By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Sure, shopping carts can create frustration.
Whether it be an errant cart hitting your vehicle in a parking lot or getting a cart with that obnoxiously wobbly right front wheel, there can be understandable angst regarding shopping carts.
But shopping carts causing a public riff at a city council meeting?
That was just what happened Tuesday night as Keizer City Councilors looked at an ordinance related to abandoned shopping carts.
City Attorney Shannon Johnson noted the issue of abandoned carts was investigated at the prompting of councilor Marlene Parsons.
“Though not numerous, the city has received complaints about abandoned shopping carts in neighborhoods,” Johnson said. “The majority of shoppers do not take the shopping carts off the owner’s premises, but some shoppers do.”
Johnson said carts taken off the premises usually are abandoned and thus create a nuisance.
“State statutes set up a process for notice and eventual seizure of the shopping carts, but requires the local government to adopt an ordinance if they want to use this process. But without a code enforcement officer, we didn’t have the people to enforce it,” Johnson said.
Now that the city has such a person in Ben Crosby, Johnson went forward with work on the ordinance. As proposed, the ordinance allowed for toll-free numbers to be placed on carts and on signs at store premises that people can call to report an abandoned cart. If the carts are not picked up after being reported, Crosby can secure the cart for safekeeping. If that happens, the store must pay a $50 administrative fee. If the signs aren’t provided or the toll-free line isn’t maintained, there is a $100 minimum fine and a $500 maximum fine.
“This follows Salem’s policy pretty closely,” Johnson said. “We hope it will be an incentive for the stores to pick up their own carts. (The issue) has not been given priority in Keizer because we had no teeth; now we hope the stores will be more aggressive in picking them up since the policy has teeth.”
Nate Brown, director of Community Development, noted communication with local stores is key.
“These carts are incredibly expensive,” Brown said. “Most store manager want to get their expensive carts back.”
Parsons noted a similar policy in Salem has helped curb the issue there.
Brown noted such a policy is common elsewhere.
“Most cities have such a policy in place already, so it’s not a surprise to anyone,” Brown said.
Councilor Brandon Smith expressed his disdain for the ordinance.
“Marlene, I didn’t realize you were bringing this forward,” Smith said. “It’s not about the effort in getting the carts. The idea of requiring a toll-free line, I don’t see the point in the cost of the line. There’s no reason for a toll-free number that’s manned and requires documentation. This is a government imposition on businesses. We don’t need to establish and maintain a toll-free line.”
With that, Smith proposed a friendly amendment to Parsons’ motion to delete sections calling for shopping cart information to be required, a toll-free line to be required and for violations. He also asked for parts of two other sections referencing a toll-free number to be deleted.
“I want the five amendments,” Smith said. “Can I do them all at once? I want to go through the five as one.”
Johnson said the toll-free number doesn’t have to be an 800 number and can instead be a local number without a charge to call. Smith pointed out the ordinance talks about a separate line, a reporting system and tracking calls. Johnson reiterated an 800 number doesn’t have to be used and a local number can be used if it’s manned by someone at the store.
“These carts are expensive to the stores,” Smith said. “Businesses don’t want their carts sitting out there. I think this is too much.”
It was then up to Parsons to accept the amendments proposed by Smith.
“I don’t accept the friendly amendment,” Parsons said.
Mayor Cathy Clark then turned to Smith.
“Anything else, Brandon?” Clark asked.
“No ma’am,” he responded.
Councilor Amy Ryan liked the general idea, but worried about the potential added expense for businesses.
“I don’t think we explained it very well,” Parsons said. “Maybe we should pull it until we can have a serious discussion. In most places, stores have 72 hours to pick up carts. Nine times out of 10 the stores pick up carts in 72 hours, since carts are $150. All local stores have contractors to pick up carts.”
A few moments later, Parsons made her choice.
“I’d like to pull the matter,” she said. “We’re not getting the correct information.”
Smith said pulling the matter would be up to Parsons.
“I don’t feel I am missing information,” he said. “This will impose an extra cost on businesses. It will be an extra cost for Keizer businesses for following rules.”
Smith said he could get on board with the idea of making it clear what store a cart is from.
“Overall I feel this is too much, though,” he said. “I don’t feel that I don’t understand it, but I don’t feel it’s necessary in this state.”
Parsons withdrew her motion.