In Summit Hill, a lot of money was spent on upgrading borough-owned buildings. A new borough hall with a police station, a fire station, and a community center were all constructed at the same time.

Overall the project cost in excess of $3.5 million. It was a needed project and the buildings are both attractive and spacious.

The previous structures had major deficiencies - both structural and safety.

When the buildings became occupied, some major flaws were detected, especially with the fire station. The heating and air conditioning system didn't function properly. Also, the vacuum system that expels the fumes from the fire apparatus also wasn't working right.

Recently, the Summit Hill Borough Council awarded a contract totaling in excess of $9,000 to a company to make heating and air conditioning repairs.

The borough is footing the bill for repairs for a building that became occupied only three years ago.

The original contractor for the project apparently did not do the work properly and isn't being held accountable for the problem. There doesn't appear to be a chance of recouping the money via a bond the contractor might have been required to post or a fund for such a purpose.

If a municipality can't get justice when it is apparently ripped off, how can the average consumer?

It would have been very expensive - an enormous burden for the taxpayers of the already cash-strapped borough - for the borough to take the matter to court. Even if the borough won, it would have had legal fees and other costs.

The same happens when an individual gets taken by an unscrupulous contractor. It costs money to wage a court battle for retribution. Also, there's a risk involved. If the company goes bankrupt, or has a good lawyer, there's a chance you won't get reimbursement plus you'll be out the hefty fees you paid for an attorney.

Often you hear about fly-by-night operators ripping off consumers. This wasn't the case with Summit Hill borough. It was a legitimate company who bid on the project and was awarded a contract to install the heating and air conditioning.

When the heating and air conditioning didn't work properly, council members let off a little steam, but ultimately let the contractor off the hook.

There's no question the heat and air conditioning is needed in the fire station. The problem is: Why should the consumers pay for the work twice? Why isn't the contractor being forced to either make repairs on his botched work or be held responsible for paying someone else for those repairs?

If a municipality can't get justice when it's ripped off, how can John Q. Public?

There seems to be a major flaw in our system regarding consumer rights.

No wonder rip-off artists are so brazen. Putting them in their place is virtually impossible.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com