Steamboat City Council candidates weigh in on bag issue

New council will decide whether to impose a fee, ban or something else

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Election 2011

Click here for complete coverage of this year's races and issues.

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Kevin Kaminski

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Rich Levy

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Bart Kounovsky

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John Fielding

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Dave Moloney

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Sonja Macys

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Daryl Levin

— When the Steamboat Springs City Council considers action to impose a fee or even a ban on disposable shopping bags as early as next summer, some of its existing members won’t be making that decision.

On Tuesday, the City Council delayed action, by a 4-3 vote, on a bag fee proposal until July so city staff can gather more information, including monitoring what happens with other Colorado resort communities that are in the midst of adopting similar ordinances.

In Steamboat, eight candidates are vying for four seats in the November election, three of them contested. That means there could be three new City Council members after the Nov. 1 election.

And their views about a bag fee vary.

Changing seats

Council members Meg Bentley and Jon Quinn are not seeking re-election. At-large council member Bart Kounovsky is running unopposed for Bentley’s District 2 seat.

John Fielding, Kevin Kaminski and Daryl Levin are vying for the at-large seat, and Sonja Macys and Dave Moloney are squaring off for Quinn’s District 3 seat. Rich Levy is challenging City Council member Scott Myller for his District 1 seat.

Bentley and Quinn supported the motion to delay action about a possible bag fee ordinance in favor of getting more information about other communities’ plans and talking to retailers who would be affected by an ordinance. Myller opposed the motion after voicing his support for the City Council taking action Tuesday on a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic bags and not putting the question to voters.

City Council President Cari Hermacinski and council member Kenny Reisman also opposed the motion.

Hermacinski said even though City Attorney Tony Lettunich’s legal opinion indicated an ordinance requiring that retailers charge for disposable bags was a “special fee” not subject to Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, it wasn’t the right thing to do. Reisman balked at the amount of time that will pass before the City Council will review the issue again.

And opinions are mixed among City Council candidates.

District 1

Levy, an “environmentalist at heart,” said initially he was in favor of a bag fee, but after making the rounds as a candidate, he’s heard some things that have him concerned. Levy said he doesn’t think enough has been done to see how a bag fee or ban would impact merchants.

“There’s not enough information for me to vote yes if I was on City Council,” he said. “I think that could be mitigated before the next meeting. I don’t know if 10 months is necessary.”

Myller appeared prepared to move forward with a fee Tuesday, dismissing the notion that it should be left up to the voters.

“We were elected to make decisions and not bore the voters with every little issue,” he said.

District 2

Kounovsky said Tuesday he would have opposed a motion to review how bag fee ordinances worked in Carbondale, Aspen and Basalt after City Council member Walter Magill suggested it.

Carbondale and Aspen will consider second readings of ordinances to ban plastic and impose a 10-cent fee on paper. Basalt has approved the first reading of a bag fee ordinance. Those ordinances are expected to take effect May 31.

Kounovsky said he needed more information before making a decision. He suggested reviewing the issue again in July.

“If it’s about plastic, why don’t we ban?” he asked. “I’m always concerned about where paper fits in this, and I haven’t heard paper mentioned once tonight. I’m not sure we’ve vetted this properly.”

District 3

While he doesn’t favor a fee imposed by the City Council, Moloney said he thought it got it right by delaying action.

“I’d like to see Steamboat as a town without government intervention to do the right thing,” he said. “I personally use my canvas bags, and I wasn’t told to. I think Steamboat could do that without government regulating that. We already are. I think Ski Corp. is a perfect example.”

Moloney was referring to the zero-waste efforts of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. in recent years.

Macys, too, said she uses canvas bags at grocery stores. While she said reducing plastic is a good thing, she needed more information, such as the impact to stores, and said she isn’t ready to make a decision about a bag fee proposal.

“I really want to support the local businesses and the local economy,” she said. “I think we can come up with a solution that isn’t burdensome to business. Other communities have. Other countries have.”

At-large

Levin said instead of a fee, he would prefer plastic bags be banned altogether. Levin added that he would be interested in listening to a proposal to impose a fee on paper bags.

“It’s a small price to ban something that will help,” he said. “We have so much plastic. We use it every day. It’s embedded in our society. Any time we can get rid of plastics, I think it’s good for the environment and health reasons, too.”

