Federal Way could tighten laws on stolen shopping carts

Also in city council news: Arts Alive winners recognized.

The Federal Way City Council could make big changes to the way the city regulates shopping carts.

Nothing’s been decided yet. The council took a look at proposed changes to shopping cart laws during their Oct. 18 regular meeting and unanimously voted to send the matter to a first reading during the council’s next meeting on Nov. 1.

The issue stems from the use of shopping carts by those in town who appear to be homeless or transient. Numerous residents have spoken at recent city council meetings and asked the councilors to take action on the matter.

In 2018, the city passed an ordinance requiring all shopping carts to carry identification signs. Under that law, abandoned shopping carts can be impounded by the city, with the relevant fees charged to their retail owners. (i.e. an abandoned Target cart would be charged to Target, and an Albertsons cart would be charged to Albertsons).

But the fees for the first three carts per month are deferred if the retail owners show they’ve established security measures to keep their carts from being taken off-premises.

The ordinance proposed by the city would broaden the scope of that law. It suggests making possession of a shopping cart in any city right-of-way, such as a sidewalk or road, into a Class 3 Infraction. It would also make the carts in those situations subject to seizure and impounding, whether or not those carts have a proper ID sign.

An infraction is a civil enforcement measure, not a criminal violation, so it carries no jail time. The cart infraction would be punishable by a $50 ticket.

The law would expand the existing impound program to include stolen shopping carts seized under the new infraction. And it would make carts with proper ID signs and security measures from their retail owners totally exempt from impound seizure fees, rather than simply exempt for the first three carts each month.

Since the law would authorize city police to take shopping carts from people using them outside of store parking lots, the ordinance would also require the city to develop a system to process and store personal items from those seized shopping carts.

One part of the law wouldn’t change: Theft of a shopping cart, a more serious crime than possession, would remain a misdemeanor under city code, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to 90 days in jail. That rule still only applies to shopping carts that have the proper ID signs.

Council members shared a variety of thoughts on the ordinance, including council member Lydia Assefa-Dawson’s question about businesses which couldn’t afford to update the signage on their carts.

Councilmember Hoang V. Tran shared concerns about how the ordinance would target homeless people, who are already vulnerable and often unable to easily transport their belongings. The city would also inevitably have to pay for a place to store and process any of their belongings from impounded carts, he said.

Deputy mayor Susan Honda also asked about the safety training that city workers who inventory the items collected from those carts.

City officials clarified that the ordinance does not allow the city to seize people’s personal property — the preference would always be for the person in possession of the cart to take their items out before the cart is impounded.

“I believe it’s important for us to make a stand, and say we’re tired of this behavior in Federal Way,” Councilmember Jack Dovey said.

Councilmember Erica Norton was absent and excused from the meeting.


The city is also in the middle of budgeting season, and this week’s conversation started with breaking down the proposed 2023 property tax rate.

First, to understand property taxes, you need to know Washington’s 1% rule, which limits how much tax a city can collect on existing property.

The state constitution limits the amount that any city can raise its combined property tax rate to one percent annually for existing property. (Voter-approved special levies are in addition to that amount, and overall, the city’s share of your total property tax bill is 8%.)

That means if the city collects $1 million in city property taxes one year, it could collect only $1.01 million the next year, and only $1.021 million the next year, etc. ad nauseum. That means even when property values skyrocket, the cities are forced to take a slow-and-steady approach to raising taxes. (Tax collection from new constructions and some other improvements, utilities and facilities is then added on to that total. )

The math can get complicated, so here’s how it looks in plain terms:

This year, the total assessed value of Federal Way came out to about $14.3 billion. With an $11.61 million property tax levy, that comes out to a tax rate of about 81 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The assessed values leapt much faster for next year: The total value grew to about $17.1 billion. So for 2023, the city is now proposing a tax levy of about $11.7 million, which leads to a final tax rate of about 69 cents per $1,000.

That means the total levy increase is roughly $154,000 (a 1.32% increase). It comes from taking the 1% increase on existing property it’s allowed under the state constitution, plus another $38,000 or so in taxes from new constructions.

The city also took another look at the mayor’s proposed biennial budget, which among other things:

• Anticipates a 3.5% cost of living increase for a city staff of 397 full-time equivalent positions;

• Budgets 13 new officers and 3 support staff for the Police Department, as well as significant increases in vehicle replacement, insurance and jail costs; and

• Comes to a total of $155 million in expenses in 2023, and $187 million in expenses in 2024.

The council has recently discussed adding funding for traffic safety, police officer wellness, a new shopping cart program, school zone safety upgrades, travel and administrative support for council members and senior commission printing.

Council members unanimously voted to continue the hearing to Nov. 1. The city has more hearings and workshops on the budget ahead, and it is on schedule to consider adopting the budget on Nov. 15. The Mirror will be following along and provided updates as the council considers the budget further.

Also on Tuesday

The council unanimously approved a settlement with Corliss over the company’s failure to comply with correction actions stemming from a 2020 Notice of Development Code and Water Quality Violation, regarding unpermitted paving of several thousand square feet. Corliss will pay the city $67,300 in fines. It had accrued $134,600, but the city agreed to forgive half of the amount as long as the rest is paid and Corliss dismisses its appeal in court.

• Unanimously passed their consent agenda.

• Unanimously voted to establish an urban forestry fund to account for revenue from enforcement and fee-in-lieu payments related to clearing, grading and tree and vegetation retention.

• Unanimously voted to amend the eligibility for the city’s Youth Commission so that any high school student who lives or attends school in Federal Way, or who attends a school in the Federal Way School District, can serve as a youth commissioner.

The council heard from the Han Kirkland, public sector account manager at Waste Management, about the Mayor’s Day of Concern Food Drive on Oct. 8. This year’s effort raised 11,030 pounds plus another 1,104 raised from Fred Meyer for a total of 12,134 pounds, or six tons. The effort also took in donations of more than $1,200, according to the city. Since 2008, the effort has collected nearly 175,000 pounds of food which is about 87.5 tons. That total does not include store donations.

The council was briefed on the winners of the Arts Alive art exhibition, which showcases artists from Federal Way and around the region. Hae Chon Lee won the People’s Choice Award for the painting titled “Dear Grandson.” Molly Murrah won the Commission’s Choice Award for the watercolor titled “Black Beauty,” and Murrah also won the Juror’s Choice Award for the watercolor titled “Country Girl.” The pieces will be on display from 10 a.m. through 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For your calendar:

• The Christian Faith Center holds their “Souper Supper” on Oct. 21 from 5:30 to 8 p.m., a dinner supporting the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network. For more information visit fwccn.org.

• The last day of the Federal Way Farmers Market this year is Oct. 29.

Federal Way City Council on Oct. 18. Photo courtesy of Bruce Honda

Federal Way City Council on Oct. 18. Photo courtesy of Bruce Honda