Pensioner who protected home from fire gets high water bill

UPDATE, FRIDAY, 10.30am: BALLINA Shire Council has agreed to refund a maximum of $80 to Wardell residents who were hit with excess water charges after they protected their properties during the bushfire in November last year.

The council's decision was an increase on the $65 refund recommended by staff.

ORIGINAL STORY: A WARDELL pensioner who protected his home from bushfire in November last year has been slugged with a large water bill, and has asked for a refund.

However, he might not get all of the $132 in extra water use costs back in his pocket.

Ballina Shire Council will this week decide whether to refund that man and others impacted by bushfire.

The council staff contacted the Wardell man after a higher than normal meter reading late last year.

CALL FOR REBATE: Wardell residents are asking Ballina Shire Council for a refund of part of their water charges after they protected their homes during the November fire.
CALL FOR REBATE: Wardell residents are asking Ballina Shire Council for a refund of part of their water charges after they protected their homes during the November fire.

But it was after he received his rates and charges notice that he requested a refund.

He had used his hose to fill the gutters of his home while it was under direct ember attack.

The council staff, as a guide, note that fire protection for an ember attack, may require "up to six continuous hours of active protective measures."

Staff have calculated that "six hours of continuous water usage from a 20mm water meter" equates to 4Kl per hour, which, at $2.29 per Kl, costs $54.96.

The pensioner also used his hose to water down his property and put out fires on the lawns and gardens.

"In addition, in the period following the fires, additional watering down was completed in the clean-up, to combat the dust level and to encourage regrowth," staff report.

Staff report water usage for the property in the October-December quarter last year was 58Kl above the property's average water consumption for the previous two years, with an extra cost of $132.

The staff recommendation is for council to provide a maximum rebate of $65 for excess water use per property "above the typical water use".

The properties must be in an area declared to be a Section 44 fire zone under the NSW Rural Fire Services Act.

Staff report that council does not have any policies that deal with charges relief for residents

impacted by bushfire, other than a Financial Assistance (Hardship) - Rates and Charges Policy, which is a broader policy relating to financial hardship.

As at January 8, the NSW Office of Emergency Management reports 10 rural landholders were impacted by the Wardell fire, with one outbuilding destroyed.