Bexar County commissioners on Tuesday kick-started a program designed to connect plumbers to people in need of pipe repairs after February’s devastating winter storm.

County commissioners voted unanimously to approve a contract with local company A-Ram Plumbing, Inc. as part of the “I Need a Plumber Program.” The program dispatches plumbers to Bexar County residents’ homes if they have not been able to get repair services or cannot afford to pay for the services upfront, said David Marquez, executive director of the Bexar County Economic Development Department.

The plumber dispatch program is part of a $5 million pipe repair fund approved by commissioners in February. Spearheaded by Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (D1), the County Plumbing Assistance Program allows residents who make 80% or less of the area median income (AMI) to apply for reimbursement up to $1,500 for pipe repairs related to the winter storm. The freezing temperatures knocked water and power offline for many residents and damaged pipes all around the region. 

Applicants must reside in unincorporated Bexar County or one of its municipalities. There is a separate assistance program for residents of the City of San Antonio.

Under the I Need a Plumber Program, County expenses also would be capped at $1,500 per job.

More than 120 people have already applied for the reimbursement portion of the program, and another 50 have applied for a plumber to be dispatched, Marquez said.

The contract calls for licensed plumbers to be paid $100 an hour for repair work, Marquez said. The plumbers charge $35 if they respond to a repair request and assess the problem, but do not make repairs.

A-Ram Plumbing is currently the only plumbing company signed on to the assistance program, but the County wants to add more plumbers to meet demand as the County receives more applications, Marquez said. 

“It was always our intention to have more,” he said. “We envisioned, when Commissioner Clay-Flores brought it forward, that we would need – just by the size of the county – one or two in each quadrant, just to try to eliminate them having to drive from the far East Side to the far West Side or vice versa. In trying to set it up quickly, this firm was available … but we can certainly go back and look for additional plumbers.”

Some commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the City of San Antonio for not committing funds to help its residents with pipe repair costs. San Antonio residents can apply for assistance through the Community Pipe Repair fund, which Mayor Ron Nirenberg launched last month. But that fund is comprised entirely of private donations, Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) noted.

 “I’m a little bit perturbed that the City’s not putting any skin in the game here,” Rodriguez said. “… Maybe the judge can help put pressure on the mayor to put a little bit more City money or a City dollar into this program. Because, again, those are folks that are in need, and they don’t necessarily distinguish between whether or not it’s the County or City. They just want help.”

The Community Pipe Repair fund is administered by the San Antonio Area Foundation and SAWS. Find more information on donating and applying here.

County Manager David Smith said the County considered partnering with SAWS on a plumbing assistance fund, but the utility uses federal poverty guidelines as a qualifying threshold, which would have limited how many residents could apply.

People who rely on wells for water or who are not SAWS customers can also apply for reimbursement for pipe repairs, Marquez said.

“Our program is also agnostic to where the water comes from,” he said.

Bexar County residents who live outside the City of San Antonio can apply for the plumbing assistance program online or by calling 210-631-6000. Applications are available in English and Spanish, and applicants must affirm they are not seeking reimbursement from homeowners insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, SAWS, or other funding sources.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.