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Plastic bag fee to be decided by council

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

The Durango City Council appears likely to approve a 10-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags at the supermarket checkout with the first vote tentatively scheduled for its regular meeting July 16.

The other option was to put it to a referendum, but the majority of councilors were convinced enough public support for the fee exists to go ahead and settle the issue.

“I’m ready,” Councilor Dean Brookie said Tuesday during a study session.

Of the five-member council, only Councilor Keith Brant opposes the fee, which is intended to reduce litter and promote reusable bags. The fee likely would go into effect in early 2014.

Brant thought it better to the let the voters decide a contentious issue.

Brant also raised the possibility of an initiative to override the council to put the issue on a ballot anyway.

If such a group of fee opponents missed the deadlines for getting the issue on the November ballot, the city would need to organize a special election, potentially costing Durango anywhere from $18,000 to as much as $22,000 if the referendum is organized as a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights election, which would consider the fee as a tax.

“It’s not the risk I want to take,” Brant said.

The council also heard skepticism about the fee from some of the representatives of the four retailers who would be affected – the two City Markets, Albertsons and Walmart.

They were invited to give feedback on the proposed bag fee but raised questions about its fairness and whether it truly was effective in reducing plastic consumption.

Because Durango’s ordinance would affect only retailers whose stores are 25,000 square feet or more, Kelli McGannon, corporate communications director for King Soopers City Market, argued that City Market would be at a competitive disadvantage because consumers would go to smaller retailers for their bread and milk.

Paul Bancroft-Turner, communications and public affairs manager for Albertsons, pointed to examples in other countries.

In Australia, where plastic disposable bags have been banned, the consumption of garbage bags and other types of plastic bags has increased because Australian consumers no longer have the disposable bags from the supermarket to pick up after their dogs or use for trash, he said.

Bancroft-Turner also said Ireland has had to keep raising its fee on plastic bags from the supermarket to maintain the incentive to use reusable bags, doubling from about 15 cents to 30 cents per plastic bag during the last decade.

Over time, consumers get used to paying for services they previously might not have paid for, such as bottled water or TV programming.

According to Reuters, the fee on bags has cut plastic litter by 95 percent in Ireland. The number of bags by shoppers fell to a low of 21 per person compared with 328 bags before the tax.

When the number of plastic bags per person crept up to 30 in 2006, Ireland raised its plastic bag fee in 2007, Reuters reported.

The 10-cent fee in Durango is proposed to be split 50-50 between the retailer and the city, with the proceeds earmarked for administrative costs, employee training and education efforts by both the city and the retailer.

Because the fee has potential to be a windfall for retailers, City Attorney David Smith proposed a revenue cap on the fee, but the council decided against the cap to increase spending on education, reduce the need for audits and staff workload, and because revenues from the fee are expected to decrease through time anyway.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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