Schuyler County will further enforce health protocols
SCHUYLER COUNTY-- Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn announced during the Monday, July 13 legislative meeting that county police would begin increased enforcement of COVID-19 safety measures put in place by the state. He said they will focus on multiple businesses that have been repeat violators. While also saying the majority of Schuyler businesses have been compliant with social distancing restrictions and mask requirements, repeated non-compliance being flaunted by some are forcing his hand.
"The more it goes unchecked the more non-compliance there is and then before you know it you would be looking at an escalation of numbers," O'Hearn said.
While initially skeptical of state regulations imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19, O'Hearn mentioned the positive results have been apparent, especially when put in comparison with several southern states such as Florida where restrictions were eased early and infection numbers are rapidly growing.
"We need to be heavier handed I guess, or we won't be opening schools and we will be turning back like Florida and Arizona," O'Hearn stated.
While careful in how he worded it, O'Hearn insinuated two recent positive tests for COVID-19 were the result of a business not following state regulations.
As a result, O'Hearn said businesses who are repeat violators will see charges filed against them for violating New York State Public Health Law, in much the same way a Yates County business in Himrod was charged Monday for violations by the Yates County Sheriff's Department. O'Hearn, who said coordinating the county response to repeat offenders has fallen to him, said Schuyler would begin following the model that Yates has established. As a result, O'Hearn noted it is possible businesses could have licensing, specifically the liquor, revoked by the state.
"I can't sit by idly any longer," O'Hearn said.
Before instituting the tougher policy, O'Hearn said he was open to guidance from the legislature, and if the majority wished against him being heavier handed against public health violators he would acquiesce to their wishes.
Legislative Chairman Carl Blowers said he agreed with O'Hearn, and encouraged him to go after repeat violators reasoning once local businesses see one violator be charged they will all take notice. However, that belief was not uniform, with legislators Mark Rondinaro and David Manchester voicing their disapproval of O'Hearn's plan. Manchester questioned if the county should be enforcing executive orders issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the first place.
"Executive orders are not law," Manchester said.
O'Hearn responded to Manchester, and said, yes executive orders are laws and must be enforced. When Manchester further disagreed, O'Hearn said, "Then I would refer you to (County Attorney Steven Getman)."
Rondinaro, who as a local business owner, said he was concerned it would be his responsibility to enforce patrons of his business to wear masks.
"I can't make people wear masks (and I don't want to throw them out of the store if they don't)," Rondinaro said.
As a result of this, Rondinaro said he worried he could be "arbitrarily" targeted by police for violations when he said he believes he is acting in good faith.
Manchester added if Rondinaro called the police on violators, his business might develop a reputation that results in customers staying away. This resulted in legislator Michael Lausell asking Rondinaro if he was in the habit of not calling the police when illegal activity was occurring at his store. Rondinaro qualified his response and said while he might not report someone smoking marijuana on his property he would report an incident of domestic violence.
While no vote was taken, O'Hearn said based upon the response of the legislature he would begin instructing police to go after repeat violators of COVID-19 restrictions.
Despite heavier enforcement, O'Hearn said due to the tourist-based economy, Schuyler will inevitably see an eventual increase in COVID numbers.
"I am realistic about this," O'Hearn added.
Also during the meeting, O'Hearn gave an update on the budget and said he is asking county departments to submit their budgets by August. O'Hearn reinforced how the COVID-19 pandemic was taking a serious toll on tax revenue being generated by the state but added he could not currently guess as to how serious the budgetary shortfall will be considering federal assistance is still a question.
"One thing that I can say is that I plan on submitting a budget to the legislature that will be under the tax cap," O'Hearn said.