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PR officials complain about flood insurance rates

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PORT RICHEY — Since more than half of homeowners here could face steep jumps in flood insurance premiums, Port Richey City Council members recently expressed their dismay about the impact from changes to the federal program.

On a percentage-increase basis, “We’re affected worse than anybody,” Councilman Bill Colombo said.

The potential exists that 561 homes in the city out of 1,009 could be affected by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, according to numbers supplied by City Manager Tom O’Neill. Because of the law, homeowners in coastal areas around the United States are facing higher flood insurance rates.

In Port Richey, that means roughly 55.5 percent of homeowners could see sharply higher flood insurance rates.

“Folks are really, really going to get hammered by this,” Colombo said.

Federal and state lawmakers seem to be focused on temporary measures to delay the flood insurance increases during a fragile economy, Colombo said. He, however, would like to see permanent solutions for the National Flood Insurance Program.

The 45-year-old NFIP has a deficit of about $20 billion.

“It’s really taking people by surprise,” Councilwoman Nancy Britton said. Several residents have called her to talk about flood insurance in the past few months.

Even insurance companies and agents don’t seem to have much information about three months ago, Britton said. She tried calling her own agent and couldn’t find out much.

Columbo believes Congress expected details to be handled at an administrative level, which apparently didn’t happen.

People here who had been paying $1,000 annually for flood insurance could face $12,000, Colombo said. Britton said a rate increase of that magnitude would depress the value of her home.

Port Richey isn’t an affluent city like some Pinellas coastal communities where many owners maintain vacation homes, Colombo said.

The jump in flood insurance premiums could make it more difficult to sell a house in an “already depressed market” for real estate, Mayor Eloise Taylor said.

Perhaps the city could help its residents to obtain the base flood elevation certificates to be submitted to NFIP, resident Carl Roth suggested to city council members.

Roth said he had attended the Pasco County town hall meeting led by Commissioner Kathryn Starkey on Sept. 30.

Roth said he learned a lot about the national flood insurance program from the presentation by Cindy Jolly, project manager for the Pasco stormwater management division.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, continues to work toward delaying flood insurance rate changes for the next year, Summer Robertson, an aide to Bilirakis, said at the town hall meeting.

Bilirakis has sent two letters — one to House leadership and another to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials — regarding this issue, his press secretary, Sarah Criser, said Friday.

Bilirakis was also an original co-sponsor of the Flood Insurance Fairness Act.

State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is coordinating with Bilirakis on delaying the large jump in flood insurance premiums, Simpson aide Judy Parker said.

The council has approved a resolution to forward to lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott urging repeal of or changes to the Biggert-Waters act.

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