VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — For the second time, Virginia Beach City Council has put off taking action on a proposal that would implement a fee for the use of plastic bags at some stores in the city.

Tuesday, City Council voted 8-1 to reconsider the idea again in December. Environmental activists believe the 5-cent fee per bag will reduce litter in, the city’s waterways.

However, affected retailers have pushed back and several council members said the delay would allow for further discussions with retailers to find solutions to combat litter that wouldn’t add an extra financial burden to consumers.

It also ensures the next vote is after election day.

The fee would apply to disposable plastic bags at grocery, drug and convenience stores beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

Under state law, the majority of money raised by the fee will go back to the city and must support environmental cleanup, litter and pollution mitigation or environmental education efforts. The city could use funds to provide reusable bags to recipients of SNAP or WIC benefits.

Lynnhaven River Now is the environmental advocacy group that has championed the idea. The thought is people would cut down on the use of plastic bags if there is a fee. In turn, it would cut down on litter.

The group pointed to Fairfax County as a success story. In a previous City Council briefing, Jim Deppe with Lynnhaven River Now stated they’ve seen a 70 to 80% reduction in bags in their urban streams and waterways.

Several speakers Tuesday night didn’t understand why a vote couldn’t occur right away.

“I’m discouraged that 10 other cities in our Commonwealth beat us to this very important environmental milestone,” Nielsen Baxley, a senior at Princess Anne High School, said. “As a coastal community, Virginia Beach should be a leader.”

Councilwoman Barbera Henley, who in July moved to defer the vote, citing the need for more community and stakeholder engagement, felt more time was needed to find consensus.

“I know that we have heard that ‘you have to start someplace.’ But, instituting a new tax seems rather an extreme way to some to try and do this if this tax might do harm to certain income levels or to put the burdens on another area, the retailers,” Henley said. 

Instead, she handed out a list of “next steps” to council members which focus on greater communication on where people can properly recycle plastic bags in the city, encouraging neighborhoods to host a Fall cleanup day with reusable bag giveaways.

“We can also ask our retailers who have asked us to look at another way if they could accelerate their removal of single-use bags,” Henley said. “They have a target date of 2025 to make sure they have taken out this plastic bag.”

Wegmans, an upscale grocery store in Town Center has already eliminated single-use plastic bags.

Henley, along with four other council members, is currently running for re-election in the city, where any new tax or fee is often met with large pushback.

Councilman Rocky Holcomb, who is running in a special election, was the lone vote against the deferral.

“I can’t stomach the thought of putting another tax on our citizens,” Holcomb said.

Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson and Councilman Michael Berlucchi were both absent.

CORRECTION: On-air, a title was incorrectly presented that City Council deferred a vote on a plastic bag ban. WAVY-TV apologizes for the error.