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Residents of Athens talk about Numbers Fest during the Athens City Council meeting on April 20, 2015. At Monday's meeting, the group discussed a new fee for single-use bags and an income tax increase.

City council members discuss new legislation for single-use bags

A fee will be proposed to charge 10 cents per bag — paper or plastic — at grocery stores and other retailers alike.

Whether buying groceries or cashing their paycheck, Athens residents might find their wallets a bit light in the near future.

Athens City Council began talks of implementing a single-use bag fee as well as an income tax increase at Monday's committee meeting.

Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran, D-At Large, said she will propose an ordinance to add a 10-cent fee per single-use bag given to shoppers at retailers. The ordinance would apply to both plastic and paper bags.

Cochran added that one business has implemented changes to reduce plastic bag use already. The Farmacy, 28 W. Stimson Ave., has a designated station for customers to drop off reusable bags for others to use, but Cochran said the transition might have been easier for the locally owned store because customers tend to buy fewer items there.

The legislation has been a long time coming, Athens Mayor Patterson said, but he added he is worried about how the city will enforce the law at every retail store in Athens.

"My biggest concern is the accountancy," Patterson said.

Patterson said the city auditor’s office could be stretched thin if the ordinance were to pass because of the amount of data that would be required in order to insure stores were charging the fees.

Elissa Yoder, a conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club of Central Ohio, gave a presentation to council on the importance of reducing the use of plastic bags.

"The problem with the plastic bag is that it does not biodegrade," Yoder said.

She added that 20 million Americans are living in communities that have passed similar legislation either imposing a fee for single-use bags or a complete ban.

Cochran said she purposefully doesn’t plan to introduce a ban of plastic bags, calling a ban "confrontational." The fee is meant to be a negative consequence that will push people to increase their use of reusable bags, she said.

Patterson led discussion on introducing an increase to the income tax in Athens. As of now, residents have 1.65 percent of their income taxed by the city.

The mayor, with support from former Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl, will propose a 0.2 percent increase to the local income tax. The increase would be added as a referendum to the ballot for the general election in November.

"Sister cities" like Kent and Oxford operate at a 2 percent income tax, Patterson said. If the referendum passes, Athens would have a 1.85 percent income tax.

Patterson added that the income tax in the City of Athens has remained "flat" since 1986. The only exceptions occurred as singular increases for the years of 2002 and 2011 for street improvements, he said.

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Ohio University enrollment alone his risen from 15,000 to 23,000 in the past 30 years with little change to the operations of the Athens Police and Athens Fire Departments, Patterson said.

The income tax increase would provide an additional $1.3 million to the city annually.

kf992915@ohio.edu

@KaitFochesato

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