Officials concerned with flood insurance rate hikes

County and municipal officials discussed the effect the passing of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 is having on the area, as many in the county’s flood plains are seeing skyrocketing flood insurance rates.

County Commissioner Tony Mussare called the reform “devastating” to those with property in the flood plains of the area during Monday’s boroughs association meeting.

“It’s going to affect our people and a lot of these people have medium to low incomes,” he said.

About 10 percent of the county’s 53,000 parcels are in a flood plain. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about 1,900 of those parcels will be affected by the new law.

Fellow county Commissioner Jeff Wheeland explained that one property owner in Montoursville with whom he’s had discussions said he has received a flood insurance quote for $13,500 for the year for his $86,000 property.

Fran McJunkin, county deputy director of GIS and assessment, explained that the new legislation will not affect structures that were built post-1981 and in accordance with local flood ordinances.

But for those that were not built according to ordinances, municipalities and property owners must find ways to update properties to keep insurance rates low.

The main issue for many of the structures in flood plains is that they have basements, which are not allowed in those areas.

Solutions to help lower flood insurance rates are to update the structure to comply with ordinances. This can be done by filling in basements and elevating structures above the base flood elevation.

When asked about how a property owner can afford to do the updates since loans will be difficult to secure as property values are decreasing because of the legislation, McJunkin said that is one issue that needs to solved.

McJunkin explained that beginning with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the onslaught of damaging storms in recent years created a “hole” financially for the National Flood Insurance program.

“Katrina was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

The problem is that many of those affected who receive aid from FEMA do not have flood insurance and don’t contribute toward it. McJunkin reported that in Pennsylvania, only about 25 to 30 percent of those affected by floods carry flood insurance.

And if a solution is not made, municipalities could be the ones hurting. As McJunkin explained, it will be up to the municipalities to “pick up the slack” when property owners walk away from a property they no longer are able to afford.

“This is not just a flood plain issue this is a whole municipality issue,” she said.

About 50 percent of Jersey Shore Borough is in the flood plain, but only 59 percent of those properties carry flood insurance, McJunkin reported.

To help themselves, municipalities must enforce their ordinances, McJunkin said.

“Failure to do so will cost the municipality,” she said.

Wheeland said the county and its municipalities must educate its constituents and send a message to the federal government on how the legislation is affecting the area and its residents.

The commissioners are planning on holding a formal public hearing in December to discuss the legislation.

“We have to send a message that it’s an issue and they have to get us out of this mess,” Wheeland said.