Flood insurance premiums are heading down in two Tampa Bay area counties as a reward for improved efforts to protect floodplains and increase public safety.
Residents in high-risk flood areas of Pinellas County will receive a 15 percent discount on coverage (up from 10 percent) while Hernando County residents in flood zones will see a 20 percent discount (up from 15 percent).
The improved discounts, which apply to property owners with mandatory flood coverage, stem from a recent "Community Rating System" review by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the national flood insurance program.
Every three to five years, FEMA visits sites to verify that communities are complying with national standards for managing floodplains and encouraging residents to take out flood insurance. Whether a community's rating goes up or down or remains unchanged affects how much residents have to pay for coverage.
Effective Oct. 1, Pinellas improved to a Class 7 (up from Class 8) while Hernando improved to a Class 6 (up from Class 7). Pinellas County has about 37,000 flood zone policyholders. Most of them will benefit from the increased discount. Hernando has more than 2,000 flood policies.
"It's a gold star for folks working there whenever someone jumps to a better designation," said FEMA spokeswoman Margaret "Jody" Cottrill. "This shows the hard work that local floodplain managers are doing."
Pinellas County officials said the higher rating was in part tied to the continued purchase of lands that preserve wetlands, open space and floodplains, particularly around Brooker Creek, Lake Tarpon, McKay Creek and Bear Creek. More beach renourishment projects also improved the county's standing.
Hernando County emergency management director Cecilia Patella attributed the improvement to both an educational push and efforts to acquire houses prone to flooding.
"In our outreach effort, we do a lot more than the minimum," Patella said, citing community open houses, representation at homeowners association meetings, and mailings about flood insurance sent to all property owners with their annual tax notice.
Among other area counties: Hillsborough County has been a Class 5 rating — currently the best in Florida — since 2007. That entitles policyholders in flood zones to a 25 percent discount. Both Pasco and Citrus counties are Class 7, which comes with a 15 percent discount.
The latest upgrade affects unincorporated areas of Pinellas.