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Legislators Review Options On Paper Bag Fee

MAYVILLE — It doesn’t appear that the Chautauqua County Legislature will impose a 5-cent charge for each paper bag used by customers at grocery stories once single-use plastic bags are banned.

On Thursday, the Chautauqua County Legislature Audit and Control Committee had a discussion on whether to impose the 5-cent charge once single-use plastic bags are banned statewide March 1. Chuck Nazzaro, D – Jamestown and committee chairman, said according to the new law passed by the state Legislature last April, counties and cities have the option to charge 5 cents for paper bags, with 3 cents going to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents eventually refunded to local governments. However, he said the funding the county could receive, if it imposes the 5 cent fee, would have to be used to help lower-income people purchase reusable bags. He said that’s “not a bad purpose,” but would be an administrative nightmare for county officials. He proposed that the county not charge the 5-cent fee for paper bags. Mark Odell, R-Brocton, agreed with Nazzaro.

Pierre Chagnon, legislature chairman who is not a member of the committee but attended the meeting, said if the county did opt to charge 5 cents, whatever revenue is left — after assisting low-income people with purchasing reusable bags — would have to be returned to the state.

“(Calling it) an administrative nightmare is an understatement,” Chagnon said.

PJ Wendel, county executive, discussed how Wegmans has announced it will no longer use plastic bags Monday, Jan. 27, and will state charging customers 5 cents for each paper bag, with the proceeds going to local food banks. He feels this is a much better use of the revenue from the 5-cent charge and hopes other grocery stores will follow Wegmans’ lead.

According to the new law, counties and cities can select to impose the 5-cent charge for paper bags. Eddie Sundquist, Jamestown mayor, has publicly stated that city officials will wait to see what county officials do before acting on a possible 5-cent paper bag charge.

The state plastic bag ban was first proposed nearly two years ago as an environmental measure by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation website, consumers can use any type of reusable bag, such as one made of cloth.

Some bags are exempt under the law, so plastic bags may still be distributed to consumers in a few specific circumstances, such as a bag used by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs, and produce bags for bulk items such as fruits and vegetables.

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