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Bag tax rakes in $2 million for MontCo

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Revenue double what was projected

Montgomery County made almost twice as much as expected in bag tax revenue for 2012 -- raking in about $2.1 million through November.

In the first 11 months of the tax, which started Jan. 1, about 51.5 million bags were sold, raising about $2.1 million, according to county data. For every 5 cents charged for a bag, 4 cents goes to the county and 1 cent to the retailer.

County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the final number for the year could climb to $2.2 million once December numbers come in.

Lacefield said he thinks revenue was higher than expected because county officials based their projections on the District's system, which has brought in less money than expected as people brought their own bags to stores.

In 2011, the first year the District had a bag tax, it collected $1.8 million in bag revenue. That number fell to $1.6 million in 2012.

The Montgomery County tax went into effect in January 2012 as an effort to reduce the number of bags in county waterways. Revenue goes to the county's Water Quality Protection Charge fund.

Some residents have been outspoken about their displeasure with the tax. The County Council has received many letters against the tax, though Lacefield says he hasn't received any for the county executive recently.

Paul Gawchik, a Bethesda resident, wrote to the council asking it to reconsider the tax, saying polluters who throw bags away will continue to pollute regardless of the tax. The county should focus more on polluters, not the population in general, he wrote.

Dana Minerva, executive director of the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership, said the bag tax appears to be reducing the amount of pollution in the watershed, 40 percent of which lies in Montgomery County.

She said her organization has seen fewer bags in the watershed and attributes some of that to the Montgomery and D.C. bag taxes.

In October, the Montgomery County Council discussed amending the tax to not include certain types of retailers, such as department stores.

"I do have empathy for people who go into a jewelry store or go into Macy's [and have to bring their own bag]," said Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda. The bag tax issue doesn't appear on the council's agendas next month.

But Minerva warned that changing the law too quickly is unwise, because it will take a few years to see the full impact of the tax.

"I think we need to let it work before changing [the legislation]," she said.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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