A Mineola policy that allows a single electrical inspection agency to approve work and set the price for all inspections in the village is the only one of its kind on Long Island, creating concern among industry and municipal officials about safety and competition in a community with increasing commercial development.
Village trustees approved the one-agency requirement in 2012 and awarded the exclusive-rights contract to Electrical Inspectors Inc. of East Meadow for a two-year term that was renewed in 2014 and again in April.
The president and co-owner of Electrical Inspectors Inc., Richard Bivone, is the Nassau chairman of the Long Island Business Council and president of the Empire Association of Electrical Inspectors, a trade group representing four electrical inspection companies. His company has eight inspectors on staff and works in 90 municipalities.
Bivone came under scrutiny in 2012 after LIPA set an unprecedented requirement that as many as 100,000 South Shore homes affected by superstorm Sandy receive electrical inspections before they could regain power, and the bulk of the Nassau County inspections went to Bivone’s firm.
Newsday surveyed Long Island’s 13 towns, two cities and 97 villages and found all but Mineola and Garden City allow multiple firms to inspect an electrician’s work. Garden City has appointed one company, Certified Electrical Inspections of Amityville, to certify the work, but village officials set the fee rate; in Mineola, Bivone’s company sets the rates for inspections. Three East End towns and some villages use staff village inspectors instead of private firms.
Experts say the Mineola exclusive-rights contract, with control over pricing, creates a monopoly that could be harmful.
“To me that’s looking for trouble,” said North Hempstead Building Commissioner John Niewender. “They should know there’s other companies that are going to compete with them. It keeps you honest.”
Eleanor Fox, a New York University Law School professor and antitrust and competition expert, said she “would worry when an exclusive electrical inspector is appointed that the price would be a monopoly price, especially when you observe that a lot of villages don’t appoint one. . . . It looks like it’s a market capable of lots of competition.”
Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss said working with multiple agencies was “too cumbersome.”
“We wanted to standardize how the electrical inspections were done,” Strauss said. “There were multiple companies doing it, and it was just, the paperwork was different. We had to call this guy for that, that guy was submitting this; it was harder to track down on the back end of things.”
Bivone’s firm was among several companies that responded to the village’s request for proposals to handle electrical inspections.
“We’re proud of our record and the fact they chose us to be their electrical inspectors,” Bivone said.
Bivone founded Electrical Inspectors Inc. in 1993 when the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, a private firm that incorporated in 1867, conducted most of Long Island’s municipal electrical inspections, industry officials said. Bivone sued municipalities to gain entry into the market, and courts ruled in his favor. The New York Board of Fire Underwriters filed a certificate of dissolution in 2010, according to state records, and many of the company’s former employees work in Long Island inspection firms.
Building boom’s sense of urgency
Mineola is undergoing a building boom that has brought high-rise condominiums near the downtown train station and a new research center to Winthrop-University Hospital. The number of building permits approved in the village last year was up nearly 30 percent compared with 2012, records show.
“They have a lot of very aggressive construction going on in the village,” and allowing only one inspection agency “hurts,” said John C. Cochrane Jr., president of Long Island Electrical Inspectors Inc. of Bay Shore and a Republican Islip Town councilman.
Several firms submitted proposals to the village in 2012, 2014 and 2016, but Electrical Inspectors Inc. won the contract every time, Cochrane said, adding that a one-firm-only policy “doesn’t give the electrician or the homeowner the option to shop for the most reasonable electrical inspection service.”
He said Bivone’s company exceeded other companies, citing their “experience, and capabilities.”
“Their knowledge, their experience, the working relationship that we’ve had in the past with them” makes for convenient, “one-stop shopping with them,” Strauss said.
Officials from Electrical Inspectors Inc. wrote in its proposal that the “average cost” for new work is $95 per inspection.
Bivone said his company’s prices are consistent across Long Island.
Strauss challenged the notion that the village policy eliminated competition.
“There is competition, the competition was in the RFP process,” he said.
Garden City has had a single-inspector policy since 2009, when Certified Electrical Inspections was selected. The company is renewed on an annual basis. The village, which uses a single electrical inspection agency but does not allow it to set the rates, sees limiting the inspections to one company as “a way of controlling the inspection quality,” said superintendent of buildings Ausberto “Ozzie” Huertas Jr.
In Riverhead, Southold and Southampton towns, municipal employees conduct the inspections. Brad Hammond, chief building inspector for Riverhead, said using employees ensures inspections are completed correctly. “It’s a more comprehensive look and making sure everything is to code and safe,” he said.
Most towns on Long Island provide residents with a list of six to eight firms to choose from and allow any firm to register to perform inspections as long as they are licensed, have insurance and meet professional standards.
The Town of Oyster Bay announced it would select the private inspectors residents could use for projects in 2011, eliminating the residents’ choice, but the town dropped the proposal after opposition from private electrical inspectors.
John Rottkamp, Hempstead Town commissioner of buildings, said using multiple inspectors is a simple process. “Once they’re approved, they do the inspections, they mail us the approved electrical certificate, we enter that information in the system, and that’s it,” he said.
Competition “promotes safety in the fact that if there’s one company, and they’re booked up for a long period of time because they’re so busy, people could put it off and then maybe not get it done,” Rottkamp said.
Electrical failures are a top cause of death in home structure fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Municipalities have banned inspection agencies for failure to submit required paperwork or for signing off on shoddy work, officials said.
With one inspector, a homeowner or contractor has no recourse if they want to challenge an inspection.
“I’ve been challenged in my time as an inspector and I have no problem with that,” said Michael Dumitru, president of Alliance Electrical Inspections of Garden City South. “But if you’re wrong, as an inspector, where do you go from there? That’s the problem with just having one inspection agency.”
Bivone has been a longtime donor to political candidates, mostly Republicans, on Long Island. Donations under Bivone’s name, including from his personal and business addresses, total about $60,000 since 2011, state election records show. Electrical Inspectors Inc. has donated more than $4,500 to candidates and committees since 2011. Of those donations from Bivone and his companies, $10,625 went to the Nassau County Republican Committee.
Strauss, a registered Republican in heavily GOP Mineola, said politics played no role in the selection of Bivone’s firm.
“I don’t vote along the Republican lines,” he said. “I vote for whoever I want to vote for, whoever I think is going to do the best job.”
Certified Electrical Inspections has made $10,800 in campaign contributions since 2011, including $8,525 to the Nassau County Republican Committee, state records show. Two of the partners have contributed to political candidates and clubs, Christopher and Robert Ceriello, including a $500 donation to the Nassau County Republican Committee in 2009 from Christopher Ceriello. Both are registered Republicans.
Christopher Ceriello, a partner at the firm, said the village “thoroughly research and vets everything. It’s an honor to be their designated company.”