Debating licensing contractors
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Talk to county officials, and the licensing of contractors is long overdue.
Talk to town supervisors and code enforcement officers, and it’s just another governmental burden.
The two sides met in an hourlong debate on that issue Friday during the monthly Council of Local Governments gathering in Monticello.
Members of the Legislature and its Labor Subcommittee made the case for a new way of dealing with contractor fraud.
“It’s by far the largest complaint that we get,” Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis pointed out.
“I’d love to arrest them, but I can’t,” lamented District Attorney Steve Lungen, stymied by state law that “requires me to prove something that’s darn near impossible.”
When residents contact him about incomplete or inadequate contracting, Lungen makes sure to ask if any materials were bought and delivered. Regardless of whether or not the contractor followed through on installing those materials, their very delivery makes it hard to convince a judge that the contractor never intended to do the job, he said.
Meanwhile, contractor fraud complaints continue to pile up, amounting to millions of dollars, he added.
“There has to be something to deal with these fly-by-night people,” Lungen argued, agreeing a for-fee licensing and bonding system might discourage potential con artists.
But he found a range of arguments in return, emanating from township officials increasingly uncomfortable with county and state mandates, not to mention their own strained budgets.
Forestburgh Supervisor Jim Galligan said few he spoke with support the licensing concept, and he wondered who would be deemed a contractor: carpenters, plumbers, landscapers, someone who happens to own a backhoe and uses it occasionally with friends?
“And is it going to fall back on the towns to enforce it?” he asked. “A license doesn’t make somebody honest.”
Neversink Supervisor Greg
from front page
Goldstein found no support on his town board, fearing that “we’re adding another layer” of government.
Labor Subcommittee member Dean Tamburri replied that such a list wouldn’t prohibit people from hiring whomever they wished, and Rouis said that the county is also considering a far less complex registration process instead.
Lungen continued pressing for some sort of licensure, considering it part of government’s duty to protect the citizenry. He cited the recently revised electrical licensing law as a success story.
“There are 184 electricians licensed in the county,” he said. “We’ve never had a complaint against any of these electricians.”
But opposition remained firm, with Goldstein, who runs an insurance agency, noting that “poor workmanship is not going to be covered” by insurers even with licensed contractors.
“I feel the timing isn’t right to add more spending to our government,” added Fremont Supervisor Jim Greier. “… Consumers have to be responsible for their own actions.”
Several town officials agreed with that stance, and the discussion turned toward heightening awareness.
“I have a lot of faith in the public,” said Galligan. “Educate the public.”
Sean Welsh, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s consumer educator, noted that he does have educational materials available, though not enough take advantage of it. (Citizens are welcome to contact Sean at 292-6180 for more info.)
Highland Supervisor Tina Palecek, whose husband is a contractor, wasn’t even sure how a license would resolve ongoing fraud.
“How are you going to guarantee that license means they are competent?” she asked, recalling how a trusted friend once took their $2,500 without finishing agreed-upon work.
“I just think it’s another layer of expense that right now we can’t afford,” she said, advocating for more education instead.
Lungen felt that approach was insufficient, noting that even intelligent people can be ripped off.
“I don’t think we adequately protect the citizens when it comes to contractors,” he stated. “... They need to be protected, and we’re not doing a good job of doing that.”
With virtually every town represented, the debate continued for a while until Rouis concluded the meeting by stating the county will draft some options for the towns to review.
“As a county, we need to work together,” said Legislator and Labor Subcommittee Chair Kathy LaBuda.