2014-07-18 / Front Page

Board puts end to bag tax proposal

Town will not follow Portland’s lead, citing enforcement difficulties
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The board of selectmen voted 6-1 Tuesday, July 8 against a proposal to put a nonbinding question on the November ballot asking whether residents were in favor of a five-cent tax on plastic bags.

Dennis Andersen, chairman of the Energy Efficiency Committee, proposed the tax in late June. Andersen cited initiatives passed by the city council of Portland as the inspiration for the proposal. In mid- June, the city council voted 6-3 in favor of charging five cents for plastic and paper shopping bags at establishments where food and drink constitute more than two percent of total gross sales, and to ban polystyrene containers commonly used at restaurants and gas stations. The measure goes into effect April 15.

Andersen essentially proposed that Kennebunk adopt the plastic bag portion of Portland’s tax.

The committee came up with a question to the public just “to find out what the sentiment of the public is,” Andersen said. “We chose certain stores and what we’re trying to curtail here is grocery bags because they’re the most (popular) bags that are made and used. We’re trying to get people to go from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags.

“What we’re trying to do is get people to use reusable bags because single-use plastic bags doesn’t make sense because they’re used one time,” Andersen said. “They’re used on average of 12 minutes and they last at least 100 years, some studies say they last 1,000 years. Most of the plastic bags end up in the landfill. By reducing plastic bags you’re going to reduce your trash. It’s going to help the town by reducing the tipping fees.”

Selectman Al Searles questioned the arbitrary nature of only taxing plastic bags: “In my opinion, if we want to do this, then we have to ban every plastic bag, all the plastic cups, all the styrofoam cups – the whole nine yards. For me, it’s all or nothing because you’re putting an undo burden on some of our businesses and some escape just as they are.”

“How is it right for me to come to your store and buy something, and because I didn’t bring my bag, you’re going to punish me? I’ll tell you I’m not coming back,” Searles said.

“We use recyclable bags ourselves all the time and we don’t throw bags on the ground, but you know what, once I look around, you can’t walk 50 feet without seeing one of these laying on the side of the road,” Searles said while holding up a plastic bottle. “You going to ban those, too? Because you know what? We should ban them too if they’re laying all over the side of the street, right along with plastic bags and everything else, because they kill just as many seagulls and rodents as plastic bags do.”

Charging five cents for a plastic bag is a difficult policy venture to enforce,” Searles told Andersen. “You can’t enforce it. Our police officers don’t have time to run around and see who’s using plastic bags; they have better things to do. I’m simply not in favor of this. No way, not for me.”

Most members of the board vocally criticized the tax, citing an opposition to government regulation.

“How can we, as a local authority, institute a fine to the public, instituted through another business for using plastic bags? I don’t see how we have the power to do that, whether the town votes in favor or not. I think we’re way overstepping our bounds,” said Selectman John Kotsonis.

Resident Ed Karytko also cited government regulation in his opposition. “I am philosophically opposed to this because I don’t really think the town has any business dictating to a business what they’re going to charge for a plastic bag. I’m 100 percent for recycling. I don’t use plastic bags, but I think this is the wrong approach,” Karytko said.

The most productive counter-solution to a plastic bag tax was a credit incentive, which was also proposed by Karytko. Rather than tax a consumer for not using plastic bags, reimburse them five cents when they bring their own, Karytko said.

Deborah Beal was the only one who voted to put the question proposed by Andersen to voters.

“I’m completely in favor of it. You know what, I bring my own bags every week, and if I don’t, I ought to be penalized for not putting the bags in my car and having them ready to go,” Beal said. “People are already doing it. Portland’s doing it, there are a lot of other places that are doing it. I don’t understand why stores can’t automatically do that anyway.”

Kennebunk resident Haven Andrews criticized the Energy Efficiency Advisory Committee’s time spent crafting the proposal. “I have to say that I was astonished when the Efficiency Committee came up with this project,” he said. “I’d rather have this group of people work harder to increase people’s recycling so the recycling efforts will balance so it’s not in the hole all the time.

“I don’t think it’s right for the big stores only to have to collect a nickel. There’s a lot of convenience stores and that stuff finds its way to the road.”

Sue Speers, a member of the committee, corrected Andrew’s assertion: “Convenience stores are included in this nonbinding referendum. A lot of people didn’t like the idea, and that’s why we’re (the Efficiency Committee) is recommending that we start small and get people used to paying a little bit for their plastic bags, really get people used to bringing their reusable bags in.”

If a resident, for example, does not have the funds or the desire to pay for a reusable bag, the Efficiency Committee will provide them for free.

“If someone doesn’t have the funds to pay the five cents for a plastic bag, the Efficiency Committee has a great number of reusable bags that we are giving out to the public for free to encourage them to bring these bags to the grocery stores. We could leave them at the town hall if people wanted to come in and get them,” Speers said.

“A lot of people have said that this isn’t a good idea and I can appreciate that: it’s too small of an idea but I’d like you to remember what it was like with cigarettes, when we first started trying to get rid of them in grocery stores and restaurants and places like that. It had to start very, very small.”

The Efficiency Committee still has the option of crafting a citizen’s petition to put the question on the November ballot.

The town will likely put the question on its website, instead, to gauge voter opinions.

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