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Politics

Attendance sparse at Citizens rate hike hearing


Published:   |   Updated: August 25, 2013 at 08:42 AM

TALLAHASSEE — The tab for Tuesday’s sparsely-attended public hearing in Tampa on proposed Citizens Property Insurance rate increases is already more than $11,500, according to records released Friday.

Only four members of the public spoke.

Other costs haven’t been invoiced yet and aren’t included in that tally, said Michael Peltier, spokesman for Citizens, which is paying.

The bill so far includes $3,000 for the ballroom rental at the Tampa Convention Center, $3,500 for audio-visual equipment rental and setup and $2,475 in hotel rooms for staff.

“Some of the folks who went to Tampa are still on the road,” Peltier said. “They piggybacked the hearing with other stops in the region and farther south.”

Raising rates has become a yearly habit for Citizens. Its board previously approved a request to raise rates by an average of 7 percent statewide next year, costing its more than 1 million policyholders a total of an extra $178 million.

At a 2011 Tampa hearing on proposed rate hikes, hundreds of people showed up, Peltier added. On Tuesday, workers set up hundreds of chairs for throngs that didn’t come this time.

“We used that (previous hearing) as a guidepost but weren’t sure how many would come,” Peltier said. “I was surprised by the low turnout, especially given that the hearing itself got a pretty fair amount of advance press.”

The Tribune and other news media published or broadcast stories about the hearing beforehand, and the hearing was covered by the Tribune and other print and broadcast news outlets.

Some people, however, were unaware of the hearing in downtown Tampa until they read about it afterward.

“Holding a public hearing in a difficult area to navigate during rush hour is a farce,” Tribune reader Laura Henley of Land O’ Lakes wrote in an email.

The hearing began at 4 p.m. and was scheduled to run till 8 p.m., though it concluded about an hour early.

“If the regulators truly wanted to hear from the public they would publicize and make it convenient for citizens to participate,” she said.

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Former state Rep. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, had asked for a hearing to be held in the area.

He resigned his seat to accept Gov. Rick Scott’s appointment as Pasco County tax collector after the death of Mike Olson.

“It was in a location difficult to get to for many Pasco residents,” Fasano said. “And I think the average customer is just disgusted with the whole process and thinks, ‘Why bother?’ I truly believe that.”

Premiums could go up for traditional homeowners insurance and sinkhole insurance. The increases have to be approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation this fall.

Citizens, a not-for-profit government corporation formed in 2002 as the state’s insurer of last resort, has more than 1.2 million policies in force.

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The company is capped at 10 percent on rate increases, which it says could leave it in the red when it’s time to pay for future claims.

That cap, on homeowners rates, doesn’t apply to sinkhole coverage. Sinkhole premiums are being raised in phases in Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. The Tampa Bay area has the highest sinkhole rates in the state.

Comments on the rate increases will be accepted till Aug. 30 via email. Address them to ratehearings @floir.com and write “Citizens” in the subject line.

As of Friday, the office reported it had received 136 emails.

Also, a recording of the hearing is available on the website of The Florida Channel, the state’s government-access television service. It can be reached at <tbo.ly/17QMe4P>.

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO

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