Whitehall News

Misdemeanor for theft, mismanagement

City poised to roll with stricter shopping-cart law

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Whitehall city officials are expected to begin the process of notifying area retailers with shopping carts about a new city code regulating the management of the carts.

Council members on March 19 were expected to adopt legislation that makes it a minor misdemeanor for individuals, without expressed permission, to possess shopping carts and also holds retailers liable for not making a diligent effort to control shopping carts.

The new ordinance, if enacted as expected March 19, would become effective 60 days after its adoption, allowing time for retailers and the public to comply with the new law.

The effort is designed to rid the city of the blight that abandoned and off-premises shopping carts create in the city, Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard said.

"It's a particular problem at bus stops," city service director Ray Ogden said, adding that a common location where shopping carts are left abandoned are at bus stops, particularly along East Main Street, East Broad Street and South Hamilton Road.

Ogden said he estimates the cost of shopping carts at about $200.

"You'd think (the retail stores) would not want to lose the carts, but that's not what we're seeing," Ogden said.

He said the city had hoped to make some progress without the need for legislation but has received little or no response from area retailers.

The city sent letters to retailers in October, seeking suggestions on how to prevent customers from removing shopping carts from stores, but have received little response thus far.

Removal of carts always has been considered a theft, he said, but retailers did not file reports and city officials simply impounded abandoned carts, almost all with marks identifying the owner.

The city has collected more than 100 carts, none of which has been claimed.

The new ordinance would require retailers to place signs, in English and Spanish, advising customers that theft is a crime. It further requires retailers, when the store is closed, to place carts in a secure area.

Retailers must clear parking lots of all carts within one hour of closing and at proscribed times during daily operations, and each retailer must provide the city with the name of an individual responsible for management of shopping carts.

The ordinance stipulates that any private individual in possession of an off-premises shopping cart would be "considered prima-facie evidence of larceny or possession of stolen goods" unless a person has written permission.

A violation would be a minor misdemeanor, punishable with a maximum $150 fine, in addition to $65 in court costs, Ogden said.

As for retailers, the city would perform spot inspections, he said. If an officer determines a retailer has failed to comply with the law, the city would fine the business' appointed manager, in care of the business, he said.

"We don't intend to make a point out of charging retailers," Ogden said. "We hope they will make the effort to control shopping carts. But we want to keep our rights of way clear by whatever manner we need to."

The ordinance is modeled after a similar ordinance in Westlake, in northeastern Ohio, Ogden said.

The cost to retrieve an impounded cart is $20, he said.

In other matters, Maggard was scheduled to deliver her State of the City address during the March 19 council meeting, highlighting the city's accomplishments in her first as mayor and reviewing goals of the administration for the current year.

Maggard was expected to address the effect of sequestration and recognize organizations and individuals who have contributed to the improvement of the city in the past year.

Other action:

* During the March 12 meeting of council committees, legislation was introduced authorizing Maggard to contact with the Ohio Department of Transportation to replace the Elm Street Bridge and to transfer $7,000 from the general fund to the economic development fund.

Both ordinances were scheduled for a first reading March 19.

* Members of the Whitehall Charter Review Commission attended the March 12 committee meeting.

An organizational meeting of the Charter Review Commission is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Whitehall City Hall, 360 S. Yearling Road.

Members will elect a chairman, vice chairman and secretary at the organization meeting, as well as establish a meeting schedule.

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