Last week the Seneca County Board of Supervisors moved forward with a new policy for businesses accused of violating various COVID-mandates handed down by New York State.
Even with passage of a ‘common sense’ three-step policy, which includes extensive education for business owners, the Board was uncertain about some basic things—like when exactly 50% capacity restrictions would be lifted on restaurants or stores.
“It’s not ‘I gotcha’,” Supervisor Michael Ferrara (R-Seneca Falls) said before the new policy was approved in a special board meeting. “It’s about helping businesses, having a unified voice, and keeping it positive. It’s nothing about fines. It’s a unanimous agreement that if you’re going to keep throwing it in our face—there’s going to be some consequence. There has be be a consequence because it’s not fair to the other businesses that are in compliance.”
County Attorney David Ettman reminded the supervisors that only one notice of violation had been issued throughout the pandemic. It dispelled concerns that the County was coming down on businesses in Seneca County unfairly.
However, the policy, as well as statements by supervisors during the session highlighted the need for a hard reset. The policy, which went into effect immediately upon passage means that any business who has previously received a notice, complaint, or letter will be given a fresh start.
The plan involves the Seneca County Health Department taking the lead role in fielding complaints. Officials said law enforcement will only be utilized in areas of mass gathering, or trespass. The plan notes that other county employees may be used in investigation of complaints, but that they will be approaching everyone with an “Education First” mantra.
“The complaint will be reviewed and referred to the appropriate agency/department for investigation. The subject of the complaint shall be contacted either in person, email, telephone or regular mail to advise that a complaint was received and the nature of the complaint,” the first step reads.
Town Supervisors will be notified of any complaints received that occur within their town and will let the Response Team know that the supervisor is making an initial contact.
“Investigation of the complaint will be done by Public Health personnel or other designated county workers,” the plan states. “Law enforcement will only be utilized for investigation in limited circumstances. A written summary of the investigation shall be prepared on the specific Health Department record form and kept with the complaint records at the County Attorney’s office. At all times, but particularly with a first complaint, every effort shall be made to provide the subject of the complaint additional education, materials, and guidance for compliance with the COVID-19 prevention measures.”
The person or business involved will also be advised to contact public health or be referred to the NY Forward website for additional feedback.
When a second complaint is filed it will trigger “Step 2.”
“Upon the receipt of a second apparently valid complaint, direct investigation shall be made as soon as possible by appropriate county personnel. If a complaint can be verified, it will be reviewed by Director of Public Health and the County Attorney. A formal Letter of Warning shall be issued reminding the subject of the possible fines and sanctions but continue to offer education and assistance. A follow-up visit or contact with the subject business owner/senior manager may be made be to evaluate compliance education,” the policy reads.
Under the circumstance that a business is found to have violated mandates a third time, a direct investigation will take place, and a Notice of Violation will be issued. The Notice of Violation sent may offer a Consent Order option, based on a fine in the range of $250 to $500 for individuals, or $500 to $1,000 for businesses.
Officials reiterated their desire for no notices or fines to be necessary.