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Jan. 18 – Grocers and Retailers within Savannah city limits face stiff fines for abandoned shopping carts

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

January 18, 2018 – The Savannah City Council approved a new ordinance Thursday that establishes significant per grocery cart fines for retail stores that fail to collect abandoned shopping carts that have been left in the city’s neighborhoods by their customers.  It’s a particularly difficult problem in areas with a high percentage of low-income customers without vehicles, and around the city’s bus stops used by residents.  

Unanimously supported, the new ordinance and fine structure was amended downward on a motion by Alderman-at-Large Brian Foster, after representatives of the both grocers and retailers worked with the city’s staff over the past month to negotiate fines, and the process by which the city will pick up abandoned carts if stores do not collect them. 

The ordinance requires all retailers that have shopping carts to implement a program for cart retrieval, or face a fine for that, as well.   

The City will come back in six months and see “where we are, as to who is complying and to who is not,” explained Alderman John Hall, and will also look at whether any changes to the ordinance need to be made.  Many cities have embraced similar programs to address one aspect of blight in city neighborhoods.

City Manager Rob Hernandez asked the Council to agree that the program of fines, and abandoned cart retrieval by City workers will not begin until July 1. “We need time to continue to talk to retailers, and to ramp up,” he explained.  The delay in implementation was approved, as well.

Representatives from both associations of grocers and retailers appeared, and spoke again, as they did two weeks ago at the First Reading of the ordinance. Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association, said that there were still some additional unanswered questions, and she reported on the plans of several of the city’s larger grocers.  

From her membership, Kroger has contracted with the Gateway Company to install a system on each cart “so that the carts will only go so far, and then the wheels will lock.”

“They know this will make many of their customers unhappy, while they’re taking our property – stealing our property,” she said.  The Gwinnett Street Kroger will have the locking system installed by Jan. 24; at the Kroger’s on Victory Dr. by Feb. 1; and at the Mall Blvd. Kroger by Feb. 21.  She added that it is taking that long because “the city requires a low voltage permit be pulled by a Georgia electrician. They haven’t run into that anywhere else in the state.”  

Ms. Kuzava also reported that all Walmart stores within the City limits have contracted with a company to pick up all carts, and will be documenting all pickups and times each cart was picked up.

But, she pointed out that “for some of these stores, there is a constant turnover,” and she asked how the City is going to know whether a cart they saw two days ago and noted, hasn’t actually been picked up within the last two days, returned and stolen again. She suggested that the City put stickers on all carts they are documenting.  Mayor DeLoach at first rejected that idea, but after further discussion, it appeared that Hernandez will be looking at implementing the idea.

She said that Jones’ Red and White has had a cart retrieval process in place already.  But, Alderman Dr, Estella Shabazz said that “if they have, it isn’t working,” citing carts abandoned around the company’s grocery store on Ogeechee Rd. “Someone needs to put them on notice.” 

“They pick up carts five days a week.  It is a constant battle for them,” Ms. Kuzava added. “For the Krogers on Gwinnett, if they weren’t already picking up carts, they wouldn’t have any carts within a matter of three days … It’s a revolving door.” 

But, the city wants the retailers to do a much better job, or face fines to cover the costs of city employees patrolling neighborhoods and removing the carts to a central location where retailers can retrieve their equipment.  The average grocery store cart costs over $300.00.  

Alderman Julian Miller told Ms. Kuzava that he went by about ten grocery stores last night, and “I didn’t find any anywhere” … signs that said taking carts was stealing, or not to remove carts from the property. “There were lots of signs ABOUT carts, like, ‘we’re not responsible if the cart hits the car, or child safety in carts,” but, “At none of those stores is there any indication, ‘Please do not take the cart off the premises, it’s illegal to take the carts, etc.” he pointed out.  She said she would speak to her members about signage.

“The city is going to give the owners three days to remove the carts, to take care of that situation,” said Mayor Eddie DeLoach.  “This is not heart surgery.  This is a simple process of doing your job, and stop complaining … you’re not going to get a fine unless you’re not doing what you’re supposed to.” 

“You’re going to have to work with those folks who have no other way of getting their groceries there (to their home),” the Mayor added, speaking to the representatives of both retailers and grocers.  

A motion was made by Alderman Brian Foster to amend the maximum initial cart fee from $375 to $250. Each additional cart the city has to retrieve at a location will be filed $125. 

The Chatham Area Transit System (CAT) has had a program in place for several years to pick up abandoned carts at their bus stops, Alderman Bill Durrence explained at the first hearing on the new ordinance. 

In other business, the City Council also approved a plan to close off some streets on the South Side to create cul-de-sacs, which is also a natural traffic calming strategy, to allow for the creation of several dog parks. “This was an area that was a mass of FEMA lots that we had purchased,” explained Alderman Tony Thomas, “and FEMA wouldn’t let us put up fences.”

“We wanted to put dog parks in some areas. So, in these areas where the roads were, we will create a cul-de-sac, take the roads up, and use the dead space for dog parks, thanks to the city staff, “thinking outside of the box,” he added.   

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