Only one in four who applied get storm shelter rebates

Wednesday, November 23rd 2005, 10:34 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The state has awarded almost $5.2 million in rebates for the construction of tornado shelters, but only about 25 percent of Oklahomans who applied for the rebates received them.

Of 12,700 who applied, about 3,000 residents have received the rebates, which reimburse 75 percent of construction costs for tornado shelters and safe rooms, up to a maximum of $2,000.

``I guess this is just where you use your patience,'' said Helen Trammell, 60, of Edmond. ``I have submitted a rebate (application) twice and have heard that there is a waiting list in the thousands.''

Trammell's $2,400 shelter was installed in November 2003 in her garage. She's used it twice.

Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the state Emergency Management Department, said about 900 residents will receive rebates in the future, but that will deplete the funds.

Ooten said the state agency does not know how many residents actually built a shelter and were not reimbursed.

The rebate program was created in response to the May 8, 2003, tornadoes. An earlier rebate program followed the May 3, 1999, tornadoes.

Dan Cary, Cleveland County emergency management director, said he inspected shelters for six applicants who have not been reimbursed.

``We accepted everybody that wanted to participate in the program knowing full well we probably weren't going to have enough money for everyone that applied,'' he said. ``Once this program is over, it's over.''

Rusty Cooper, owner of Safety Shelters Unlimited, said every applicant he built a shelter for received money.

He said the state agency even gave extensions and sent duplicate checks to residents who lost their original.

``I can't do anything but talk good about it,'' he said. ``It basically comes down to the homeowners not understanding the letter they were reading.''

Donald Reynolds, 72, of Midwest City, said when he registered for the program, an employee told him he probably would not receive a rebate because he was not affected by the storms.

Because of that information, he decided to not build a shelter. He was surprised to receive a letter from the state three months ago _ a few days after the deadline for shelter installation _ telling him he was eligible for the rebate.

``I have to wait for the next tornado, which is a bad thing to be waiting for,'' he said. ``I didn't have the three grand to put in it. Certainly I would do it in a New York minute if there was financial assistance.''

Ooten said that if someone installed a shelter and won't receive a rebate, they at least have protection for the next storm.

``The next time there is a tornado...the silver lining is that we're most likely to have a rebate program,'' Ooten said.