happy to stand in the parking lot and bag my groceries as I see fit in what ever carton I choose. I expect the price of milk to decrease accordingly.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

Scott F. "This brings a whole different meaning to going $$GREEN$$."

Could also be said it shows the power of an excise tax. Front what has happened elsewhere, usage will plummet (usage in Ireland down 93.5%), but people that forgot reusable bags buy only what is absolutely needed and avoid paying bag fees (and using the "immoral" bags). So there could be a very real decline in sales from such a measure. But the poor are more likely to be in a position where they have to buy their normal amount and so end up paying an inordinate percentage of the bag tax.

Hmm, since paper bags use so much more energy to produce and recycle than plastic bags then the energy usage argument suggests that paper bags should also be banned. And then SB could really be on the forefront of green requiring everyone always bring a reusable bag. With what Chamber says mentions of SB are worth then it'd appear to be a no brainer for Chamber to pay for SB ads on reusable shopping bags.

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bandmama 2 years, 7 months ago

Ok, a few points... when is the last time any of "us" Steamboat-ians (what are we called???) saw an empty "recycle your grocery bags" box empty in any of the stores that offer that? I cant recall any moments that I thought to myself, "WOW there is a shortage of concerned citizens here". Neeext, it costs a lot, cash and in "green-ness" to PARK in the parking lots of those horrible stores that want to charge me to pack.... what I buy from THEM in a plastic bag. What's next? Big Brother Valet parking? ("if I ride my bike I get a discount!!!"). do we all need to park at either side of town and use a shuttle??? Go ahead and shop for a family of three for two weeks and pack it home to Dakota or Tree House or SB2 on a bike. Isn't that easy or worth my effort after a ten hour shift. "required" use of a fabric bag is what Orwell was warning us of. How I shop, where I shop and how I CHOOSE with responsibility to cart it home is my right. I am supoorting the local workforce, why punish me if I need something as simple as a bag to cart home my goodies? That are paid for with an already decent sales tax?

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mtroach 2 years, 7 months ago

$200,000-$400,000 ! Do we get free cloth bags from this revenue?

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

It would seem that about 90% reduction of bags upon imposition of fees so should expect $20K to $40K.

It is really going to suck having to take a loaf of sliced bread out of its plastic bag when leaving the store.

And I suppose the Chamber must be so upset that it didn't pass. Aren't mentions of SB worth close to $1,000 each (apparent value according the coverage of the pro bike race) and think of all mocking mentions we won't get on Fox News until we pass it. And if we wait until after Aspen passes it then we won't get any mentions at all. Can we really afford to let Aspen take the lead on public mockery? I think we need to continue our leadership role in public mockery. We made a great effort in stupidity deserving of public mockery by honoring a person whom donated so much money to so many local causes by naming a useless road to nowhere after her (Gloria Gossard Parkway), but that never got the publicity it deserved.

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