We must continue Citizens fights

By Steve Estes

It seems as though there is a definite disconnect between governmental perception of Monroe County and actual ramifications of governmental actions on Monroe County.

We are one of the few counties in Florida that are a donor county to both windstorm and flood insurance coffers. Each year, the state, through Citizens Property Insurance, collects considerably more in premiums from Monroe County property owners than it has ever paid out following any storm. Citizens has realized nearly a half billion dollars in profits from Monroe County over the last two decades. That profit is used to subsidize non-profit rates for other counties in Florida.

And while Monroe is no longer top of the heap in rates paid per capita, it is still a donor county for the rest of the state.

Citizens tries every year to jack up Monroe County’s rates to what it calls an actuarially sound amount, even knowing that they make more profit off Monroe County than any other county of its size in the state.

And even with a supposed Legislative cap of 10 percent in increases per year, Citizens last week suggested to the Office of Insurance Regulation that a 126 percent increase in premiums might be in order for the southernmost county.

Why?

We still pay more every year in premiums than Citizens has ever spent in claims here. We still have the strongest building codes in the state. We still have a population that is more cognizant of hurricane protection through shutter installation and storm-resistant doors and windows than probably any other in the state.

Citizens has spent the last two years trying to negate our first-hand knowledge of storm preparedness and recovery. Through an ill-advised re-inspection program, Citizens took away millions of dollars in mitigation credits by only accepting manufactured shutters with the “correct” stamp for mitigation. Common sense tells anyone with a brain that three-quarter-inch plywood attached with large screws serves to be as much of a deterrent as molded aluminum.

How do we know this? We’ve been there. We’ve done that. And we have a dearth of wind claims to prove both.

Yet we are the ones chosen to see drastic rate increases?

The local grassroots organization Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe (FIRM) is gearing up again to fight what we all know to be unjust increases in windstorm premiums.

FIRM has consistently and persistently pointed out to Citizens’ management that we are not like everyone else in the state.

But we are smaller than most.

From a strict money-crunching standpoint, because Monroe has such a high property valuation with so small a population, sometimes our elected leaders from other parts of the state just write off our issues as those of spoiled rich kids.

Nothing is further from the truth. There is as large a percentage of retirees on fixed income in Monroe County as anywhere else in the state. There is as large a percentage of two-wage-earner households living paycheck to paycheck as anywhere else in the state.

But those folks sacrifice mightily to remain in what we call paradise.

That makes them dedicated…not rich.

We applaud FIRM for its continuing assault on the wrong perceptions of Monroe County in Tallahassee and elsewhere.

And we would like to remind the Citizens governing board, appointed by our profit-motivated Governor, that they agreed to fund an actuarial study for Monroe County to determine if we pay more than we get from the state-run insurer of last resort, the insurer of only resort for us.

This is simply another is a long list of reasons why we have previously endorsed Monroe County ditching Citizens and using our own resources to establish a self-insurance pool for windstorm. And we will continue to endorse that avenue.

We would be doing exactly what the Governor mandated to Citizens, helping the company depopulate its policy holdings….by as much as 30,000 in one fell swoop, and we would be setting up a scenario where the profits from our rate-payer owned company can go toward fair settlements to our rate payers, and decisions would be from a pool of people familiar with the local regulations.

Once the study is complete, there is a good chance a private insurer will be willing to accept a paltry $30 million or more a year in profits for the chance to serve Monroe County.

Citizens needs to keep its rate increases off our books until we have definitive answers to the study they funded.

Get all the information on the table. Then make decisions.

That’s governance by reality rather than by perception.

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