OSWEGO — Five months after overhauling the city’s plumbing and electrical licensing procedures, Port City officials have further altered the plumbing licensing process by creating a residential license in addition to the standard master license.

The Oswego Common Council approved a supplement to the city’s 2020 plumbing code to develop a residential plumbers license, a move that city officials say complements a series of other reforms made earlier this year. Starting in January, the city Plumbing Board will offer two separate tests for a plumbing license, and the moves approved at Tuesday’s council meeting (held a day later than usual due to Monday’s holiday) also call for the tests to be open book and multiple choice.

City officials have said alterations to the plumbing and electrical licensing processes were necessary to increase competition between contractors and provide homeowners and businesses with more options for plumbing and electrical needs.

Councilors in May approved measures to standardize the testing process for licensing, saying the previous processes resulted in a small number of contractors licensed to perform work in the Port City.

According to city records, there are fewer than 10 companies licensed to perform plumbing work in the city, up from just six in 2019; there are about 25 city electrical contractors.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow has repeatedly said the plumbing licensing process has been plagued by a lack of transparency and infrequent offerings of the test. The move to offer a residential plumbing license would likely result in more licenses and ultimately more choices for homeowners, he said.

“If you look at the companies that are licensed, they’re industrial, commercial plumbers doing large commercial jobs which only leaves a few plumbers in the city who actually are willing to work on a single-family home,” Barlow said. “We can get more residential licenses in the city so people aren’t having their small plumbing jobs have prices inflated and scheduled months out.”

Barlow said the move made Tuesday would separate the testing process, allowing individuals who are qualified to work on residential jobs — but potentially not large-scale industrial work — to work in the city.

Council President Rob Corradino, R-7th Ward, said it simply makes sense to offering different licenses for varying levels of plumbing complexity, noting the installation of a household hot water heater or faucet is far different than  working on a multi-story apartment building or hotel.

Corradino, who is part of the city’s Water Review Committee, said individuals would often come before the committee to say they couldn’t find a residential plumber to install a required water meter within the 30-day timeframe allotted by the city.  

“I see a big need for plumbers to help residential customers take care of easy plumbing fixes that don’t require a commercial license,” Corradino said. “It really addresses the need for people who don’t need a full fledged master plumber to replace a faucet or fix a toilet.”

Council Vice President Kevin Hill, R-3rd Ward, said access to residential plumbing services has been limited in the city and residents have few options for service providers.  

“The creation of a residential plumbing license will increase choice for our residents, alleviate service wait times, particularly in emergency situations, and provide more opportunity for individuals to enter and build careers in the skilled trades,” Hill said.

Under the changes made earlier this year, testing for licensed plumbers and electricians is provided twice annually, with a notice calling for applications to be published 90 days prior to the test. Applications will be 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. Test results would be required to be returned to applicants within a month of the exam date. The alterations approved this week would make the tests multiple choice and open book. Barlow said Tuesday those changes are consistent other municipalities in New York.

“We don’t necessarily require them to know everything off the top of their head but the key is to make sure they know where in the code to look and where to extract that information when they’re doing a job,” the mayor said of the open book examinations.

Barlow said earlier this year the changes to the code also clarify that a license is not required for a property owner to perform work on their own residential properties.

Another change to the code would create moral character requirements, similar to what the city attempted to enact for taxi drivers several years ago when the council established a long list of crimes that would prevent someone from earning a license.

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