Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will allow a nickel-per-bag fee to go into effect but said he would press for the county to keep a portion of the money for environmental protection, he wrote Tuesday in a letter to lawmakers.
Bellone wants new legislation introduced before the fee takes effect in January 2018 that allows the county to use a portion of the money, he said.
“If we are going to levy a new fee on Suffolk County residents to protect the environment, then I believe the funds collected should be used to protect the environment, not go exclusively to retailers,” according to the letter. He withheld his signature from the law, but it goes into effect 30 days after passage under the county charter.
Bellone was close to vetoing the bill, which was passed by the legislature in September, spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said. He decided not to because there’s time to pass legislation so the county could keep a portion of the five cents, she said.
The administration had previously said Bellone would sign the bill. She said the position changed when he “looked at it a little bit deeper.”
The five-cent fee is intended to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags to stores in an effort to reduce use of plastic bags, which opponents say litter roadsides and waterways, and gum up recycling machines. The five-cent fee on paper bags is intended to prevent shoppers from switching over from plastic bags to another disposable receptacle.
Bill sponsor Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said he was disappointed that Bellone didn’t sign it but understood his concerns. He promised to introduce legislation to create a fund for the county for environmental projects, funded with two or three cents from the bag fee.
He added, “This is one fee people can avoid paying” by bringing a reusable bag.
Lawyers for the legislature said a fee kept by the county would require state legislation, although Baird-Streeter said administration attorneys were evaluating that opinion.
For months, Suffolk lawmakers had debated a straight ban on plastic bags and had settled on the fee on “single use” paper and plastic bags as a compromise with grocery store owners and labor unions that represent workers.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said by not signing it Bellone “sends a message there are concerns he has that need to be worked on.”