His opponents had different opinions.

“I don’t support us putting a tax or any type of fee on the general public to change behavior,” Kaminski said. “I think education is still the answer to that one.”

Fielding also said he didn’t favor a fee and thought there were more creative ways to encourage people to recycle.

“I think the bag fee is too compulsory, not equitable, and I think it’s a misuse of government authority,” he said. “I think we ought to encourage recycling, and a perfectly good way to do it is a deposit system.”

While Fielding said that isn’t ideal either, it’s better than a government-imposed nonrefundable fee. He suggested that stores could sell medium-weight plastic bags that customers could recycle for a refund at multiple locations in town.

Gathering information

Many existing City Council members said Tuesday that they just didn’t have enough information to move forward with a bag fee ordinance. For example, they expressed a lack of concern with not hearing from the affected retailers.

City Market spokeswoman Kelli McGannon said the grocery chain is committed to sustainability, but that it’s not an effort that can be fixed with one broad stroke. She said City Market has been working with other communities that have proposed bag fee or ban ordinances.

McGannon said City Market opposes plastic bag bans because they turned customers to paper, which is more expensive.

“We’re always trying to keep prices down,” she said. “Anything that ultimately impacts the cost of business impacts the consumer. We’re an advocate for the consumer and trying to support sustainability without incurring rising costs.”

Yampa Valley Recycles board member Catherine Carson, who first proposed the idea of a bag fee ordinance Sept. 6, will work with the yet-to-be assigned city staff person to gather the information the City Council wanted by July.

Carson said the amount of time isn’t a bad thing.

“The key thing is it’s an opportunity to continue the discussion and the focus on the solution,” she said. “The big advantage right now is the community is talking plastic.”

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

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years ago

"Yampa Valley Recycles board member Catherine Carson, who first proposed the idea of a bag fee ordinance Sept. 6, will work with the yet-to-be assigned city staff person to gather the information the City Council wanted by July."

Well, that should be "Fair and Balanced" in every ironical sense of that slogan.

Having the prime advocate work with a city staffer is, by definition, about as unfair and unbalanced as possible.


And it may be just me, but I found the description of city council views on Tuesday's decision to be confusing.

Seems to me there are four positions, basically opposed to a plastic bag tax (while allowing it to be put to voters), disliking the idea while willing to wait for more info, liking the idea while wanting more info in July, and loving the idea so wanting it approved now.

And I can figure out the position of only a few of the city council from the articles on the issue.

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1999 3 years ago

WOW...so we are paying a city staff person to gather the information.

shouldn't city council be doing that on their own?

isn't that what they get paid to do? be informed on decisions that they are expected to make? not to mention that this city staff person is working with YVR to gather informarion.

gooly...that seems awfully one sided.

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Rob Douglas 3 years ago

City staff should take no action on this until after the election and swearing in of the new council and after the new council has had an opportunity to decide whether they still want staff to move forward on this issue. There is no rush for staff to begin work as this issue has been put off by the current council until at least next July. To spend one second of staff time on this before a new council is sworn is a complete waste of very thin resources. This is a great example of the creeping statism that is smothering our country. Because some council members routinely don't have the fortitude to say no (because they want to seem reasonable in the face of an unreasonable request by a handful of zealots or a city staff member) time and money gets wasted on issues that should be killed by the council, but will be enacted because some council members will use the expenditure of staff resources as the reason for passage. This constant kicking of the can down the road ends up wasting time and money and often ends up with yet another line item on the budget that at the very least requires administrative and staff expenditures - even if it brings no true revenue to the city. This is how we end up with outsized government at every level in our country. The reality on this bag nonsense is that the current crop of city council candidates are finding out loud and clear from the electorate that they are speaking with that there is not support for the passage of a ban or a fee (read tax) on bags. For that reason and other public policy reasons, Jon Roberts should direct staff to wait until the new council has an opportunity to weigh in on this issue and not waste precious resources between now and the election. Jon being the wise man that he is, I suspect he has already put a hold on this until after the election.

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Scott Wedel 3 years ago

Actually, it is normal for city staff to research an issue prior to presenting it to City Council. They present a packet of research to city council which is available to the public online as well as a limited number of printed copies. Information in a packet typically is more focused on why to do something than why not, but it can be expected to continue submitted letter against an idea and some of the more obvious negative consequences.

