Santa Fe Considers Fining Grocery Stores for Having Their Carts Stolen

filling the cart

The Santa Fe City Council is considering an ordinance that will charge grocery stores for stolen shopping carts.

A bill being introduced before the City Council on Wednesday would fine Santa Fe retailers whose abandoned shopping carts are returned to their businesses by city workers.

The bill, sponsored by Mayor Alan Webber and City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, would “incentivize” retailers to keep the carts on their properties by charging the retailers $150 for every cart the city picks up.

–“City Council bill would fine businesses for return of shopping carts” – The Santa Fe New Mexican, July 11, 2022

There are several reasons why this is a bad idea.

No Harm No Foul

What the city is calling an “incentive” is actually a fine. Santa Fe recently paid a private contractor $17 for 3,000 shopping carts retrieved. But according to The Santa Fe New Mexican, that cost was recouped by charging the stores for returning carts. The new program would charge stores $150 per cart for a service that costs $17.

There’s a word for charging 785% more than you pay for a service: grift.

More Cost to Consumers

Grocery stores have one of the lowest profit margins of any industry, at between 1-2%. But like any other business, increased costs don’t come out of profit. They’re passed onto the consumer.

Stores already pay between $100 and $400 per shopping cart, depending on the type. Adding features like locking wheels, which would require tearing up concrete to lay magnetic perimeters, would add even more expense. To compensate, stores will have no choice but to increase the costs of goods. Shoppers will end up paying the fines the city levies on businesses.

Victim Blaming

The city’s proposal charges businesses for being victims of a crime. Shopping carts don’t disappear from grocery store parking lots by magic. They don’t blow away in the wind. They’re stolen. To turn around and charge that store for being the victim of a crime is worse than victim blaming. It’s victim fining.

What’s next? Charging homeowners for getting robbed? It’s not a far stretch. If the city believes stores are to blame for not providing better security for their property, what’s to stop the city from charging any citizen for being the victim of a crime?

Ignoring the Problem

There’s a simpler solution. It’s one citizens, including businesses, already pay for. It’s called law enforcement.

Stealing a shopping cart is a crime. Enforcement of theft ordinances would solve this problem overnight.

Bill sponsor says stores “have a responsibility to try and keep track of” their carts. 

For bureaucrats who can’t wrap their heads around how this would work, it starts like this: when you see someone who isn’t at at a grocery store pushing a shopping cart, confiscate it, cite the perpetrator for theft, return the cart to the store–or call them to come pick it up, as suggested by Jeremy Montoya, a store manager at Albertson’s Market on Zafarano Drive in Santa Fe–and if you’re feeling greedy enough to double-tax citizens for services they already pay for, invoice the store for the cost of solving this crime.

For those who might suggest that stolen carts aren’t actually stolen, make them prove it. You can’t always assume that a shopping cart that says “Albertson’s” on it doesn’t belong to the man wheeling it down the street. His name may be Albertson, after all. If he can show receipts proving ownership, he can keep it. If he can’t, seize the stolen property. If he wants to sue the city for wrongful seizure of property, fine. He would have to show proof of ownership in court.

The added benefit of enforcing laws, in addition to returning property to its rightful owner, is that by fining criminals, criminals are less likely to commit the crime again. This is why governments have penalties for violating laws: to discourage it. It’s not complicated.

Bloated Bureaucracy

Creating an ordinance comes with costs. The city would need to create fee structures, enforcement codes, and compliance rules, as well as staff to oversee the issuance of fines, fee collection, and monitoring of compliance for stores that don’t properly label their carts contact information, as is being proposed.

If all of that seems more expensive than paying a contractor every few months to retrieve carts at $17 per cart, that’s because it is. If the city is invoicing stores for the $17-per-cart retrieval fee–a cost most stores would welcome compared to the cost of outright replacement–then the existing policy comes at no cost to the city.

Unless the goal is to create another layer of government bureaucracy, the Santa Fe City Council needs to take a seat and move on to more pressing issues.

You don’t solve crime by taxing victims, especially when the 785% increase in costs will be passed directly to consumers who are trying to buy food in an economy suffering from 8% inflation.

Make your voice heard. Contact Santa Fe City Council members to voice your opinion on their proposed ordinance to tax grocery stores for stolen shopping carts.

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