Saw a piece on the news this morning which might help future people looking to have work done. http://WWW.NYKNOWYOURCONTRACTOR.COM
supposedly lists contractors who have had complaints/judgements against them. I took a quick look at it tonite and it appears that almost all of those listed are from Monroe County but it might be worth taking a look before you "seal the deal."
Contractor supplied "references" are, in my sight, a waste because it would take a total idiot to provide only positive references. My rule of thumb is to hire only local contractors who have been recommended by friends or neighbors. Even if it is a "small" project, I suggest getting a signed contract indicating the specific work contracted for as well as a completion date. Take into consideration factors such as weather conditions, etc. if it is an outdoor project. Just make sure that you cover all the bases in your signed agreement before you put forth a penny. A reputable contractor will not be offended by your detailed agreement.