Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday delayed any action on a proposed fee for disposable shopping bags.
The City Council, by a 4-3 vote, directed staff to compile information by July 2012 about how bag fee ordinances have worked in other communities, feedback from retailers who would be impacted by charging customers and where revenue from the potential fee would be dedicated.
City Council President Cari Hermacinski and members Kenny Reisman and Scott Myller opposed the motion.
Despite the delay, Yampa Valley Recycles Board of Directors member Catherine Carson, who asked the City Council to consider the possibility of a paper and plastic bag fee at the Sept. 6 meeting, was encouraged by the action.
“The key positive step is that council is committed to continuing the discussion to reduce plastic in our community,” she said. “And they’ve committed staff to continue this discussion.”
Whether the city should approve a bag fee ordinance has been a contentious issue during the past several weeks. About 30 community members attended Tuesday’s meeting to hear a bag fee presentation from city attorney Tony Lettunich.
Of the 30, 15 people spoke about the issue, including 11 who supported a bag fee, three who opposed it and one who asked that nothing be done at this time.
City Council members said they agreed with many of the environmental concerns raised by community members and seemed to be in favor of finding a way to reduce plastic in Steamboat, but they weren’t sure a fee was the way to go.
Hermacinski said she thought voters should decide the issue, even though Lettunich said his research indicated that an ordinance that would require some retailers to charge for disposable bags was a “special fee” and not a tax subject to the provisions of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. By law, all tax issues must go to a vote of the people.
Council member Meg Bentley made a motion suggesting a 20-cent fee on disposable bags, which was amended to ban plastic bags altogether. She referenced a petition signed by more than 200 mostly Steamboat residents and another 20 letters to the City Council supporting a bag fee.
“I think it’s arrogant of our council and out of touch if we don’t support this clear majority of constituents,” Bentley said.
Her motion failed for a lack of a second.
Council member Walter Magill suggested that Steamboat see what takes place in other communities that are considering bag fee ordinances.
Aspen and Carbondale next month will consider second readings of ordinances to ban plastic bags and impose a fee on paper bags. Basalt has approved a first reading of an ordinance that would impose a fee on all disposable bags.
Council members Reisman, Bart Kounovsky and Jon Quinn said that they supported moving the conversation along but that they didn’t think the issue had been vetted with retailers and the community, including whether Steamboat simply should ban plastic bags.
Reisman opposed the motion to review a possible bag fee again in July because he thought it didn’t need to take that long. He suggested the City Council revisit the issue in January.
“The answers are in this community as to whether this is going to work or not,” Reisman said. “It’s within the logistics of this community and the people living in this community. It’s with the businesses; it’s with the locals; it’s feeling out the tourists and getting them educated this winter, which could easily happen if it’s not instituted until May 1.”
In other action
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council:
• Approved, by a 6-0 vote, a resolution to close the city’s defined benefit pension plan for volunteer firefighters. Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Ron Lindroth said the city is looking into a pension plan that is a better fit for volunteer firefighters. He said only future volunteer firefighters would be impacted by the change and those currently receiving benefits from the existing pension wouldn’t be impacted by the decision.
• Heard a presentation about the Seminars at Steamboat speaker series from MIke Forney, a member of the group’s executive board. Forney said the ninth year of the free series included five speakers, a first, and had attendance of 2,750. He said 190 donors contributed $48,000, and with the $1,000 provided by the city, Seminars at Steamboat nearly broke even. It had $51,000 in expenses. Forney said next year’s series would include speakers covering topics like the impact of China on the U.S. and the world, cyberterrorism, the aging of America and the economy and a special dinner and panel discussion about the Washington, D.C., political deadlock.
— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com