DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners were grateful Tuesday for news of a possible four-year delay of new flood insurance regulations that could affect more than 31,000 property owners in the county.
“It’s great, because the rates they’re quoting would be economically devastating,” Commissioner Jack Mariano said.
Commissioners had scheduled the work session to focus on various issues related to flooding and changes to the National Flood Insurance Program. Though only 20 percent of flood policies nationwide will see rates go up as part of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, Florida — and especially the Tampa Bay area — will be hit harder than most parts of the nation.
“This isn’t just a coastal issue,” said Cindy Jolly, program manager for the county’s stormwater division. “It’s countywide. There are properties in Dade City and Zephyrhills that are affected.”
Homes built before communities entered the flood program and drew up floodplain maps in the early 1970s have received artificially low rates for decades; the federal government is eliminating those subsidies.
Pinellas County has the highest number of those older properties in the country, estimated at more than 50,000, including condos and businesses, and Hillsborough County has nearly 22,000 single-family homes being effected.
Of Pasco’s 31,000-plus flood policies, 11,413 receive the federal subsidies. Jolly said the county has been working to reduce the number of policyholders who would be affected. Flood maps have been updated and digitized for much of central Pasco — a process that took 4,000 structures out of the 100-year floodplain so they no longer require flood insurance.
The county is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to revise the flood maps for west Pasco and is updating maps for the southeastern part of the county. Those revisions should be in place by 2017, Jolly said.
Commissioner Henry Wilson said the bipartisan effort in Congress to delay the rate increases would give Pasco enough time to “get all of our data together and get our facts together.”
Legislation filed Tuesday in Congress would freeze rates while FEMA conducts an affordability study of the flood insurance program. It’s one of several bills filed recently to mitigate the impact of the new regulations.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she’s not a fan of the delay tactic. “The problem with the delay is I want to buy and build a home on the water, and I have no idea what my insurance will be — so I have to roll the dice,” she said.
Starkey said she favors the approach taken by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who filed legislation last week that would cap the insurance rate increases and phase them in over 10 years.
Mariano said the uncertainty over flood insurance rates will make the county’s efforts to redevelop the U.S. 19 corridor even more difficult. He suggested Florida might be better off withdrawing from the NFIP since policyholders in the state have paid $4 into the program for every $1 in claims.
“I don’t want to start another Citizens (Property Insurance Corp.), but if we could keep the rates the same, we know there would be a surplus,” he said.