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Small percentage of businesses sign up for bag tax

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Published on: Thursday, January 31, 2013

By Donna Broadway

ROCKVILLE - Nearly a year after the county passed a tax on plastic bags, fewer than 1,000 of 16,000 local businesses are contributing, the county says it still made its projected revenue.

Esther Bowring of the Montgomery County government insists that the bag tax is about more than monetary gain.

“Carryout bags aren’t really free. They cost the retailers, who pass the costs on to the customer. Too often a ‘free bag’ becomes someone else’s litter on common property. It costs all taxpayers to clean up or remove this litter. Each year, Montgomery County spends more than $3 million on trash and litter control activities. This is a cost that all taxpayers bear in order to keep our common areas safe and clean. Over time, as people bring their own bags to retail stores, we expect the bag revenue to the County will diminish,” says Bowring.

The county was expected to net over $2 million at the end of the fiscal year. As of November 2012 the county has collected over $1.9 million in fees and counting.

Out of an estimated 26,000 businesses, 979 have registered for the bag tax. Businesses are not required to pay until they have collected $100 in fees or sold 2,000 bags.  It may take smaller retailers longer to reach the minimum for collection.

The bag tax was spurred by similar legislation in Washington, D.C. and is aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and closer to home the Anacostia River.

Reducing trash in the Anacostia River is now a legal requirement imposed by an EPA- established pollution budget, which sets a numerical limit on the amount of trash allowed in the river. In addition, the Montgomery County’s MS4 Storm water permit requires that limits on both trash and litter reduction are met according to terms of the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Treaty.

If the Maryland Department of the Environment determines that the County is not in compliance with the permit requirements,  the County could be subject to civil or criminal fines.  The civil fines are up to $32,500 per day for each violation.  The criminal penalty is up to $25,000 or imprisonment up to 1 year, or both for a first offense.  

The county is using revenue from the bag tax, along with property taxes, to fund the Water Quality Protection Charge Fund.

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