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Governments in Florida feel insurance pinch, too

Florida homeowners aren't the only victims of canceled insurance policies and big rate hikes following Hurricane Andrew.

County and city governments in the state are taking it on the insurance chin, too.

The impact is most severe in South Florida, though a few city governments in the Tampa Bay area report sharp increases in insurance costs.

Dade County got the biggest sticker shock last month when it learned that its premiums for property insurance would triple to $6-million while coverage would drop from $4-billion to $150-million.

In Broward County, premiums will jump from $900,000 to $3.3-million a year for wind, fire and flood insurance.

Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom called the development "armed robbery," according to the Associated Press.

With a few exceptions, Tampa Bay so far has managed to escape such leaps in premiums and draconian reductions in coverage. But county and city officials in the area concede the insurance market is in turmoil and could get worse.

In St. Petersburg, the city found its total insurance coverage fell by a third, even though premiums roughly doubled to about $500,000 a year, said city risk manager Bill Fisher.

"We found a lot of carriers were afraid to absorb the amount of insurance coverage that they normally were able to handle," he said.

Tampa fared no better. The biggest of the city's insurance policies was not renewed this year by Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. After shopping for a new policy at more than 50 carriers, the best deal Tampa could find was a policy with Crum & Forster, with back-up coverage by USF&G.

In the event of a claim, Crum would cover the first $10-million, while USF&G would pick up the excess up to $320-million, said Deda Hertel, Tampa's risk and insurance coordinator.

But the price of such coverage nearly doubled to $352,000. "It's pretty bad for property insurance right now," said Hertel.

Nancy Rippert, risk manager with Pinellas County, and Flora Boles, risk coordinator for Hernando County, both said they had not encountered any significant problems with obtaining affordable insurance coverage. Pasco County's risk manager did not return phone calls.

Hillsborough County appears to be in the most enviable position. Last October, two months after Hurricane Andrew, county risk manager Charles Downey signed a deal with Cigna Insurance that guaranteed the county's insurance rates for three years.

"Government entities now would give their right arm" for such a policy, said Downey. "And I think Cigna would love to get out of that deal."

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.