The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will consider a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags during its upcoming budget process.
During a work session Wednesday, supervisors said they were supportive of considering adopting an ordinance to implement a tax on disposable plastic bags in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which will be adopted next year.
“I am thrilled that we’re talking about this and that we’re going to see it move forward,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
A potential bag tax has been briefly mentioned by board members and county staff when they’ve discussed other new possible taxes — like a proposed cigarette tax that the board is scheduled to vote on next week — but was not explicitly on Wednesday’s agenda.
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 in May, and at least four additional localities have followed since. Those five localities will begin taxing bags Jan. 1.
“For so many years, counties have been asking for different types of taxing authority to take the pressure off of just the real estate tax, and we got several options provided to us,” said Lori Allshouse, the county’s assistant CFO for policy and partnerships.
The Virginia Department of Tax Administration released final implementation guidelines last month.
If the county adopts an ordinance, stores would collect the tax at the time of the sale and remit it to the state. Money raised must go to “support environmental cleanup, litter and pollution mitigation, or environmental education efforts or to provide reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Women, Infants, and Children Program benefits.”
Plastic bags solely used to prevent damage or contamination of multiple items such meat, produce, dry cleaning and prescription drugs would not be subject to a tax.
Allshouse said county staff could have an ordinance ready sooner than the budget cycle, but that county staff thinks it makes a lot of sense to keep it in that process.
“It is a tax that we want to share with stakeholders,” she said. “We have to be mindful of the impacts it may have on businesses. We want to make sure we have time to communicate information out into the community.”
Supervisor Donna Price said she was “especially pleased” with the restrictions on how revenues can be used.
“It’s not just revenue creation, but it also establishes and demonstrates the interest that we as a county have in protecting our environment,” she said.
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley asked if revenues could be used for roadside cleanup efforts.
“I think that’s up to our community, and you as a board, to determine as part of the budget process and part of the initiatives that you want to do exactly,” Allshouse said.
The Board of Supervisors also approved extending its Fiscal Year 2020-2022 strategic plan through the end of FY 2023.
The county uses the strategic plan to set priorities for the future.
County staff pointed to the pandemic, the “ambitious nature of these priorities and giving us an opportunity to have additional funding and programming to continue throughout FY 23” and the county’s upcoming Comprehensive Plan update.
“I believe that we can complement the work with our community and engagement with our residents and with our business community in order to inform our next strategic plan process,” said Kristy Shifflett, the director of the county’s project management office.
“Climate action plan” is currently the board’s top strategic priority out of nine. A recent greenhouse gas emission inventory report noted that “the community is not on track to meet the 2030 emission reduction target.”
Other priorities include expanding and promoting the county’s parks and amenities, redevelopment of the Rio Road/U.S. 29 interchange area, expanding broadband and school space needs, among others.
“Quality government operations” is at the “foundation” of the plan, which include “investments in business processes, financial management, workforce stabilization and customer service enhancements.”
Shifflett said those are “accomplishments that we have tried to make internally to support our community,” such as the new county website that launched last year, changing the county’s GISWeb application, a new time and attendance system for employees and reorganization of the county’s finance and human resources departments.
Currently Albemarle’s Human Resources department covers both the School Division and county government, but that will change. With the retirement of former director Lorna Gerome, both entities have hired their own department directors and the department will become separated.
The Community Development Department has also started using a new intake system, which will formally launch early next year. It’s also moving to a new technology system for development tracking.
Board Chair Ned Gallaway said the “quality government operations” foundation should rise to the status of a priority
“...When you talk about business process optimization or business process reengineering, what the hell does that mean,” he said. “I personally believe it stands in the way of this board accomplishing so much that it wants to do because of the time it takes to get certain things done, and both of those elements are going to help free up time.”
He said it needs to be a “top point of our conversation” during the upcoming budget process.
“The community needs to understand why that is so important because that is what allows us to get to our Climate Action Plan, to get the goals of affordable housing done, to have a more efficient set of operations for our citizens who come through here,” he said.