BRECKENRIDGE - The Breckenridge Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a new 10-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at all local retail and grocery stores.
The law will go into effect Oct. 1.
"This was good government," Councilman Mark Burke said ahead of the vote. "When this first began in the beginning of my term on council, it was a very divided decision and this council has come to a compromise."
Money generated from the fees will be split between the town and the retail businesses, who will be given a portion of the fee to help recoup the cost of implementing the program, up to a certain amount.
The town will use fee revenues to purchase and distribute a branded reusable Breckenridge bag and to educate the public about the fee program.
The charge for paper and plastic bags is part of an ongoing sustainability effort by the council to reduce the use of disposable bags in town.
"My vote is because I think this is right thing to do," Councilman Mike Dudick said. "It's also predicated on the notion that the government of Breckenridge is going to step up and spend significant dollars to educate and distribute reusable bags to the guests of this community."
More than a year in the making, the single-use bag issue has stirred up considerable community debate, but no one spoke out against the bag fee during a public hearing prior to the final vote Tuesday night.
Three elementary school students, members of a core of 15 or 20 local children who took the well being of the local environment and the campaign against plastic to heart, were in the audience for the vote.
"Thank you to the children of this community," Councilwoman Jen McAtamney said. "(They) have consistently come to the council and reminded us of our responsibility to take care of the earth so the snow keeps falling here. ... I thank you for your public service in reminding us to do what's right even when it's hard."
The council approved the measure on a 6-0 vote to a smattering of applause from the audience. Mayor John Warner was absent.
The council previously discussed a full ban on plastic bags at large grocery stores and a voluntary reduction program at other retailers, but backed away from that approach after some town leaders noted that it was unfair.
Communities which have imposed fees in the past have seen up to 80 percent reductions in the use of disposable bags, according to town staffers.
Single-use fees have been adopted at the local level in Telluride, Aspen, Basalt, Boulder and internationally. Some cities where disposable bags are charged have seen a significant decline in use.
The amount of the Breckenridge fee was set based on an analysis model used by Boulder in determining the appropriate charge for a disposable bag.
The ordinance does not address the use of disposable bags or containers in restaurants or other businesses, although it's an issue Breckenridge officials say they plan to discuss in the future.
The bag fee has drawn criticism from some locals who call it a "sin tax" and say tourists won't understand or appreciate the charge. But others, including retailers and grocers in town, support the plan. Most of the staff at Food Kingdom Grocery and Liquor is in favor of the fee.
"The less plastic bags we see coming out of there the better," assistant manager Kyle Rouze said.
City Market, the largest grocer in Breckenridge and currently the operator of the only plastic bag recycle center in town, has declined to comment on the issue.
More than 3 million plastic bags are used in Breckenridge each year.