The Boulder City Council appears likely to impose a 10-cent fee on all disposable grocery bags -- paper or plastic -- starting in July 2013.

The council voted 7-1 Thursday night to approve an ordinance establishing the fee, which is half as much as the city staff originally suggested. Councilman George Karakehian voted "no," and Councilman Tim Plass was absent.

However, council members had to change the reference in the ordinance to the amount of the fee that retailers will get to keep to cover their costs.

The ordinance said retailers could keep 20 percent of the fee. However, that percentage was meant to refer to 4 cents out of the previously proposed 20-cent fee. The council had to change that to 40 percent because the fee is now just 10 cents.

That change means the ordinance will have to come back for a fourth reading Nov. 15.

Karakehian made a last effort to persuade his colleagues to reconsider the fee and change it to a ban on just plastic bags. He said a ban would be simpler and less expensive to administer than the fee. The city plans to use money from the fee in part to buy reusable bags and give them to low-income residents.

Councilwomen Suzanne Jones said she also was open to a ban. It is possible for the City Council to change the ordinance again if a majority of members agree. That would require a fifth reading.

Students from the Net Zero clubs at Fairview High School and Summit Middle School, who initially put the issue on the city's agenda by pushing for a ban, said they support the fee now, though they want the city to revisit its policy in a few years and consider a ban on plastic.

Boulder resident Fred Rubin said the City Council should let voters decide the question as a ballot measure.

"We are highly educated people in the city of Boulder," he said. "We do not need you to substitute your judgment for our own."

The fee would apply to all paper and plastic bags at food retailers, including grocery stores, convenience stores and Target. Gas station stores would be exempt if food sales account for less than 2 percent of their business. ___

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