Fenty budget would allocate bag fee money for street sweeping

Funds raised from a 5-cent plastic bag tax in D.C. that are intended to support the cleaning of the Anacostia River could now be spent elsewhere, according to a newly released budget and a city official.

Mayor Adrian Fenty’s Fiscal Year 2011 Proposed Budget and Financial Plan allocates the funds to be used for a street-sweeping program. But D.C. councilmember Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, opposes the use of the funds, saying via Twitter earlier this month that using the funding for that program would violate the law that enacted the plastic bag tax.

“Fenty is taking the funds in order to pay specifically for a street-sweeping program. This is not something that Wells can support and it’s not within the law to do so,” Wells’ Chief of Staff Charles Allen said in an interview. Wells is the councilmember for Ward 6, which includes the western border of the Anacostia River.

“There is $2.6 million in the fund currently,” Allen said, referring to the fund that was set up to help clean the Anacostia River. “Under Fenty’s proposed budget plan, he would take all of the funds.”

According to a news release from Fenty’s office on the day the budget plan was proposed, the budget includes “$4.7 million for the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund, including $2.6 million in disposable bag fee revenue to pay for street sweeping programs to keep litter out of the river.”

Under the bag fee implemented Jan. 1, every plastic or paper disposable bag a customer uses from stores selling alcohol or food in the District costs a nickel. Out of the payment for each bag, 4 cents go to the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund created by the legislation. Retailers keep the last cent.

“The Fund shall be used solely for the purposes of cleaning and protecting the Anacostia River and other impaired waterways,” the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009 states. These purposes include measures like an education campaign to inform the public about the impact of trash on the environment, providing reusable bags to D.C. residents and preserving or improving the water quality and wildlife habitat around the Anacostia River, according to the law.

The fee has already reduced the number of plastic bags used in D.C. by 50 to 80 percent. In the month of January, $150,000 were generated toward the cleanup of the river, according to a news release from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue.

Requests for comment from Fenty’s office were not returned.

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