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Debate continues over contractor registry
Debate continues over contractor registry
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Debate continued last week on how far the City of Chardon should go to protect residents from unscrupulous contractors.
City Council's legislative committee took up the discussion again after questions continued over a registration program the city adopted at the start of the year.
The committee heard from former Councilman John Park, who operates a home-remodeling company and gave a contractor's perspective on the issue. He said the city's program is overly burdensome. "It's very expensive, it's very cumbersome, and it really doesn't make sense," he said.
Mr. Park provided a list of 20 communities where his firm has worked, including Hunting Valley, Pepper Pike, Bentleyville, Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights. He said that few of them ask individual subcontractors to register, as Chardon does. He said Geauga County already registers contractors, and adding Chardon to the mix increases the cost to homeowners making repairs or renovations.
One requirement by the city is for a copy of the contractor's driver's license, which is not required in most programs, Mr. Park said. "When you're trying to make a buck and running around, it's the last thing you want to do," he said of the city's registration program.
In addition, he said, Chardon's $300 cost to contractors is higher than most. He said Hunting Valley only costs $150. "It's the most complicated place in Northeast Ohio to do work," Mr. Park said.
Chardon Law Director James Gillette said the driver's license was requested as a means to track down anyone who has not paid income taxes.
Councilwoman Leslie Bednar asked if the city was achieving its goals with the program or simply taking up staff time to administer it.
John Sheehan, the city's planning and zoning administrator, said the intent of the registration program is to keep "less-than-desirable contractors" from working in the city. He said it's difficult to gauge its success, because planning officials have granted variances for wrongdoing, rather than prosecute violators.
Councilman Jefferey Campbell Jr. said he has a list of communities where the registration programs are similar to Chardon's. It includes Chagrin Falls, Dayton, Cincinnati, Parma, Warren and Mansfield.
Councilwoman Deborah Reiter said residents have told her the Geauga County registry offered them little protection from unscrupulous contractors.
She said she has little power as a council person but believes she could at least help residents who felt they were taken advantage of. "What are we here for, except to offer some sense of safety and security in our town?" she said. "I don't have much other power."
Mr. Campbell agreed, saying residents need council's protection. "It is our responsibility to protect residents without being overly cumbersome," he said.
But Mr. Park said the issue is really one of private property. He asked whether the city would also take up the resident's case if he felt cheated by an attorney or an auto mechanic. "Is that your place?" he asked.
Mr. Park said the issue could become even more cloudy if a contractor begins working for an unreasonable person. If that person continued to make unreasonable demands and the contractor decides to leave, he asked if complainant would he be subject to the city's interrogations. "She's as much the problem, as I'm the problem," he said of the unreasonable homeowner.
Mr. Campbell said it would be up to council to decide such issues, noting that there would at least be a written record with the city to decide them.
Councilman Robert Cromwell said the intent of the legislation was to ensure that the city collected all the taxes due, as well as protect residents from unscrupulous contractors.
Mr. Park said the city should look at how much time it spends and whether there is an actual benefit.
Mr. Cromwell questioned whether the registration would actually help those who felt they were taken advantage of. "How does the contractor registration change what that contractor did?" he asked.
Mr. Campbell said the contractor may be less likely to "skip out" if he is registered with the city.
City Finance Director Jeffrey Smock said it's difficult to measure whether the registration has had an impact on tax collections. He said there is no way to know whether contractors would have paid the money due without registering or whether the registration made them pay.
Mr. Gillette said the city could collect the information, showing that a contractor has workers' compensation and liability insurance, and then provide that information to residents, who could decide for themselves whether to hire a particular contractor.
Mr. Cromwell, who previously questioned whether it's the government's role in private matters, said he's still not convinced the registration is the right way to go. "I understand the need, and I think we should get the tax money, but I just think there's a better way," he said.
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