Saturday, June 27, 2009

Water bill credit available for Tea, Jesusita victims : City of Santa Barbara reaches out to ease pain of high charges


June 26, 2009 7:21 AM

Santa Barbara homes that were most affected by the Tea and Jesusita fires can still get a break from the city's Water Resources Department.

According to Bill Ferguson, water resources supervisor, if a home was destroyed or damaged by the blaze to the point of being uninhabitable, reimbursement can be received for the extra water used to defend it.

Mr. Ferguson explained that the amount of water used in the month before the fire is subtracted from the water used during the month of the fire to determine the amount of the credit.

"We try to estimate the loss," he said. "We only read meters once a month, and whatever happens in between is unknown. We have to estimate it."

As of Thursday, 100 people have received such a credit from the water department, which includes both fires.

Mr. Ferguson said that before residents call the department to inquire about a credit, they should know that if their home is in unincorporated Montecito or Goleta, different policies will apply.

The decision to adjust water rates for homes affected by the fires came when city officials realized the significance of the "unusual event," according to Mr. Ferguson.

"This was something we wanted to do as long as we had a basis for identifying those who were severely affected," he said.

For all the people helped so far, Mr. Ferguson said he knows that some have been overlooked.

"If we did miss some, we want to know about it," he said. "We've taken care of those we thought were affected, and we did miss some already and realized another meter needed to be read and credited."

The fire caused loss of water in ways other than home protection.

"In some cases it was because the plumbing was burned through, and then it was a larger credit," explained Mr. Ferguson.

As homes are being rebuilt, Mr. Ferguson urged people to consider water conservation in their building plans.

"We offer free audits and checkups and things of that nature," he said.

For information on how to receive a fire-related credit or have a meter read, contact Theresa Lancy in the Water Resources Department at 564-5369.

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