Albemarle supervisors hear support for plastic bag tax | local government

Although Wegmans recently announced that it will eliminate plastic bags company-wide by the end of 2022, other grocery stores in Albemarle County may soon charge customers 5 cents for disposable plastic bags. .

Community members voiced support for a proposed 5-cent plastic bag tax Wednesday night at the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, which is due to vote May 4 on whether to implement the tax in Albemarle. If the council approves it, the tax will come into effect on January 1.

Wegmans announced last week that his goal was to move all customers to reusable bags and that he would charge 5 cents per paper bag. The amount collected through the paper bag levy will be donated to the local food bank and United Way, the company said.

Charlottesville Green Grannies member Margaret Walker told the board of supervisors that the grannies wanted Wegman’s to charge $1 for the paper bags. The Charlottesville-area women’s group sings to “educate, entertain and energize our community to take action to protect our earth,” their Facebook page reads.

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“For a cleaner, healthier environment, stop plastic pollution…so I hope you always remember that when you’re shopping, ‘a tisket, a tasket, bring your own bag or basket,'” said Walker sang on the board, as she strummed her ukulele.

In 2020, the General Assembly and the Governor changed state law to allow cities and counties to tax bags. The city of Roanoke became the first locality to adopt the tax last year, and at least four additional localities have since followed. These five localities began taxing bags in early 2022.

If the county passes an ordinance, stores will collect the tax at the time of sale and remit it to the state. The money raised must be used to “support environmental cleanup, waste and pollution mitigation, or environmental education efforts or provide reusable bags to beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or benefits of the program for women, infants and children”.

Plastic bags used only to prevent damage or contamination of multiple items such as meat, produce, dry cleaning and prescription drugs would not be subject to tax.

“State code specifically lists disposable plastic bags, so the interpretation of that is that paper bags don’t fit that definition,” said Jacob Sumner, county deputy chief financial officer for policy and partnership.

Some plastic bags can be recycled, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the recycling rate for plastic bags, bags and packaging was 10% in 2018. The agency says plastic pollution is particularly dangerous because it does not fully biodegrade in the environment.

If approved, Sumner estimated tax revenue would be $20,000 for the county in fiscal year 2023.

During the public hearing, Michael Pillow of the Piedmont group of the Sierra Club encouraged the board to pass the levy and said the main concern expressed by the group was that it might affect members of the low income community.

“You can completely avoid this tax by bringing your own bag, completely avoiding bags like some stores do, and the county can provide reusable bags with the revenue,” he said.

He held up a reusable tote bag and said the Piedmont Group had purchased more than 250 bags and was working with a local food pantry to distribute them.

Supervisors were generally in favor of implementing the tax, but will formally vote next month.

Public hearings were also held on proposals to increase the rate of the Transitional Occupancy Tax charged to hotel guests from 5% to 8% and the rate of the Food and Beverage Tax, also known as tax on meals, from 4% to 6%.

Business owners said the tax hikes would weigh on their customers and could hurt their businesses.

Roy Van Doorn, the former president of the Charlottesville chapter of the Virginia Restaurant Lodging and Travel Association, urged the council to reconsider the meal tax increase.

“I don’t need to inform you of the devastation the restaurant industry continues to suffer,” he said. “COVID and the mandatory obligations imposed on our industry have devastated the entire local restaurant community. Some people say, “Well, the restaurants are still open, so that’s fine,” but from my perspective behind the scenes, they’re suffering a lot.

Supervisor Jim Andrews asked if any analysis had been done to find out who currently pays meal tax in Albemarle and what share of revenue comes from local residents versus visitors.

Sumner said he didn’t have a specific analysis, but the consensus county staff came to while researching was that it was a mix.

“There are residents who participate in the restaurant industry, but we also have a robust tourist industry and we have a lot of people who come from outside the community, whether for tourism or for work. who participate in our restaurants,” he said.

When the council worked last year to decide whether to implement a cigarette tax, the ordinance was subject to an equity impact assessment by the Office of Equity and county inclusion.

When asked if the proposed hotel and meal tax increases had been given a fairness review, County Executive Jeff Richardson said in an email that for several years, the Board of Supervisors had sought opportunities to diversify local county revenues to reduce reliance on actual property taxes.

“It was recommended that the rates of the Transitional Occupancy Tax and the Food and Beverage Tax be increased to spread the local tax burden over a wider population, as property taxes are paid only by those who live here,” he said. “The Transient Occupancy Tax is largely paid by tourists and the Food and Beverage Tax is shared by residents but also tourists and those who work, shop or recreate in Albemarle County but live in another locality – in recognition that everyone who visits our community benefits from our Departmental Services and Public Amenities.

The council is due to hold public hearings after 6 p.m. on April 27 at the McIntire Road County Office Building for the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 and tax rates for calendar year 2022. A budget is expected to be passed for fiscal year 2023 and to approve the tax rates at its May 4 meeting.

Bryce K. Locke