THE BAG BAN: The city of Santa Fe is spending nearly $34,000 in taxpayer dollars for costs associated with banning plastic grocery bags.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe City Council banned plastic grocery bags, and New Mexico Watchdog has learned it spent nearly $34,000 to implement the program, including $10,000 on a public relations and advertising campaign.
The city signed a personal services agreement with HK Advertising for $10,818 — including gross receipts tax — that went into effect at the end of last year to develop a logo, branding ideas, a website and graphics, as well as a campaign “for educating the greatest number of citizens possible.”
Here’s a look at the expenses racked up, according to city officials:
“All I’ll say is, I could find something better to do with $33,000,” said Santa Fe Councilor Ron Trujillo, the only member of the council to vote no when the plastic bag ban was approved in a 7-1 vote in August.
As for thiring an advertising agency, Lawrence Garcia, acting division director for Environmental Services of the City of Santa Fe, said, “We were trying to put out a media strategy together to educate as many people as we could.”
But Santa Fe resident Jolene Lockhart is annoyed with the news of an expensive PR push.
“It’s a waste of money and a waste of my taxpayer dollars,” said Lockhart. She’s a critic of the plastic grocery and thinks the switch to reusable cloth bags may cause more problems in the long run.
“The cloth bags get filthy-dirty and full of bacteria … I’m disabled, and the other day I was at the grocery store and the meat that I bought fell through the paper bags. They say, ‘Use the reusable bags,’ but you have to wash them. But isn’t that using more water?”
Garcia defended the $10,000 advertising campaign.
“It was well-spent money to inform the public,” Garcia said. “It’s a new ordinance. Anytime you do that, you have to have a campaign to educate the public.”
HK Advertising came up with a slogan — “Bag to Differ” — and a logo that has been splashed across the city’s website touting the ban as a means of reducing litter and encouraging the use of reusable shopping bags.
Garcia said the $1,800 for buttons will go to residents who pick up the 20,000 free reusable cloth bags, which the city bought for $21,200.
The city is also running radio spots promoting the campaign. Garcia said the spots are part of a regular rotation of commercials, and the bag spots aren’t costing taxpayers additional money.
“There was a need in the community,” Garcia said.
“I think it’s a waste of money,” Lockhart said.
The ban on plastic carry-out bags less than 2 1/2 mils thick was supposed to go intoeffect Feb. 27, but it hit a series of snags.
For customers who didn’t use reusable bags and wanted paper bags, there was supposed to be a 10-cent per-bag fee.
But the Santa Fe City Attorney has questioned whether the fee amounts to an illegal tax, and there are worries the fee could be challenged in court, which could lead to undetermined legal costs for the city. As a result, the fee was waived, and most grocery stores in the city are providing paper bags.
Others, including councilor Trujillo, complain the bag ban is unfair because restaurants are exempt, as are nonprofits that serve the needy.
“The concept is good, but let’s be fair to the entire community,” Trujillo said. “The higher-end stores downtown can still use the thicker plastic bags.”
New Mexico Watchdog left a voicemail with one of the ban’s sponsors, Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger, but we have not heard back.
Defenders say the ban, which follows the lead of cities such as Los Angeles; Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; and Berkley, Calif.; will help clean up the environment. “Plastic does not biodegrade, it just gets smaller and smaller, and can get into our bodies through soil, air and water,” said one post on the website of the local chapter of the Sierra Club.
Garcia says about 8,000 of the reusable bags remain.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
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