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City's shopping cart pick-up program headed for the heap

The City is no longer in the business of retrieving shopping carts. - Rachel Ciampi, Auburn Reporter
The City is no longer in the business of retrieving shopping carts.
— image credit: Rachel Ciampi, Auburn Reporter

Learning in mid-July that Auburn's 9-year-old shopping cart pick-up program had not been working as its framers intended but instead was generating mountains of ill will among merchants, members of the Municipal Services Committee decided to ask the full Council to put a year's worth of brakes on it.

On Monday, however, when Randy Bailey, assistant director of public works and operations, reported that between July of 2013 and July of 2014, the City had collected $5,800 in fees and spent $10,480 enforcing the ordinance, members of the committee agreed it might be better after all to simply pull the plug.

"We're losing money," said committee chair Bill Peloza.

As of today, when somebody reports an abandoned cart, the City calls in maintenance and public works employees to drop what they are doing and go where the cart is at, load it onto a truck and drive it to the maintenance yard on C Street Southwest, where the City stores carts. The City then charges a store $30 to get each cart back, and $70 to destroy any that a store fails to claim.

If the full council ultimately agrees to kill the ordinance, things would return to the way they were before 2005. That is, City workers would again pick up stray carts and simply return them to the store parking lots for the stores to pick up and reuse.

Former City Councilmember Gene Cerino's goal for the shopping cart pick-up program in 2005 had been for it to eliminate, or least sharply cut, the hazards all those shopping carts abandoned on city streets and sidewalks presented to the public. The charges were intended as an incentive to get the stores to police their carts. But the program quickly proved sharply unpopular with store management, who bitterly resented having to shell out $30 each to get their property back.

"It's been a very contentious relationship, at least with us, I can't speak for the council," Bailey said last month. "There are some rough feelings about being charged to get the carts back.

"We have found that we are not reducing the number of shopping carts that are found on the roadways," Bailey said. "I don't think (the City Council) understood when they first started the program how much time it was going to take. That if you have a staff of two doing certain things who have to drive across town to pick the carts up and drop them off before continuing to the work they had been doing, 45 minutes could pass," Bailey said.

"Since we are going to do away with billing for shopping carts," Councilmember Wayne Osborne said Monday, "will we still have the cost of picking them up and taking them back?"

"We're looking at something else," City Finance Director Shelley Coleman said, without elaborating.

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