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FairfaxOptions weighed for plastic-bag-tax moolah

Options weighed for plastic-bag-tax moolah

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Between January and May, Fairfax County’s new plastic-bag tax has brought in $511,000 in revenue, and county officials have ideas where those funds should go.

The Board of Supervisors at its July 26 Environmental Committee briefly reviewed a July 19 memorandum from Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination Director Kambiz Agazi that outlined the bag-tax program’s early results.

According to the memo, county staffers are crafting a long-term selection process for revenues, but would like to see these allocations from the program’s first five months:

• $370,000 to Operation Stream Shield, which provides temporary work experience to homeless people, who remove debris from in and around county waterways and Virginia Department of Transportation rights-of-way.

• $70,000 to storm-drain education and labeling projects.

• $30,000 to the Community Labor Force, which aids county maintenance efforts.

• $20,000 to support maintenance of Bandalong and StormX technologies, which capture litter in waterways.

• $5,500 to provide reusable shopping bags to recipients of the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) programs.

• $5,000 to give reusable bags to shoppers at county farmers’ markets.

• $5,000 to provide trash bags and gloves for volunteer stream cleanups.

Supervisors adopted the tax on Sept. 14, 2021, and it took effect Jan. 1. The tax, charged at grocery, drug and convenience stores, aims to reduce plastic-bag usage and keep the bags out of the environment, supporters say. (Critics contend it’s just another in a long line of taxes.)

The Virginia Department of Taxation collects, administers and enforces the tax and remits revenues back to Fairfax County monthly.

In accordance with 2020 enabling legislation passed by the General Assembly, plastic-bag-tax revenues must be spent on environmental cleanup, educational waste-reduction programs, pollution and litter mitigation, or giving reusable bags to WIC and SNAP recipients.

If current trends hold, county officials expect the tax will bring in $1.2 million by year’s end. The situation will change a bit next year when retailers, who now keep 2 of every 5 cents collected as they implement the program, will see their share cut in half.

County staffers expect revenues from the tax to decline further over time as the public gradually begins to use fewer plastic bags.

(Some grocery stores already have changed their bagging policies and now offer only paper bags to customers who do not arrive with, or buy, reusable bags.)
Officials also are developing a formal selection process to govern allocation of plastic-bag-tax revenues. Under this plan, county agencies could apply for funding and a selection committee would evaluate the applications, interview applicants (if needed) and prioritize projects.

The county’s chief financial officer and Department of Management and Budget then would give the committee’s recommendations a final review.

Under rules now being formulated, applicants’ projects would need to meet the state’s criteria for using the tax revenues, be located within the county or directly benefit it, and be able to be initiated within the same funding year.

Projects could not fund permanent employees, be part of the county’s Capital Improvement Program or, except in unusual circumstances, have alternate funding sources.

Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon), who chairs the Environmental Committee, said the county “regrettably” was on track to collect more than $1.2 million from the bag tax this year. But he supported county staff’s plans for disbursing the moneys.

“This is an opportunity for us to repurpose those funds, if you will, for ways hopefully to continue to make a difference in our environmental management,” Storck said.

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