But, I cannot recall any other time in which an issue has been delayed for an extended time such as 10 months for additional information with city staff directed to work with the prime advocate. It appears that City Council chose to direct staff research to be biased in favor of a plastic bag tax or ban.

Other situations of gaining more information is a local organization such as ice rink working on their overall proposal to be more complete such as a financial plan including grants and such. Which is completely different than the question whether adding a tax to plastic is a good idea based upon what has happened where it has been implemented.

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Fred Duckels 3 years ago

If we are looking to eliminate waste I suggest looking at our bus system and decide how to avoid this exhaustion of resources. Pretending that the system is efficient is for the most loyal idealogues. Surely something can be done to give away a free product away more efficiently.

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John Fielding 3 years ago

. This whole issue ought to become an opportunity instead of a burden. If we work together we can create a solution that will gain us an improved sense of community and national recognition as an innovator in government/business/community service cooperation.

I propose that we try the positive incentive approach to change behaviors. Lets pay people to recycle, double your bag fee back when you return it, triple if you have used it multiple times.

Here is how it could work. We create are recyclable bag durable enough for a few uses, charge a small fee (a nickle?) when the bag is purchased, add a stamp each time it is reused, then refund the purchase price and a per use bonus when it is recycled.

We fund the program with advertising on the bag. (I will commit my store not only to become an advertiser but to offer a discount to anyone who redeems their bags there.) If we sell the ad space for a penny per bag, ($1000 per 100,000) for a sixth of a side that's 12 cents per bag, plus a penny or two more charge to the store that uses them, (competitive with paper for a lot more durable bag, but more than the nasty disposable bags.)

We select advertisements that are colorful, and offer added discounts to shoppers, but mainly that promote Steamboat as a resort town with a sustainability minded community that does not force you to do it their way,

The business sector benefits, the community service sector administers the program and retains the fees from bags that are kept as souvenirs (or thrown away by those who also waste their aluminum, paper and steel), and the government, if it is to be involved at all, issues a formal request to local retailers, (in lieu of an ordinance) that people who reuse bags not be charged for the "free" bags others require,not by an individual discount but by adding up the costs of purchase, handling and recycling of the disposable bags and a profit, then making that the price one must pay per bag.

In other words, all bags would have a cost, (not a fee) of say 1 or 2 cents for the one use plastic we are trying to reduce, 2 to 4 for paper that might be used twice, or 5 cents for a nice durable recyclable plastic bag that gives back a dime or more when it is returned.

Win, win, win.

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Steve Lewis 3 years ago

This is the top question for the coming election?

I don't get it. The sitting council just said "we should wait until next summer to make this decision". They voiced a need to wait on better information and to be able to see the progress of other town's efforts.

Obviously, there are far bigger, far more pressing topics.

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Scott Wedel 3 years ago

John, You know it was never established that plastic shopping bags in SB are an issue important enough to warrant government involvement? Unlike some coastal cities, our garbage is not dumped in the oceans so plastic at our dump is no worse than cardboard.

Presumably the justification locally for recycling is to extend the life of the dump. So has anyone talked to the dump on what they are receiving that could be recycled at the source? It would appear to be far more effective if we worked to improve the current recycling efforts. My personal observation where a tremendous amount of cardboard is being thrown away is downtown businesses that lack alley space for a dedicated cardboard dumpster.

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John Fielding 3 years ago

. I agree, lets do this without the government. .

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1999 3 years ago

I agree with John..I think education is key. Do this without gov intervention.

education and availability.

NOT A TAX OR A FEE!!!

teach people and help them make it easy.

come on.

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Scott Wedel 3 years ago

Steve, "This is the top question for the coming election?"

Sure, why not? Unlike other issues of possibly more consequence this issue more clearly demonstrates candidate's philosophy on appropriate reach of government.

Or, in the case of John Fielding's first post, the extent which city council members should devise solutions to issues.

I note that apparently only Cari thinks this treads close enough to an excise tax to warrant being put on the ballot as per the TABOR constitutional amendment. Is that just a plastic shopping bag issue or an indication of a general unwillingness to use semantic games to raise ta raise taxes without voter approval?

Seems to me some candidates' comments show a great willingness to accept the information presented by local activists and do what is requested. While others are far more skeptical. That is much more than just a plastic bag issue. And depending upon whether you want city following the lead of a group of locals or to be more skeptical then that either makes a candidate more or less appealing.

