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Erie County Comptroller stripping health department of ability to collect COVID-related fines

Is it legal? It could be a case where Erie County has to sue itself to find out
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Posted at 8:13 AM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 18:53:14-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Erie County Comptroller says his office is now stripping the county health department of its ability to collect, cash, and deposit COVID-related fines.

The policy change, announced in a press release Wednesday morning, orders all COVID-related fines be directly sent to and administered by the county comptroller's office, not the Erie County Department of Health.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw blasted the health department and County Executive Mark Poloncarz in the release, saying, quote, “Erie County government is punitively punishing businesses and families due to inconsistent COVID related fines. The golf course where Mark Poloncarz played with his friends without a mask did not face fines. The County Executive and his friends were photographed mask-less, with alcohol and communal food in front of them. Big box stores and supermarkets can have thousands of people shop there. It is mom and pop, small businesses that are being ruined by Erie County government.”

Mychajliw went on to say that if the health department does not comply with the new order, he will, quote, "freeze and close the Health Department’s banking accounts immediately.”

His office also changed its accounting policies, setting up a staggered payment plan for businesses facing COVID fines as follows:

  • $1,000 or less: 20-year payment plan
  • $1,001 to $5,000: 30-year payment plan
  • $5,001 to $10,000: 40-year payment plan
  • $10,001 to $15,000: 50-year payment plan
  • $15,001 and above: 100-year payment plan

According to the comptroller the policy changes are set to go into effect Thursday, December 3, but Poloncarz released a statement on Twitter Wednesday morning that Mychajliw "does not have such power."

"Today, the county comptroller announced his plans to act above and beyond the powers granted him by county law, including even threatening to recklessly freeze the bank accounts of the Health Department during a pandemic. In short, he does not have such power."

You can view the full statement from Poloncarz in his tweet below.