Southold Town is once again considering a proposal to require contractors to obtain a town license in order to do business locally.
At a Town Board work session Tuesday, Councilman Bob Ghosio pointed out that Southold is one of the few East End towns that doesn’t currently require contractors operating in town to be licensed beyond state and county qualifications.
“We have a lot of folks who have moved to Southold that aren’t necessarily familiar with the contractors and the folks who work here and it’s just a way of helping protect homeowners as well as protecting contractors who live and work in the community,” Mr. Ghosio said.
It’s an issue that’s come up at recent meetings of the town’s economic development committee, according to Jennifer Del Vaglio, who chairs the committee.
She said a town licensing system could be a benefit to local small businesses and also an asset for the influx of new residents to the area who are often adjusting to homeownership from apartment living.
“By licensing, you’re giving [homeowners] a resource to rely on and refer to,” she said. “It evens the playing field.”
The license would cover contractors across various trades, including plumbers, electricians and carpenters, Mr. Ghosio said, and would mirror the county’s license in many ways.
To be licensed through the county’s Department of Consumer Affairs, contractors must pass a written examination and show proof of worker’s compensation and liability insurance and other requirements.
Mr. Ghosio said that in his professional business, he maintains a license in East Hampton Town, which requires an additional renewal test and fee every two years.
“We don’t necessarily have to have a test — a lot of the towns don’t — but it’s just a way of keeping track of who can and can’t work in town legitimately,” he said.
Deputy Supervisor Jill Doherty said other towns like Shelter Island impose a set of conditions that have to do with water, for example. “You can make it unique to your town.”
The contractor license would also be similar to a coastal contractor license required by the town Trustees, which gives the entity the ability to pull back licenses if conditions are violated during shoreline projects.
Enforcement, or a lack thereof, remains an ongoing issue.
Supervisor Scott Russell said that at the county level, enforcement has been minimal. He also noted that the county is “pulling back a lot of its workforce” due to economic hardship. “If you just rely on the county license, you don’t have that oversight at the local level,” he said.
Councilman Jim Dinizio also worried about enforcement beyond simply issuing a stop-work order.
Mr. Dinizio said in his business, he already carries state and county licenses that he says aren’t enforced.
Councilwoman Sarah Nappa wondered if the license would be another burden on local businesses, driving people from wanting to work on the North Fork. “Do you see that as being a hurdle?” she asked.
To that, Mr. Ghosio pointed to the South Fork and the so-called “trade parade” that causes traffic jams. “It’s not stopping the contractors from working everywhere else,” he said.
A similar proposal was floated in 2016, though it’s unclear why the board didn’t pursue it. The board may seek input from the town’s chief building inspector Mike Verity while exploring licensing systems in place in other towns before moving forward.