City must act now to keep discount on flood insurance rates

Angie Lester, an administrative coordinator in Fernandina Beach’s Building Department, is on a mission.

As she enters her 11th year with the city, Lester finds herself in a battle to respond to recent changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program, its Flood Insurance Manual and its Community Rating System.

Due to changes to a scoring system that went into effect April 1, FEMA has given the city a preliminary CRS assignment of Class 8, down from its current assignment of Class 6. That doesn’t sit well with Lester, who led successful efforts to improve the city’s assignment from Class 7 in 2013.

The city of Fernandina Beach voluntarily participates in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The CRS is meant to encourage communities to engage in proactive floodplain management efforts. In return, participating communities earn classifications that translate into flood insurance discounts for citizens.

The city’s current Class 6 assignment earns a 20-percent flood insurance savings for city residents and businesses located within FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Areas, and a 10-percent savings for those outside those areas. The city’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps were updated a year ago after an extensive scientific review by FEMA.

A final assignment class reduction would negatively affect the flood insurance discounts that the city’s property owners enjoy by being part of the CRS incentive program.

An official from the Insurance Services Office, which reviews CRS applications and oversees the program on behalf of FEMA, expressed considerable confidence that the city of Fernandina Beach will retain its current Class 6 assignment without interruption and also confirmed the city has until May 1, 2019 to meet the necessary requirements.

Lester is already aiming to improve the city’s CRS assignment to a Class 5 by May 1, 2020.

“I want people to have confidence that we are looking into this,” she said. “It’s not something I take very lightly. In fact, I take it personally. I am meeting with a private consultant who’s an expert in CRS in order to help the city understand how the change in manuals and scoring systems resulted in a lower score. We will identify ways to mitigate the drop in score.”

Lester has Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin’s unwavering support.

“We went to the new scoring system, we understood it. Unfortunately, Angie didn’t get some of the mid-level management support that she needed,” Martin said. “That came to my attention – the gap between her efforts and the additional efforts that were necessary. So that’s where I think we’re picking up moving forward.” 

Martin added, “We understood that with the new scoring system there were going to be some new challenges, but we don’t think we were scored appropriately, especially with some of the efforts the city – especially Angie – has done.”

For its ongoing outreach efforts, the city also continues to partner with colleagues from other Florida communities, including Collier County’s FEMA Floodplain Coordinator (and former Nassau County NFIP-CRS Coordinator) Christopher Mason.

 “It will be a very aggressive effort on our part over the next few months,” Martin said.

In continuing the community outreach standards that helped earn its current Class 6 assignment, the city conducts public workshops at City Hall. The next workshop is set for Oct. 9, and the City Commission will be present. All concerned stakeholders including the public are encouraged to attend.

Martin said the upcoming workshop is a separate meeting with the City Commission and is “solely devoted to floodplains.” He also stressed it will be held after conventional business hours.

“I’m not a fan of daytime meetings because I think it sends a hidden message that you’re trying to minimize public participation. That’s a personal philosophy of mine. I think you can’t have a meeting earlier than six o’clock if you really want to promote public participation.” Martin said. “Now that’s not to say that people who work a second or third shift aren’t going to have trouble, but the preponderance of people are available at six o’clock at night.”

The Oct. 9 workshop is critical in forging a coordinated effort to update the city’s current floodplain ordinance to comply with the new NFIP Flood Insurance Manual.

“As part of this floodplain ordinance, at the first reading there were some concerns voiced by interested individuals – whether they were contractors, architects, builders, whatever,” Martin said. “We promised them that we need to pass the first reading to get that process in motion to support our review. But at the same time we recognized that they needed a better forum to voice their concerns. So we said we’re going to put off the second reading of the ordinance until after we have this public workshop or forum, so they can share their professional concerns with the City Commission.”

Martin continued: “So the City Commission just isn’t going to solely rely on staff. They will hear from the people, so that this will have a better and bigger impact on their livelihood than it will on our livelihood as city staff. ... So we want to have that dialogue and give those other parties that have a vested interest in this an opportunity to share their concerns with the City Commission before the City Commission makes its final decision.”

News-Leader

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