Sparks fly over town job

Gene Surdi was none too pleased to hear the Southold Town Board pass a resolution last Tuesday hiring Roger Richert as a part-time electrical inspector in the town’s building department at a rate of $25.66 an hour.

Nothing personal against Mr. Richert, said Mr. Surdi. Nor was he upset because the position might take away North Fork business from his own private electrical inspection company, Suffolk County Bureau of Electrical Inspectors based in Middle Island.

“It’s not about how much business I’m doing or not doing,” Mr. Surdi said. “It’s about the politics and the audacity of the town to think that one man can run this entire department.”

Mr. Richert, who was not available for comment, started last Wednesday in a position that expires on December 31, The position could be renewed, depending in part on how much revenue it produces. Supervisor Scott Russell said the board decided to create the in-house position last October after the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, the first agency to perform electrical inspection during the technology’s 19th-century infancy, stopped doing inspections.

“They went bankrupt,” Mr. Russell said this week. “We decided that we should move forward with this position to ensure quality control and code compliance.”

After the board created the part-time position in the fall — the first such job in the town’s history — Mr. Russell noted that a $100 per inspection fee should cover the $25,000 cost.

“I just want to quickly clarify, because we are hiring someone in a very bad fiscal climate,” Mr. Russell said then. “Typically there are two big companies that do electrical underwriting inspections, and one of them is going out of business … [We hope to] make the process a little easier for local applicants who have a hard time getting these companies to inspect electrical work.”

Mr. Surdi called those comments “100 percent false. There were seven approved agencies that were doing business in Southold that had more than sufficient work. And I don’t believe a municipality should be in the business of creating revenue outside of the taxpayer base. And besides, when has government ever made anything easier?”

A lifelong electrician, Mr. Surdi started his electrical inspection company in 2003. He currently employs five inspectors examining installations from swimming pool filters to industrial wirings. They work all over Long Island and some, in New York City.

“Since the 1800s, the majority of the state has relied on third-party contractors” to inspect electrical systems, Mr. Surdi said. “Electrical is typically outside of the realm of building inspectors.”

Mr. Surdi reiterated that his protest against the town’s decision to hire an electrical inspector is not so much “a function of losing revenue” on his part, even though he said he lost business in Southold after the Town Board passed its resolution.

“It’s a function of government getting involved in private industry,” he said. “They took upon themselves to do this and they did not extend the courtesy of having a roundtable meeting with agencies that are already in business. They did not seek our input.”

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