The state of the economy isn’t just thinning budgets—it’s now causing a significant change in Missoula’s ubiquitous dog poop picker-upper bags, otherwise known as Mutt Mitts.
“Due to budget cuts, I’ve gone to a single-ply bag versus a double-ply bag,” says Scott Van Ommeran, Missoula’s park maintenance manager.
Van Ommeran recently replaced the signature white plastic Mutt Mitts—equivalent to the thickness of about five plastic grocery bags—with thinner green bags. He believes the switch will save the city thousands of dollars.
In fiscal year 2008, dog owners pulled about 192,000 bags from the 103 Mutt Mitt dispensers dotting Missoula parks, according to Van Ommeran. If the poop output of Missoula’s roughly 7,000 registered dogs remains steady, the green bags—which cost the city 2.9 cents each compared to 7 cents for the white—will save the city nearly $8,000.
“I haven’t had a chance to have them out there long enough to weigh the financial benefit of it all. I could use twice as many bags, but I have no idea at this point,” Van Ommeran says. “I’m heavily monitoring the use.”
The bag thinning represents just one example of how the city is reevaluating its budgets to cope with dwindling revenue. Last year Mayor John Engen asked all departments to cut costs by 3.7 percent. The $8,000 is a good chunk of the $125,000 Parks and Rec is straining to pinch in 2009.
Missoula isn’t the only city struggling to find cuts, according to Rod Lukey, operations manager at Mutt Mitt.
“We’ve had a lot of people who are finding, with budget constraints and whatnot, they need some clever ideas for how they can maintain their program,” says Lukey.
The Kentucky-based company, which sells tens of millions of bags around the country each year, has one of its five employees devoted solely to working with customers cutting back, Lukey says. To keep those customers, Mutt Mitt encourages them to do what only Sacramento, Calif., has done: Imprint poop bags with advertisements.
“People need to understand, what does a budget cut look like?” says city communications officer Ginny Merriam. “It looks like a flimsier Mutt Mitt. And we may end up with something that is actually better for the environment, and works just as well, and is cheaper, and we could have been doing it all along.”