Preston works to lower homeowners’ flood insurance costs

KINGWOOD — Cuts in government-backed flood insurance means higher rates for policy holders, but Preston’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is trying to help.

Help will come by Preston  working with the Community Rating System (CRS) for the National Flood Insurance Program. OEM/911 Director Duane Hamilton said last week that the county is rated  10 now by CRS.

But Preston  never enrolled in the program. Once Preston joins CRS, the county will be assessed. Points will be given, for example, for the database OEM maintains on  building permits. The county will have to document how it fulfills CRS requirements.

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting  a 9, which will drop everybody’s [flood insurance premium] 5 percent,” Hamilton said.

If the county goes to an 8, rates will drop 10 percent. Hamilton and Floodplain Coordinator Clark Nicklow are working with a retired emergency management director from Jefferson County who has experience with CRS. The former director lives in Preston now and is volunteering her expertise, Hamilton said.

“It’s just getting FEMA to recognize  the things we’ve been doing, giving us credit for it and dropping everybody’s rate,” Hamilton said.

Discounts of up to 45 percent are possible, according to CRS. Seven communities in the U.S. have reached the highest levels. They are Roseville and Sacramento County, Calif.; Tulsa, Okla.; King,  Pierce and Thurston counties, Wash.; and Fort Collins, Colo. Only Roseville is a Class 1; the others are Class 2.

Hamilton and Nicklow  asked the Preston County Commission for a letter of intent to join the program, which Commissioners Dave Price, Samantha Stone and Don Smith agreed to provide.

The National Flood Insurance Program is the only flood insurance currently available, Hamiton said. It is administered by FEMA and, until recently, highly subsidized by FEMA. But those subsidies are being cut.

“People need to realize assistance for disasters is going to start going down,” Hamilton said. “You’re going to see less and less and less of this and eventually somebody that lives in a floodplain that doesn’t choose to get flood insurance probably is not going to receive any assistance.”

Sixty-one flood insurance policies have been issued in Preston County, but 696 structures fall within the flood zone, according to OEM.

Properties don’t have to be in the floodplain to buy flood insurance. Any surface water, including a plugged culvert that floods a house, qualifies. People outside the flood zone get  cheap rates on flood insurance, Hamilton said.

“But some of them go to their insurance agents  and they say, ‘Well, you’re not in the flood area, so you can’t buy it.’ Which isn’t true,” Hamilton. “It’s very important that we stay in this,” program.

Nicklow said the office is going to strive this year to educate realtors, homeowners and insurance companies about the importance of flood insurance.

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