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Contractor, state bureaucracy finally produce check

Q: In early November 2005, we made a capital improvement to our home. We had a new boiler and hot water tank installed by Tonawanda-based Vastola Heating & Air Conditioning for $6,603. We were pleased with their service and the efficiency of the product has saved us money on our fuel bills.

However, we have not yet received our 10 percent rebate check from the Energy Star program. The sales coordinator at Vastola, who arranged this with Energy Star, promised a rebate check would be received in six months. We should have received a $660 check in May.

I have called Vastola to check the status of the check and was told to be patient. Energy Star was contacted and we sent them another signed contract of the work done, and filled out another form with gas and electric account numbers. I was then told by Vastola that Energy Star would be cutting the check around the end of October. At that time, we began wondering if we were getting the run-around.

We waited until Nov. 6 to call Vastola again. Vastola's representative, Dean Schwenkbeck, immediately called Energy Star and promised to get back with us. On Nov. 10, we called him back and he said a check was issued on Sept. 14. We never received a check, and at that time the check was supposedly being tracked to find out if it was cashed or lost.

Energy Star then promised a check would be mailed on Dec. 8 and we would receive it by Dec. 13. Still, no check.

It's been over a year now, and we have electrical damage that occurred in the surprise October storm and really need that money. Whose fault is this, and when will we see that check? We feel we have waited long enough.

-- Pamela A. Gay, Buffalo.

A: The length of delay in receiving a rebate check of $660 is beyond perplexing for work done more than a year ago, regardless of a government-sponsored initiative such as Energy Star. The program is overseen by the state Public Service Commission and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority -- to promote the use of energy-efficient appliances.

Unfortunately, our paths crossed, since we learned after we began looking into your problem, that you, too, had placed a call to Energy Star's office in Albany to question the status of your rebate. In the end, what really matters is that you received your $660.30 rebate check in the mail on Dec. 19.

But your story points to the importance of the working relationship between such a program and its network of certified contractors approved to do such work. Aside from making the improvements, it's equally important that rebate processing occurs in an efficient and timely manner. In your case, 10 percent of the cost of the work was to be reimbursed to you.

When we spoke with Brian Atchinson, project manager for Energy Star, the week that you received your check, he assured us that you should have it any day and that it had been mailed on Dec. 15. And, you finally got it.

Atchinson said the delay occurred because Vastola wrote the incorrect address for you on its invoice to Energy Star in early June. "Who knows where the outstanding check ended up," he said, but the check was never cashed. "We researched it."

He said your December check was delayed because Energy Star's database was being changed, and in so doing, it bumped back the check-issuing process.

When we spoke Dec. 28 with Dean Schwenkbeck, project manager at Vastola, he acknowledged that the delay originally stemmed from the contractor. "Originally, it got stuck on my desk and was my mistake back in July," he said. "It got resubmitted, and in September, they cut her a check. It was not Vastola's fault."

But another three months passed with no check coming directly to you. Schwenkbeck said your paperwork was submitted three times.

Schwenkbeck then added that the rebate check was processed wrong. "Initially, we made a mistake," he said. "We filed the paperwork late. It's not a big deal . . . You just get your check later. I have no idea how the address error occurred. It sounds like a typo on Energy Star's part."

Regardless of the blame game between both parties, we're glad you finally received your rebate. It also was a smart idea to file a complaint with the state Attorney General's office, which you said you initiated recently.

Have a consumer problem? Send a letter summarizing your problem to News Power, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y., 14240. Attention: Karen Robinson. Please include a phone number. Or e-mail: newspower@buffnews.com

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