‘Government At Its Worst’ Bureaucratic delays frustrate contractors

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    Two contractors stood in the John Ciotti Conference Room in the county government center and told legislators that they have lost a combined half a million dollars in potential revenues thanks to bureaucratic hurdles.

    Dimitrios “Jim” Manitaras of Massapequa and Tony Chan of Queens told their tales of waiting more than a nine months and a year respectively to get new contractors’ licenses from the county’s Department of Consumer Affairs.

    According to a press release, “At [recent] budget hearings [department Commissioner] Gregory May confirmed that there is currently a backlog of 800 new applications, and over 5,000 license renewal applications waiting to be processed.”

    Legislator Steve Rhoads (R–Levittown) presided over the Oct. 7 press conference and noted, “One in six small businesses have closed as a result of the pandemic. And now we discover, as businesses are struggling to recover, our Department of Consumer Affairs is demonstrating a level of incompetence that is unprecedented. This is an example of government at its worst.”

    Both Rhoads and the contractors made comparison with neighboring Suffolk County. Chan said that, even in the midst of the pandemic, he got his license there in a matter of weeks.

    “I feel like the county has failed me,” said Manitaris, who owns Creative Home Construction and is a 30-year county resident. “I’m not talking for myself, I’m talking for many people,” he said. “I have many friends who are not going to come in and do what I’m doing.”

    He related that he had once held contractor’s licenses in both counties, but they lapsed when he went into an another field of work. After getting laid off he wanted to start up his construction business again. He emphasized that he had five kids, two in college, and “as you know, taxes and [the cost of living] are very expensive.”

    Manitaris said he has no problem getting a new license In Suffolk. In Nassau, by contrast, he paid his fee on Jan. 6 and put in his application on Jan. 7. He went in person because he did not want any delays.

    For nine months, he said, “[I’ve been] getting the runaround. And basically it’s because Consumer Affairs doesn’t have the right help. And I’m not here to throw anybody under the bus. I think that link has broken, and if we can help that department fill in the gaps, it would help all of the contractors, not only me, to move on and create a better environment so we could pay our bills. Because every day that goes by, I have people begging me to do work and I can’t—I can’t take the job because I want to be a legitimate licensed contractor. Because of [this delay] I must have lost about $50,000 and not only that, but I’ve also had to pay [liability] insurance while waiting for the process. So now I’m paying over $1,000 a year for contractor’s insurance but I can’t get my license to move forward.”

    He pleaded with the legislators, “I hope you get this resolved and [we] can move on. “It’s [gone on] too long, I’m going to lose my house if I don’t get [the license].”
    Manitaris related that when he applied for his first license years ago, “They were very fast, four to six weeks, and I got my license. There were no problems. I thought I was going to do the same thing [this time around].”

    He related that two women who handled licenses in the department missed work time because of an injury and a death in the family respectively.

    “My wife is yelling at me, saying, ‘How are we going to pay our bills?’” he confessed. “I don’t blame her. With five kids and two in college….”

    Chan said he’s missed out on jobs totaling $450,000 and stated, “The reason why I applied for a Nassau County license is because I have friends and other customers that know of my quality work, so I applied. It’s been over a year. Every time I try to get the application there’s always excuses, delays, reasons.”

    Rhoads thanked the two contractors for sharing how the delays have impacted their families and businesses, adding, “Behind every contractor who’s waiting on a license, there are real people with real families and real situations. And they simply cannot wait. And the bottom line is they should not wait.”

    According to the 2021 preliminary county budget document, the Department of Consumer Affairs went from 30 employees to 25 between the 2020 and 2021 budgets. In the proposed 2021 county budget, it anticipated departmental revenues (from licenses and fines) of $5.944 million versus department expenses of $2.011 million.

    Rhoads commented, “This legislature last year, during our budget hearings, realized there was a need for additional personnel, and we put in our budget five additional employees in the Department of Consumer Affairs so they would be able to process applications faster. That was vetoed by the county executive. And we failed to receive enough votes to override that veto. We recognized that there was an issue, tried to correct it and the administration stood in our way to be able to correct that. To now see these results today certainly adds insult to injury.”

    After calling the delays “a disgrace,” Legislator Laura Schaefer (R–Westbury) said, “I for one am very happy that people came to me over the past couple of years, some contractors and businesses who were telling me that they could not get their renewals. I’ve heard many times that people sent in their documents, only to be told months later, ‘We need this document,’ and it’s the same document that they asked for two months before. It’s ridiculous. There’s no excuse. And it needs to be rectified. So I hope this message gets out.”

    Rhoads called on County Executive Laura Curran to fix the problem immediately. and vowed, “To all those businesses that have contacted our offices—help is on the way.”

    The Response

    A spokesperson for the county executive wrote in an email:
    “This is an unacceptable delay at the Department of Consumer Affairs. The applications need to be processed and the backlog eliminated. Under a new management plan, we anticipate that the bulk of pending applications will be fully processed within the coming weeks. The plan includes, among other things, the assignment of supplemental staff from other county agencies to assist the existing Consumer Affairs personnel with this project, additional computer and related equipment for the supplemental staff, new project management protocols and practices, and daily reporting systems with benchmarks to ensure that applications are processed timely to completion. The COVID-19 pandemic created certain logistical challenges and hurdles and it’s our job to overcome them.”

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    Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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