November 30, 2021

Cortland to enforce social distancing

The city of Cortland is small enough that its mayor can drive around, roll down his window and talk to residents about the need for social distancing. That’s the approach city officials would prefer to take, Mayor Brian Tobin told aldermen Tuesday during a common council meeting.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Monday that he was increasing the fine for social distancing violations from $500 to $1,000 to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and expecting municipalities to aggressively enforce it has changed things.

For those who fail to change their behavior after receiving warnings from officials or police, a citation and $1,000 fine is now a real possibility, Tobin said.

The city is willing to go further for residences that violate social distancing, such as hosting parties. The city could shut down these properties as public nuisances, forcing residents to vacate, he said.

“We are willing to go as far as we need to, because we are taking this seriously, and we are expecting everyone in the community to take it seriously as well,” he said.

Alderman Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said some of his constituents had complained to him about people violating social distancing rules.

“They are putting the whole community in danger by being selfish,” he said.

Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said his officers were prepared to issue the citations.

City Attorney Ric VanDonsel said individual officers have discretion in the enforcement tools they use.

“This is the police officer’s judgment,”City Attorney Ric VanDonsel said.

SUNY Cortland has also recently taken enforcement action for social distancing – a student received an interim suspension after being cited by city police for a noise complaint following a loud party last weekend, about a week after college President Erik J. Bitterbaum told students in an email that they can be suspended for violating social distancing rules.