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Date of Issue: September 27, 2007

Insurance: Holmes Beach residents will pay more for flood insurance

Steve Gilbert, pictured here in his Bradenton Beach office, is a contracted building official for two Anna Maria Island cities. Islander Photo: Molly McCartney
Island insurance agent Mark Mixon is upset that the flood insurance premium for his Holmes Beach property will be higher than it would be in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Molly McCartney

Starting Oct. 1, property owners in Anna Maria City will pay 10 percent less for flood insurance than those in Bradenton Beach or Holmes Beach.

Bradenton Beach property owners are due for lower flood insurance premiums beginning May 2008.

But there is no break in sight for Holmes Beach property owners buying flood insurance.

The explanation for all this is complex.

According to the federal government’s established rating system for flood insurance, it awards points based on steps communities take on a voluntary basis to reduce flood risks.

But it would appear - after reviewing what the three cities have done to qualify for reduced flood insurance premiums - that Anna Maria has been the most successful, followed by Bradenton Beach, in racking up the points needed for better federal ratings and lower premiums.

Holmes Beach has the fewest points of the three cities and it will soon have the Island’s highest flood policy premiums.

Here is a summary of where the three cities stand in the Community Rating System, which is a part of the federal flood insurance program:

  • Anna Maria will be in Class 5 Oct. 1, with 2,562 points. That means its property owners will be eligible for a 25 percent discount - 10 percent more than in the past - on flood insurance beginning Oct. 1. The city was in Class 7 at 1,863 points before earning additional points in its May audit.
  • Bradenton Beach has advanced to Class 6, with 2,172 points, and will be eligible for a 20 percent discount on flood premiums beginning May 2008. That’s 5 percent more than the discount now in effect for that city’s residents, which was in Class 7 with 1,715 points before earning additional points in June.
  • Holmes Beach is in Class 7, with 1,502 points and a 15 percent discount. The city has been in this class with the same points and the same discount since 2004.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger blamed the rating system:

“We’ve been shortchanged, and we’re going to ask for another audit. There’s no way on this earth that Anna Maria has better stormwater management than we do or better floodplain management. We’re looking into the discrepancies in the report and it will be corrected as soon as possible.”

The mayor also said the city will take other steps to improve its point total, including sending employees to programs where they can be certified as stormwater managers.

But even if Holmes Beach succeeds in bumping up its points, it could be months or even years before its property owners get lower flood policy premiums because of the time it takes for community action to move through the complexities of the federal rating system and come out the other end of the pipeline with premium discounts.

How complex is the rating system?

There are 18 activities recognized as measures for eliminating exposure to floods. Credit points are assigned to each activity. The are four main categories of activities: public information, mapping and regulation, flood-damage reduction and flood preparedness.

The carrot that makes it worth a community’s effort to win points is the premium discount that comes with federal approval of the community actions. The discounts can range from as little as 5 percent to as much as 45 percent.


Thank Mixon

You can thank Holmes Beach insurance agent Mark Mixon of Jim Mixon Insurance Inc. for calling attention to the discrepancy - the fact that property owners in Holmes Beach will be paying more for flood insurance than those in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

 “As a resident of a Holmes Beach who lives within one block of the city limits of Anna Maria, I’m upset that I will be paying more on my insurance,” Mixon said.

Mixon contacted Mayor Bohnenberger, among others, and asked for an explanation.

“He informed me that they send out the same information that Anna Maria sends out,” Mixon said.

In a telephone interview with The Islander Friday, Sept. 20, the mayor said he was working with city officials to review the various categories of the rating system to identify steps the city can take to qualify for more points.

For example, the city of Holmes Beach does not have a certified floodplain manager.

“But I just met this morning with our superintendent of public works and as soon as there is a [floodplain management] certification program within reasonable distance of the city, we plan on sending three people who could then be certified,” Bohnenberger said.

That would earn Holmes Beach points, as it has already done for both Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

Bohnenberger also believes that Holmes Beach can increase its points by restating what it has done with stormwater management projects.

“I think our stormwater management is second to none,” he said. “That area over by the chamber of commerce building used to be under water every time it rained, but we built a retention pond there to improve the drainage.”

It is up to the city, however, to make its case with the federal auditors and that could take a considerable amount of time.


Contractors and chocolate chip cookies

Anna Maria City managed to attain its Class 5 rating in October 2006, under the direction of Kevin Donohue, then working as the city’s building inspector and community rating system coordinator.

Donohue has since left that job for private employment.

Bradenton Beach earned its Class 6 ranking earlier this year when Ed McAdam was serving as the city’s building official.

McAdam also has since left that job.

The replacement for both McAdam and Donohue is Steve Gilbert, a certified building official employed by M.T. Causley Inc., a Homestead-based firm that employs more than 100 people and specializes in construction inspections, testing and consulting.

Gilbert’s company has been doing contract work for Bradenton Beach since June. The contract with Anna Maria began in July.

Sitting in his Bradenton Beach office on Friday, Gilbert explained the work that has been done by both Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria to achieve additional points and bigger flood policy premium discounts for property owners.

“You have to look at the way this grading system works” to achieve the points available to your community, he said, “because there is some subjectivity in the grading system itself.

“Technically, you can get up to 30 points for a newsletter,” he said, “but you might get only 10 points because the person doing the grading may say it’s a newsletter but it isn’t a very good newsletter.”

Gilbert said the “folks who are familiar with the rating system learn which tricks get you the most points with the least amount of effort.”

Designing local ordinances to lower flood risk can get you more points, he said. But implementing those ordinances can lead to “screams” from affected property owners who want the lower insurance rates but may not like the new rules that led to the reduced rates.

Gilbert sees the premium discount offer as a “chocolate chip cookie” intended to persuade individual communities to upgrade their stormwater management and take other flood risk reduction actions.

Anna Maria Island, he believes, has an opportunity to win an even bigger cookie if the three communities would come together to establish a joint stormwater study committee.

“For one thing, it would streamline the ordinance process,” he said. “Instead of writing two or three ordinances, you could do one. And second you could go together for grant funds or grant in-kinds and the chances go way up. Your chances for permits also are better because if it is just Anna Maria applying, so what? If it is just Bradenton Beach, so what? But if is all three, working as a single, unified entity, that will raise some eyebrows and open some ears in Tallahassee.”


Flood Insurance Discounts for Residents of AMI

City Class Points October 2007 Discount May 2008 Discount
Anna Maria 5 2,562 25% 25%
Bradenton Beach 6 2,172 15% 20%
Holmes Beach 7 1,502 15% 15%
Source: Community Rating System, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Flood Insurance Program