CATSKILL — County lawmakers decided Monday not to exercise their right to impose a county tax on paper bags.
A statewide law, effective in March, not only bans single-use plastic bags but gives counties and cities the option to impose a 5-cent fee on paper bags. Ulster County initiated the plastic bag ban in July and included the 5-cent fee. The Legislature discussed the tax during a Government Operations Committee meeting and decided against the tax, although no formal vote was taken.
Legislator Patricia Handel, R-Durham, wondered how the tax might impact small businesses.
Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said that in addition to the 5-cent county tax, business owners could implement a fee of their own to turn a profit.
The tax would be split 60/40 between the state and the county, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said, with the county’s 40% share going toward the purchase of reusable bags.
When distributing the bags, priority would be given to low- and fixed-income communities, according to the New York State Association of Counties. The state share goes to the state Environmental Protection Fund. Customers using Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or the Women, Infants and Children Program are exempt from the paper bag tax, according to NYSAC.
Legislator Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, opposed the tax.
“It’s the state’s mess,” he said. “They created this problem.”
Linger noted that in some communities, nonprofits have taken up selling reusable bags.
“You are not only buying a reusable bag, but helping a not-for-profit out,” he said.
Legislator William B. Lawrence, R-Cairo, inquired about bringing his own bags.
“So can I bring a plastic bag to the store?” he said.
Greene County Deputy Administrator Warren Hart told lawmakers that the Economic Development and Planning Department plans to raise awareness about the upcoming plastic ban.
In his State of the State address last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed confidence in the state’s decision to ban plastic bags and announced new goals.
“Last year we banned plastic bags and we were exactly right,” Cuomo said. “And this year we must end the thousands of tons of Styrofoam that are creating toxic contaminants and littering our waterways. Let’s get it done this session.”
Lawrence commended the governor for setting this goal.
“I think it’s a good move,” Lawrence said. “Styrofoam is a very dangerous material.”
Lawrence proposed a countywide ban on Styrofoam last year.
“The bill was meeting some resistance because people don’t want to affect small businesses,” Lawrence said. “I think it would be better for people, landfills and the health of New York state.”
Lawrence’s resolution allowed a 6-month period for businesses to use up their Styrofoam materials.
Many businesses are already switching to paper alternatives, Lawrence said.
Lawrence said he plans to bring up his bill one more time for a vote.