Auburn's 'Shopping Cart Recovery' program a financial failure

AUBURN, Wash. -- The City of Auburn is reconsidering a well-intentioned effort to clean up abandoned shopping carts after evidence showed the program's been a financial failure and hasn't significantly reduced the number of wayward carts.

"We thought in our wisdom that we were doing the right thing," said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. "We wanted to provide an incentive for stores to keep shopping carts on their property."

Backus was among the city councilors in 2005 who approved a plan to use city maintenance employees to retrieve abandoned carts.

The program entailed storing the carts at the city's maintenance yard, then contacting the stores. Under the city's ordinance, retailers would have to pay $50 to have the cart returned or $70 if an unclaimed cart had to be destroyed.

The city is now considering suspending the program because it's costing more than the $7,000 dollars in payments collected every year.

"It really doesn't make any sense. We are not recovering enough to cover the costs," said Backus. "It's time to take another look."

The mayor said requiring city workers to pick up the carts and transport them took a lot of time from other duties. Store managers did not like the program and retailers didn't always pay.

Over the next few weeks, city councilors will discuss the program and decide whether to suspend the ordinance while re-evaluating.

Mayor Backus favors having city workers retrieve carts and return them free of charge to store parking lots, using a minimal amount of city time and resources.

"We can do it a better way. We don't want to be seen as the shopping cart police," she said.