The city of Cortland will restrict public gatherings to no more than 25 people from Aug. 27 to Sept. 16 under an executive order Cortland City Council supported Tuesday night.
Although it’s an executive order, Mayor Brian Tobin said he wanted to work with the council on this matter. He added that it’s not a city ordinance.
“It could’ve been a controversial issue, but it’s a health and safety issue,” Tobin said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Tobin said the order anticipates the return of several thousand college students at the end of the month and residents looking to last-minute get-togethers before the summer comes to an end.
“The purpose of this is to improve the health and well-being of the city,” he said. “The intention is not to punish people, but to keep public gatherings small and at a distance.”
“Our responsibility is to protect our citizens and return to normalcy,” he added. “This order will be consistent across the city with social gatherings. It won’t just be for college kids, it’ll be for residents as well.”
A state executive order allows gatherings of up to 50 people, but Tobin said having that many is too much of a risk.
Even a gathering of 40 is risky, he added: “It’s hard to follow safety and health protocols with that many people at a gathering.”
Police Chief F. Michael Catalano and Fire Chief Wayne Friedman will enforce the order.
Tobin said the fire department is included because several firefighters are code enforcement officers.
Violators could face a Class B misdemeanor charge of criminal nuisance and face up to 90 days in jail, with a fine.
The city seeks compliance before arrest, first trying to break up the crowd, then writing tickets, Tobin said.
“This is another tool to avoid the spreading of this virus. We want to get things under control,” Catalano said. “We have no desire to put forth misdemeanors or arrests, but we need this order so people know we take this seriously.”
Residents can file for an exemption for larger gatherings, if there is proof they can practice social distancing at the gathering and avoid potential exposure of the virus, Tobin said.
Alderwoman Kathryn Silliman (D2nd Ward), who lives near student housing, expressed concern about a gathering potentially having up to 50 people between two student rental properties.
“The police can manage this,” city Corporation Counsel Ric VanDonsel said. “We rely on them for this type of situation.”
“The city will be affected in the best way possible,” said Alderman Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward). “It’s needed.”