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John Fielding 3 years ago

. YVB You can still get the disposable bags under my plan, you will just have to pay a fair price say 1 or 2 cents instead of that cost being passed on to others. Or you could buy paper, or the double your deposit back heavy duty bag, you choose. It is entierly a free market system, everything has a fair price, no one is compelled to pay for anyone elses bag, pay to pick up some one elses trash, or help save the world. And Irepeat, this should and can be done wih NO government involvement, so lets not have the staff or council spend any more time on it. .

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Scott Wedel 3 years ago

John, What "that cost being passed on to others"? When a customer is at the checkout then store wants that person to pay and leave as effortlessly as possible. Note all the self checkout lines? They do not want to be counting plastic bags and have customer issues over the price. A few cents per customer is cheap. It is so worth it that stores don't charge for paper bags that cost them several cents each.

How about comparing the amount of energy being used in snowmelt systems around town so that there can be less snow on sidewalks and they don't have to pay someone to shovel snow? How many hundreds of times more energy is being used to heat exterior concrete during the winter than is needed to make plastic shopping bags?

Want to do something green? How about considering outlawing snow melt systems unless geothermal and no nat gas or electric heating?

If you are elected please demand convincing proof that anything is a significant issue and not something otherwise insignificant that happens to be unpopular.

Plastic in ocean is bad, but are SB plastic shopping bags actually making it to the ocean? And so on.

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John Fielding 3 years ago

. YVB There is a problem here I'm attempting to solve, but it is not plastic bags in the trash. The real problem is that there are enough people who are pressuring the government to do something that it just might unless that pressure can be relieved otherwise.

This is why I based the plan on meeting the often stated goals of the movement, reduce reuse recycle. If this plan meets those goals better than the fee or ban plans, it should be supported by that constituency, and those who choose not to participate need not be affected. If it meets those goals and is not supported by that advocacy group, then there must be other goals not being disclosed.

.

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Kevin Nerney 3 years ago

OK let city council charge a bag fee next they can regulate the cost of roast beef and potatoes. What a waste of time effort and money

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sledneck 3 years ago

"The state has the supreme right against the individual, who's supreme duty is to be a member of the state... " That is how Hegel thought.

His dielectic went on to convey that, if change was desired, it could best be affected by first presenting a "problem" and then offering a "solution". That "solution" being (coincedentally) exactly what you wanted in the first place.Example: I want people to stop using petroleum; I tell them that the climate will change unless they stop using oil: they believe my BS and stop using oil. What I don't tell them is that during that transition period, I stand to gain untold millions from my positions in thos commodities. Kind of like Al Gore, who was worth $2 million when he was president of vice, and now, thanks to the green suckers, is worth about $100 million. Wonder if anybody else reading this had that good a run in the last decade?????????

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Zed 3 years ago

Sounds like monthly debit card fees are going to become the norm, another example of paying the real cost to use something instead of passing it off to someone else(in this case small businesses). Our "free markets" are based on hidden/shifted costs to society, but in the end we all pay more.

Think about Mcdonald's model of stripping away as many costs as possible to create the cheapest product in the marketplace. The burger might cost $1, but you can be sure we are all paying for it through corn subsidies, higher obesity and more health care expenses. Or another example would be Walmart sourcing all of it's products from China in order to pass the costs off to the Chinese people with low wages and environmental destruction. The "marketplace" could care less who has to pay later down the line.

Just like debit card fees, paying the real cost of a plastic bag is fair. If enough people in town find plastic bags to be a nuisance and an recognize an environmental cost(they never go away and can be found blowing all over town), then the consumers should pay the real cost in the marketplace.

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Scott Wedel 3 years ago

Zed, You don't recognize there is a fundamental difference between how a business chooses to operate vs government taxes?

If City Market wants their customers to pay their costs, about a cent each, for plastic shopping bags then it is free to do so. Or if City Market wants to make them free as a small cost of a transaction then it is free to do so. Just like they could charge customers asking for the location of products since that does add costs and so on.

The choices of a business on their sources of revenues and expenses is somehow equivalent to a government tax imposed specifying how much of a tax on which items?

So what next? You deciding there is a real cost for the Pilot to serve web pages and so there must be a charge for each page view paid to the City?

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