ALBANY -- After more than three years of what Fire Chief Carswell said was city and countywide teamwork, the Insurance Services Organization has determined the Albany Fire Department is now a level 2 organization, which will mean millions of dollars in savings to some local property owners on their insurance premiums.
Property owners in the city will not see a decrease because insurance companies do not provide different rates for levels 2 and 3. However, homeowners in the county, where the ISO level was previously at a level four, will see up to a 10 percent reduction in their premiums Carswell said.
"This is a big step for us as a department," Carswell said. "Being a level 2 department puts us in the top 1 percent in all of the departments in the country and is something our residents should be proud of."
The change will likely affect commercial properties the most, with some big industries like Flint River Services, likely to see upwards of $300,000 in savings.
Typically audited every ten years, the reduction in the level wasn't guaranteed. In fact, fire officials were told to expect an increase.
"We knew an audit was coming so we asked Mr. (City Manager Alfred) Lott if we could hire a consultant to assess the department and it looked as though we were going to actually go up to a level five. So we had fight and claw our way to even break even and we ended up with a two," Carswell said.
That consultant, Skip Starling of National Fire Services, commended the department for bucking the trend of other departments across the country.
"You all don't realize how privileged you are to have a department that didn't retrograde their rating," he said. "Instead of of causing premiums to go up by millions, you all will save millions because of the hard work of these people."
The level 2 rating deepens the contrast with surrounding counties. Lee County's best rating is ISO level six in the southernmost portion of the county which borders Dougherty County.
The disparity means that houses of equal value on either side of Ledo Road will see between a 19 percent to 48 percent difference in insurance premiums depending upon the insurance company and other variables.
Rick Muggridge, an Alpha Insurance Company representative and Lee County Commissioner, commended the Albany Fire Department Wednesday for its accomplishments and said Lee and Dougherty County and the city of Albany should work together to foster better relations in terms of a mutual aid agreement.
"I think Lee County and Dougherty County need to work together more for the benefit of our residents. Yes, we are two different counties with two slightly different personalities, but as a region, we're all in this together," he said. "If one prospers, the other will as well and if one withers, the other will follow."
One industry likely to have split results on the ISO situation is retail giant Wal-Mart. Their Ledo Road location which is just feet from the Dougherty County line in Lee County, and would likely save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year if they were located within the boundaries of Albany and Dougherty County.
But in East Albany, where plans are to begin construction on a new Wal-Mart facility by February 1, 2010 -- the day the new ISO level goes into effect -- the corporation is expected to save significant money by building inside the city limits.