2 town hall meetings set on flood insurance

As Lycoming County residents face skyrocketing flood insurance rates and ongoing countywide reassessment, U.S. Rep. Thomas A. Marino, R-Cogan Station, and the county commissioners are holding two town-hall meetings, one on Thursday and the other on Saturday.

They will discuss the effects of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 on the reassessment and how it could negatively impact taxes and property values.

“This is probably the most significant piece of legislation that has become law that will negatively affect every property owner in the United States,” Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said. ” … Pretty much every property owner will be negatively impacted directly or indirectly as time unfolds. To what degree is what we are so unsure of.”

Commissioner Tony Mussare said, for example, if a house is devalued from $100,000 to $50,000, everyone else picks up the taxes.

“It could affect your taxes considerably,” Mussare said. “Call your congressmen … and say we need to rethink this.”

Wheeland agreed. “A grassroots movement is the only thing that’s going to get this thing fixed.”

One main problem is that assessors need to use real values of purchases and sellings of homes, but the Biggert-Waters law has caused sales of homes in floodplains to stall – so no further data on those homes can be gathered, Mussare said.

“Therein lies the problem: If nobody can sell their place, then we have no numbers,” he said.

Wheeland said the insurance rates are exorbitant.

“It’s akin to buying a $50,000 vehicle and paying $10,000 a year for insurance on it; no one will buy it. This is the problem homeowners are faced with,” Wheeland said.

In light of the situation, the commissioners are considering whether to postpone the 18-month reassessment, whose process began in early 2013.

“We will continue the process of reassessment as long as it’s data that’s still usable in the future,” Wheeland said. “The commissioners will make the final decision when we exceed the point of gathering accurate information.

“Unfortunately, we were caught in the middle of a reassessment during the roll-out (of this law). It’s frustrating to say the least, but we will do what is best for the taxpayers of Lycoming County, and will continue to fight for some sort of reform or adjustment or nullification of this law,” he added.

The meetings are being held in time for Marino to take the information back to Washington on Jan. 6 to present to Congress.

“This is an issue affecting thousands of residents across the 10th Congressional District, and I want to reassure those families and small business owners who are facing dramatically increased premiums that I am working with local and federal officials to see that flood insurance remains an affordable safety net for those that need it,” Marino said.

“A couple of weeks ago, I met with homeowners and storefront owners in Lycoming County – hardworking people who must now decide between wiping out their bank accounts or face foreclosure proceedings,” he added. “These town-hall meetings will be another opportunity to talk with my constituents, as well as continue to work with county officials to find solutions locally.”

The first meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Robert Wheeland Community Center, 1201 Locust St., Jersey Shore.

The second will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Old Lycoming Township Fire Hall, 1600 Dewey Ave.