Tax on bags trashed for now

KINGMAN - The Kingman Clean City Commission on Thursday opted to rescind a motion previously sent to the City Council that would have explored imposing a tax on plastic bags distributed by local supermarkets.

The decision came following a presentation given by Arizona Food Marketing Alliance representative Trish Hart and the managers of several local supermarkets. Hart gave commissioners updated statistics on the number of plastic bags being recycled through the stores' recently-imposed recycling program, Bag Central Station, while store managers offered some examples of how their employees were helping to clean up their lots.

According to Hart, Bag Central Station has sold more than 60,000 reuseable bags and recycled more than 80,000 tons of plastic bags in its two combined markets, Kingman and Phoenix, through the first half of 2008. Individual numbers for Kingman's arm of the program were not readily available.

Hart said she had spent the past two days speaking with members of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns in Phoenix, and hoped to expand the recycling program throughout the state. In the meantime, she said, the AFMA would continue to work with the city and local stores to find ways to continue educating the public, especially children, on the importance of reusing and recycling plastic bags, as well as reducing the number of bags they use.

Paul Perkins of the local Wal-Mart at 3396 Stockton Hill Road said his staff had done a series of "blitzes" along Airway Avenue, removing bags, bottles and other assorted trash. He said Wal-Mart regularly pays a maintenance associate to spend two to three hours a day cleaning the parking lot and the store perimeter, including trash that blows into the neighbor's adjoining yard.

Perkins said he has instructed cashiers to promote reuseable bags as well. He noted the store's entire stock of more than 2,000 bags sold out the day they first went on sale, and they have been selling steadily ever since.

Robert Tooker of Bashas' at 3360 Andy Devine Ave. said the store has focused cleanup efforts on the large vacant lot to the north of the property, which is not owned by the supermarket. He said customers who reuse bags receive five cents off their purchases for each bag used.

Fred Walker of Safeway at 3970 Stockton Hill Road said he hires a maintenance team to clean the lot six days a week. All three supermarkets have been equipped with hooded trashcans to prevent bags from blowing away during strong winds.

While she lauded the stores' efforts to combat the proliferation of plastic bags, Hart warned the commission about further pursuing a tax or a ban on the bags. A ban on plastic bags, she argued, should necessitate a ban on paper bags as well, because of paper's comparative negatives to plastic. These negatives, she said, included destruction of forests and requiring greater landfill space than plastic.

Hart also argued that a tax, such as the 10-cent tax proposed by the commission last month, would be difficult to implement, particularly on a per-bag basis.

She said that even if a fair means of imposing the tax could be determined, the city would still need a way to enforce it, and retailers would have to somehow work it into their existing systems.

Principal Planner Rich Ruggles agreed with this, noting that he and Finance Administrator Trinna Ware had discussed the possibility of a tax with Finance Director Coral Loyd earlier in the week. Loyd said that while a tax on bags was certainly possible, it could take a long time to implement due to the way the state - not the city - collects and divvies up existing sales taxes.

"We would just have to work with the Department of Revenue to add that onto their format," Loyd said in an interview Friday. "It's not necessarily difficult, it's just time-consuming because they pre-print their forms."

The difficult part, she said, would fall on the retailers, who would each need to devise a way of accounting for individual bags or individual transactions that use plastic bags, but not those that use paper.

"If it was a flat fee per transaction, they could just ring it up," Loyd said. "But you'd probably complain if you bought one bag and it was just a loaf of bread. I don't know. I don't know how they'd do that."

Apparently, the commission didn't either. While they were dubious toward Hart's arguments against banning the bags, commissioners agreed that a ban was too extreme at present. Consensus was to wait another year and give the education campaign more time to work before revisiting the issue.