Council tackles shopping cart ordinance

On the morning of Nov. 27 there was a shopping cart in front of city hall. Nine hours later, the city council met inside to discuss solutions to what has become a problem that warrants council's attention.

"I gave up after I collected by 264th cart in a little less than six months," Councilor Ken Roberts told the board. 

Cottage Grove City Manager Richard Meyers presented the board with a mock ordinance for the purposes of discussion only. That discussion lasted nearly 40 minutes and included comment from the city council and Grocery Outlet owner Ed Sowa. Noticeably absent were managers from Walmart and Safeway--both of whom where invited to the meeting by Councilor Ken Roberts. 

"Walmart does an inventory of its carts every 30 days," Roberts said. "When they come up sort, they just order more. They don't care about their carts littered all over our community."

Councilor Jake Boone agreed and, after city staff suggested holding carts that were picked up for 30 days, ventured this, "Do we have to recycle them after 30 days or can we charge them a storage fee? So that big businesses that keep letting us collect their carts can be paying us thousands of dollars, eventually? I'd be happy to hold them and keep sending bills to Arkansas until they come get them." Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas.

The possibility of fines, however, may become a possibility. The draft ordinance Meyers presented to the council had several remedies including requiring that retailers install an underground perimeter that coincided with a locking mechanism on the carts. That solution was quickly brushed aside, citing costs to the retailers. 

"This is not the businesses' fault," Councilor Mike Fleck said.

Sowa said when he started his business, he had 100 carts, paid for out of his own pocket at $100 each. Over the last four years, he's lost 20, a number he says is good in comparison to bigger retailers. 

And while Sowa said he wouldn't mind spending more money to combat the problem, there were still gray areas in the proposals presented Monday night.

State law allows municipalities to adopt pieces of ordinance that makes taking a cart off store premises a crime. However, do to that, store owners must post a sign in their building and on the carts noting that it is against the law to remove a cart from the property. The signs must also contain a toll free number to call if a cart is discovered.

"How do we affix the signs to the carts and is it still enforcible if they rip the sign off?" Sowa asked, noting his carts had started with numbers affixed to them. Those numbers are now gone. 

The law also stated that carts could be within 100 feet of the facility. However, in Cottage Grove, that distance would place the cart at an apartment complex--a frequent dumping ground for carts. 

The law also creates an enforcement issue, according to Meyers. Once an individual unloads their groceries and leaves the cart in a yard, it becomes difficult to pin the crime on a certain individual. 

Staff was instructed to bring back an ordinance  meant for a vote and council is expected to take the issue up again in January. 

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