FIRM support should be a given

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners has agreed to allow its staff to use time and resources to conduct some detailed research to aid the citizen’s group Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe.

FIRM has been fighting a years-long effort to keep Citizens Insurance, the state-run insurer of last resort for windstorm coverage, and the only insurer for windstorm coverage in the Keys, from jacking up rates here to the point where insurance for windstorm coverage doesn’t force homeowners into bankruptcy.

In the last seven years, Citizens has tried to push up rates for Monroe County more than double at least twice, and has been pushed back each time by the efforts of FIRM.

During the first fight, when a loss would have meant rates almost double in one year, the county commission actually tossed some money FIRM’s way because the effort made sense for every property owner in the Keys.

And, just as an aside, it didn’t hurt that an already leaky county budget didn’t have to take that big hit for windstorm rates either.

But the rest of us are not like the county government in paying windstorm rates. We have no taxpayer pocket to reach into to cover the cost of invalid windstorm rates and simply recoup the money with a shuffling of resident-services funding cuts. We have only one pocket to reach into, and that belongs to us.

That the rates for Monroe County are invalid is already well known, even by the officials at Citizens. But Citizens officials have procedure, statute, industry standard and a host of other buzz words to hide behind while they pour nearly $62 million of our money every year into the profit column of the non-profit insurance giant.

Citizens writes just under 26,000 policies in the Keys. Except in extreme circumstances, no other company writes windstorm insurance here. We have no choices.

Yes this much is obvious.

What isn’t obvious to us, however, is why the commission even has to be asked to help FIRM in the fight against unfair windstorm rates.

Every time FIRM wins a battle against Citizens, the property owners benefit, but so does the county by decreased windstorm rates on public facilities. The savings from that will more than offset what the commission might throw at FIRM to help them in the fight.

Right now, FIRM is asking to use county staff to do research on building strengths, roof types, and a host of other building-related questions to use when they go to Citizens to fight the unfairness of the loss model based on the strongest building code in the state.

FIRM also plans to do the research to determine the flood-versus-wind loss ratio, which anyone who lives here knows is well weighted toward water.

And once all that research is done, FIRM needs to find the money to fund the actuarial study that will prove Citizens’ numbers are just plain old crap.

Here is where our county commission comes in, along with every other governmental entity in the Keys that owns a building, which is all of them.

Dig into the pool of taxpayer money, set aside the $350,000 that will be needed to fund the study that will in the end serve to enrich the taxpayer through potentially lower rates. The last rate increase FIRM fought off meant $20 million per year not lost to the Keys economy.

The trade off is, again, obvious.

But we maintain that these are things that FIRM shouldn’t have to ask for. Our elected leadership at all local levels should simply be waiting in the wings to fund something this important, and this beneficial, to the people they ultimately serve.

If the choice is to stay with Citizens and not branch into our own windstorm risk pool, which we have long maintained is a better choice in the long run for the Keys, then the governments here need to be ready to help all of us with our money to help us save some of that money.

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