BROOKSVILLE — There is a bit of good economic news for hundreds of Hernando County homeowners trying to hold their heads above water in this tsunami of a recession.
Flood insurance policyholders who own property in so-called special flood hazard areas will see an additional 5 percent premium discount on policies renewed after Oct. 1. The flood prone areas are throughout the county, especially along the coast and the Withlachoochee River. There were 2,283 such policyholders as of this week, emergency management director Cecilia Patella said.
The savings are a result of the county's successful efforts to improve its rating with the National Flood Insurance Program. Hernando has moved up one notch to a Class 6 rating in the program's 10-tier Community Rating System. Class 1 is the highest tier.
Policyholders in Hernando's flood risk area already receive a 15 percent discount based on the county's current Class 7 rating, so the improvement will bring the total discount to 20 percent. That translates to an average savings of $303 per policy and about $690,000 total countywide, Patella said.
"This is really good news for our county," said Patella, who briefed the County Commission on the rating improvement last month and provided updated figures to the Times on Wednesday. "Just a handful (of communities) have achieved a 6 rating."
The rating program started in 1990 as a way to encourage communities to take actions to exceed minimum flood mitigation standards. Communities become eligible for the program by adopting a floodplain management ordinance and earn points by making efforts to reduce flood risks in the special flood areas.
The evaluations are done every five years. Discounts range from 5 to 45 percent.
The county earned most of its points by preserving open spaces, Patella said. Other evaluation categories include stormwater management and drainage system maintenance.
Policies renewed after Oct. 1 are eligible for the discount, Patella said.
"If they don't see it, they should be asking for it," she said.
The number of total flood policyholders has decreased in the county since early 2008, when the number surpassed 5,000, Patella said. The total number now is 4,696.
The savings will be welcome for Don Whiting's flood insurance policyholders.
"Of course they're going to respond very positive to lower costs," said Whiting, who owns Whiting Insurance in Spring Hill.
Patella worries that some policyholders may be forgoing flood insurance as money gets tight. Though mortgage holders are typically required by their lender to carry insurance, those who don't have a mortgage can take a gamble and save money by dropping the coverage.
Whiting says he has seen a few such cases. More often, though, policyholders struggling to make ends reduce their level of coverage and opt for a higher deductible with hopes the floodwater doesn't come, he said.
"They've been trying to get away with the highest deductible they can," he said.
Updated flood maps are on the way
The improved flood rating is expected to help residents who don't yet know they will benefit.
The county plans a series of public meetings next month on updated flood insurance rate maps. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has sent the maps to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to the county. The water management district used airplane-mounted radar systems and other tools to improve the maps, which haven't been updated since 1984.
More properties are expected to be included in the flood zones based on those updated maps, Patella said. That often means the owners will have to purchase flood insurance, but with this better community rating, "It won't be quite as painful," she said.
The maps will come before the Brooksville City Council on July 19 and the County Commission on July 27, said county spokeswoman Brenda Frazier.
Public forums for the maps are slated for Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. both days at Central High School, 14075 Ken Austin Parkway in Brooksville.
It's unclear when the maps take effect to set insurance rates because all appeals by property owners must be settled first, Frazier said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]