County staff warning the public about unlicensed contractors and scam artists
During the Nov. 15 regular meeting of the Sarasota County Commission, Chair Alan Maio was looking out at the audience when he spied Assistant County Administrator Mark Cunningham.
That prompted Maio to talk about the regular emails that Cunningham has been providing the board members about the collections of Hurricane Ian storm debris.
As of Nov. 14, Maio said, the county’s contractors had gathered up “2.3 million cubic yards” of vegetative materials. That total, Maio stressed, was more than seven times the amount of debris that the county tallied after Hurricane Irma’s strike on Southwest Florida in September 2017.
As of Nov. 17, the official Ian total, noted in a routine county update, was 2,388,959 cubic yards.
During comments to the commissioners on Oct. 3, Brian Usher, director of the county’s Solid Waste Department, said staff had estimated that Hurricane Ian had produced 1.5 million cubic yards of debris. Irma left behind about 300,000 cubic yards, Usher pointed out.
Thus, with the first pass for vegetative storm debris nearly complete as of Nov. 16 — as noted in the county’s update that day — staff proved to have been overly optimistic in its early estimates of how much debris from Ian would have to be picked up. The Nov. 17 figure was 59% higher than that Oct. 3 projection.
County staff also reported this week that the debris contractors will take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday period. No collections will be made from Nov. 22 through Nov. 27, staff said. The work will resume on Nov. 28, that county update added.
“We are so appreciative to the men and women that have spent time away from their families to support the cleanup efforts throughout Sarasota County,” said Usher, the Solid Waste director, in a county news release. “This break will allow them an opportunity to reunite with their families for the holiday and get some must needed rest.”
Moreover, staff reported this week that Monday, Nov. 21, will be the final day of operations for the two sites where residents have been able to take debris and unload it themselves. Those are Rothenbach Park, located at 8650 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota; and the Jackson Road Transfer Station, which stands at 250 S. Jackson Road in Venice.
The facilities will close for that purpose at 5 p.m. on Nov. 21, staff says. “After Nov. 21, residents may dispose of storm debris at the Central County Landfill, the update added; “applicable disposal fees will apply.”
For “yard trash,” the fee is $41.37 a ton, with a $13 minimum, the county website points out. For construction and demolition debris, an individual must pay $56.38 per ton, with an $18.64 minimum.
The landfill stands at 4010 Knights Trail Road in Nokomis.
Staff also is continuing to work to ensure that residents comply with directions designed to facilitate the contractors’ work:
- “Residents are reminded to stay clear of the debris collection trucks.”
- People should avoid walking or bicycling, as well as moving vehicles or golf carts, in close proximity to the trucks.
- “Please do not approach the trucks or truck operators.”
Beware of unlicensed contractors and scam artists
In a related effort, county staff has been warning the public to be cautions about hiring contractors, as it is common after natural disasters for unlicensed businesses and scam artists to prey on storm victims.
“Unlicensed contractors may not be aware of local ordinances or state requirements and may cost you more in the long run,” a county news release points out. “Before you conduct business, ask to see the contractor’s license number and watch out for red flags,” such as the following, it adds:
- The individual or business asks for money upfront.
- The license and/or insurance numbers are not visible, or contractors refuse to show you identification.
- The individual or business representative asks you, the homeowner, to apply for a permit.
“Call 311 to verify or report unlicensed work to the county, the release urges residents.
For more information, the release adds, click here to watch an informative county YouTube video on the topic.
The news release also points out that scams can appear in many forms, including phone calls, texts, mail or email, websites, or in person.
This week, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant distributed to the news media a copy of a flyer that residents had shown to county staff. It is being distributed countywide, she wrote, but “this is NOT a county document.”
The flyer has “Sarasota County” printed in the top left corner; in the top right corner is the date “October 2022.”
In white type over a red bar, with the international hurricane center on either side of the words, the flyer says, “!PUBLIC NOTICE!”
Then it adds, “GOVERNOR DESANTIS DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY.”
The next lines say, “IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED REGARDING YOUR PROPERTY IN MIAMI.”
The flyer claims that new legislation allows “homeowners in Sarasota County to get new hurricane impact windows and roofs through this county approved program.”
It points to “100% financing,” no upfront costs and no problems if the homeowner has no credit or a bad credit rating.
Grant’s alert to the news media included the following information for residents:
“Here are some ways to recognize and prevent scams”:
- “Don’t trust anyone who offers financial help and then asks for money or personal information. Federal and local disaster workers do not solicit or accept money.”
- Resist the pressure to act immediately. Scammers pressure persons to provide information immediately; “they want you to act before you have time to think.”
- Ask how payment will be accepted. Scammers often insist on payment by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then giving the scammer the number on the back.
- “Stop and talk to someone you trust. Before you do anything else, tell someone — a friend, a family member, a neighbor — what happened. Talking about it could help you realize it’s a scam.
“Help prevent scams and disaster fraud by reporting them,” Grant continued. “If something about a situation feels uncomfortable or you suspect fraud, report it to local law enforcement, the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline or the Department of Justice Fraud Hotline.”
To report possible unlicensed or unpermitted activity, individuals may call 311 or 941-861-6612, or they may email email@example.com.
Property owners also may report unlicensed activity to the state of Florida, Grant pointed out:
- Call the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) at 850-487-1395 or visit www.MyFloridaLicense.com.
- To report fraud, an individual, business owner or contractor may visit https://reportfraud.ftc.gov.
Express permits being provided for post-Ian problems
County staff also is reminding the public that express permits are available for the following in the aftermath of Ian:
- Reroofing or roof repair projects.
- Electrical service change.
- Air condition change-out.
- Replacement of one window.
- Replacement of a single garage door.
With express permits, the advisory says, the county fee is waived, and the permits themselves are issued within one to three days.
To apply for an express permit, visit scgov.net or apply in person at the Sarasota County Operations Center Permit Center, located at 1001 Sarasota Center Blvd. in Sarasota.