OSWEGO — The Port City’s electric and plumbing licensing procedures are likely to be standardized Monday, part of what city officials call the end of a years-long stranglehold by a select few contractors on the two industries and an effort to insert fairness and transparency into the licensing process.
The city Planning and Development Committee this week unanimously approved changes to the city’s plumbing code that, if adopted by the full council on Monday, would standardize the testing process for licensed plumbers. Similar changes to the city’s electrical code are subject to a Monday public hearing, which will be held during a virtual meeting of the Oswego Common Council.
City officials have said alterations to the plumbing and electrical licensing process would increase competition between contractors and provide homeowners and businesses with more options for plumbing and electrical needs.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow first unveiled changes to the testing process as part of his State of the City Address in March, in which he called the plumbing and electrical licensing requirements “antiquated” and lacking transparency and consistency. Earlier this month, he said the alterations to the plumbing and electrical code are aimed at creating “a transparent, fair and predictable” examination and licensing process.
“We’re just trying to make Oswego more business friendly,” Barlow recently said of the changes, adding it’s “the right thing to do” for transparency and to ensure people are “treated fairly.”
City officials have said the process has resulted in a small number of plumbing and electrical contractors licensed to perform work in the Port City. According to city records, there are less than 10 companies licensed to perform plumbing work in the city and about 25 electrical contractors.
Testing for licensed plumbers and electricians under the revised policy would be provided twice annually, with notice for applications published 90 days prior to the test and accepted until 30 days prior to the exam.
The city plumbing and electrical boards, which are predominantly made up of local business owners and industry professionals, would continue to create the exams, but both a member of the board and a city official would be present during testing to ensure the process is fair and equitable.
The amendments also cap the number of questions on each test and the amount of time given to complete the exam. Barlow said historically the plumbing board would create tests that were “impossible” to complete in the given timeframe.
Test results would be required to be returned to applicants within a month of the exam date.
Council President Robert Corradino, R-7th Ward, recently supported the changes, saying the amendments to the city code were “done with a lot of thought” and are “probably well overdue.” He said a frequent complaint from city residents to the water review committee was a lack of available contractors to perform work, adding it “seems there weren’t enough plumbers” to complete smaller projects.
“One of the main complaints people were having, especially for the installation of water meters, was that they couldn’t find a plumber to do it in a timely basis,” Corradino said. “I’m hoping these changes to the plumbing code will open up some opportunities for other people to get plumbing licenses and then in turn help the people who need water meters installed.”
Barlow said for years, “the tests would just appear,” with the city’s plumbing and electrical boards creating and administering the licensing exams intermittently and without advanced notice.
“It was all ‘make it up as you go’,” the mayor said. “We want to put in place a system so that if you’re an out-of-town contractor, or even a local contractor, interested in getting this license you actually have a fair shot and understand the process and know what you’re signing up for.”
Barlow said due in part to the extensive development in the city in recent years, officials came to understand the city plumbing board has only provided licenses to a handful of plumbing contractors at any given time, and most of the licensees are large-scale commercial contractors.
“That has put a strain on the plumbers who serve residential homeowners or smaller units,” Barlow said. “Because there’s so few it’s like a monopoly, it drives the cost up, accessibility is minimal and it creates problems for homeowners and people looking to do major developments.”
Barlow said the changes to the code would also clarify that a license is not required for a property owner to perform work on their residential properties. Commercial properties, however, do require a licensed electrician or plumber for associated projects.
Another change to the code would create moral character requirements, similar to what the city created for taxi drivers several years ago, establishing a long list of crimes that would prevent someone from earning a license.
“We really don’t want people with lengthy criminal records to have licenses and entering peoples’ home and basements to do this work,” Barlow said, noting the moral character requirements would be limited to convictions that occurred after January 2010.
The Oswego Common Council is hosting a virtual public hearing related to the city’s electrical code at 7:10 p.m. as part of Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting is scheduled to be streamed live on YouTube, with a link provided on the city website.
Officials said the hearing is required for the electrical code, which is adopted through a local law, but not for the plumbing code, which is largely derived from New York state law.