Weighed options for moolah plastic bag tax
Between January and May, Fairfax County’s new plastic bag tax brought in $511,000 in revenue, and county officials have ideas about where those funds should go.
The supervisory board, during its July 26 environmental committee, briefly reviewed a July 19 memorandum from the director of the Office of Environment and Energy Coordination, Kambiz Agazi, which described the first results of the program of bag tax.
According to the memo, county staffers are developing a long-term earnings screening process, but would like to see these first five months of the program allocations:
• $370,000 to Operation Stream Shield, which provides temporary work experience for homeless people clearing debris in and around county waterways and Virginia Department of Transportation rights-of-way.
• $70,000 for storm sewer education and labeling projects.
• $30,000 to community labor, which assists county maintenance efforts.
• $20,000 to support the maintenance of Bandalong and StormX technologies, which capture waste in waterways.
• $5,500 to provide reusable shopping bags to beneficiaries of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) programs.
• $5,000 to donate reusable shopping bags to shoppers at county farmers’ markets.
• $5,000 to provide trash bags and gloves to volunteers cleaning up waterways.
Supervisors passed the tax on September 14, 2021, and it went into effect on January 1. The tax, charged at grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores, is intended to reduce the use of plastic bags and keep the bags out of the environment, supporters say. (Critics argue this is just another in a long line of taxes.)
The Virginia Department of Taxation collects, administers, and enforces the tax and remits the revenue monthly to Fairfax County.
Pursuant to the 2020 Enabling Act passed by the General Assembly, Plastic Bag Tax revenues are to be spent on environmental cleanup, waste reduction educational programs, pollution mitigation and waste, or providing reusable bags to WIC and SNAP recipients.
If current trends continue, county officials expect the tax to raise $1.2 million by the end of the year. The situation will change a little next year when retailers, who now keep 2 cents out of 5 collected when the program is implemented, will see their share cut in half.
County employees expect revenue from the levy to decline further over time as the public gradually begins to use fewer plastic bags.
(Some grocery stores have already changed their bagging policies and now only offer paper bags to customers who don’t arrive with or buy reusable bags.)
Officials are also developing a formal selection process to govern the allocation of plastic bag tax revenue. Under this plan, county agencies could apply for funding and a selection committee would evaluate applications, interview applicants (if necessary) and prioritize projects.
The county’s chief financial officer and the Department of Management and Budget would then give the committee’s recommendations a final review.
According to the rules being developed, applicants’ projects should meet the state’s criteria for the use of tax revenue, be located in or directly benefit the county, and be able to start in the same year of funding.
Projects could not fund permanent employees, be part of the county’s capital improvement program, or, except in unusual circumstances, have other sources of funding.
Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon), who chairs the environmental committee, said the county is “unfortunately” on track to collect more than $1.2 million in bag tax this year. But he backed county staff’s plans to disburse the funds.
“This is an opportunity for us to reallocate those funds, if you will, into ways to hopefully continue to make a difference in our stewardship of the environment,” Storck said.