Steamboat City Council candidates weigh in on bag issue
New council will decide whether to impose a fee, ban or something else
September 24, 2011
Steamboat Springs — 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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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