BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw is changing the way fines from the Erie County Health Department for COVID-19 violations will be paid.
As part of the changes the Comptroller has stripped the Health Department of the ability to collect, cash and deposit any COVID-19 related fines. Instead, those fines will be sent directly to the Comptroller's office.
In a statement, Comptroller Mychajliw said, “I am exerting the accounting authority given to my Office by the Erie County Charter. Changing accounting policies fall under my authority as Erie County Comptroller. This change in policy does not require approval by the County Executive or Legislature. It is granted to the Office of Erie County Comptroller regardless of who is elected to the position. I am Erie County’s Chief Fiscal and Accounting Officer, not the Health Department.”
Mychajliw also says that if the Health Department does not comply with the new rules he will freeze and close all of the department's bank accounts immediately.
As part of the changes, the Comptroller's office has also changed the way businesses with COVID-19 violations can pay the fines. Businesses will now have the option to pay in installments over a period of time.
- $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
Comptroller Mychajliw has been outspoken against fines for businesses that violate COVID-19 rules. In November, Mychajliw started a GoFundMe.com page for an Orchard Park Gym owner who was fined $15,000 by the Erie County Health Department.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued the following statement Wednesday:
“The Erie County Charter does not give the Comptroller the powers he is claiming to have. While the Charter does provide the Comptroller 'have custody of all accounts,' the role of Comptroller is a non-policy making position that is strictly ministerial in nature. He is a pass-through for the county’s fiduciary activities and has no voice or role in determining where funds come from or why they come; all his office does is collect and deposit checks, pay the county’s bills, and reconcile the accounts. It is the executive and legislative branches that set policy for the county, not the Comptroller. In fact, the Charter requires the Comptroller to provide reports and other information 'to the County Executive and Legislature as requested.' He is required to report to the policymakers; he does not in fact set county policy.
"Furthermore, the Comptroller’s threat to freeze Health Department accounts in a time of pandemic is incredibly reckless and potentially endangers the lives of county residents. His issuance of a press release stating his intentions to subvert the Charter does not, in reality, give him any power. We are a society governed by laws. The issuance of any statement by the Comptroller contrary to the laws of Erie County does not in fact render those laws null and void. If the comptroller attempts to contravene the laws of the county and New York State, and act above and beyond the powers granted to him by the laws of the County, we will take any and all action to enforce the laws and policies of Erie County.
"As the former Comptroller, I helped to write some of the very same provisions that delineate the role of that office. Now is not the time to continually entertain illegitimate power-grabbing fantasies, now is the time to work together as a community to protect public health.”
2 On Your Side has asked the county health department to comment on this policy change, but have not received a response yet.