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ISO categories set to change

ALBANY -- Local public safety and government officials are urging local property owners to check their home insurance rates for possible savings as rating used as determiner for most insurance rates will change towards their favor today.

The category given to the city of Albany and Dougherty County by the Insurance Services Organization or ISO, is set to click one step down on the rung to a category two in most locations.

That means that insurance providers who use ISO as a factor in determining their customer's rates will likely need to adjust those rates, possibly saving the average homeowner hundreds of dollars each year on their insurance premiums, Albany Fire Chief James Carswell said.

"It's important that those residential homeowners in the county check with their agents on their policy because in some places the savings could be significant," he said.

Within the city limits, people who own the home they live in likely won't see much of a change as their ISO level goes from a level three to a level two, Carswell said.

But in the county, where most of the homeowners are currently at a level four, the savings could be enough to shear off hundreds in insurance payments.

Dougherty County Administrator Richard Crowdis said that the county is sending out flyers to residents in the county urging them to contact their agents and talk about the ratings with them.

Rick Doherty, president of Doherty, Duggan, & Rouse insurers, said that while most reputable insurance agents will be proactive in telling their customers about the change, ultimately its up to the consumer to check.

"Those companies that are good, respectable and honest companies will be proactive and tell their customers about the change," he said. "But consumers should check and makes sure they are dealing with reputable people."

There is at least one property owner that will likely benefit substantially from the change.

A source familiar with the case, but who asked that their name be kept confidential because they weren't supposed to divulge insurance information, said that at least one home on the 6000 block of Newton Road has been paying a rate based on a level 10 -- the category for no fire protection at all.

When asked about the situation, Carswell said that homes in that area haven't been an ISO level 10 since at least 1984, when a fire station was built less than two miles away, and that the property should have changed again even more recently to a level four when the county put in water lines and hydrants several years ago.

The savings for that homeowner could top 70 percent.

Officials with Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine's office say that the best strategy is to communicate with insurance agents and contact their office if something sounds suspicious and they'll answer any questions.

"Most people have their insurance come out of escrow with their mortgage and don't really notice what's happening with their insurance," Spokesman Glenn Allen said. "But it's important to keep an eye on it."

Lydia Livingston, a personal lines agent with Doherty, Duggan & Rouse, said that some people have the misconception that they are powerless over their insurance coverage if it is tied to an escrow account.

"They think it's owned by the bank and that they can't do anything about it," she said. "There is nothing that says you can't alter, change, adjust or otherwise amend your policy because it's in escrow."

There are those pockets within the county where homeowners are at a level nine, but need only water lines to be run out to their neighborhoods to drop down to a level two, Carswell said.

County officials are considering putting a line item in the upcoming special local sales tax referendum that would including running water to those areas, saving them hundreds of dollars.

The ISO audit typically occurs every 10 years, but it had been nearly 20 years since Albany had been given a full ISO audit, Carswell said.

His advice?

"Well, just check. It doesn't hurt to look and make sure you're getting the savings you should be, even if you're in the city, just check your rates," he said.

There is a possibility that those who rent and take out renter's insurance within the city may see a change as well, although there are multiple variables in those types of cases.

Commercial structures will likely see a benefit to the change as well, which has prompted officials with the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Authority to use the ISO rating change as another tool to entice prospect companies to relocate here, officials said.

At the ISO change celebration, County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard, who also heads up the Payroll Development Authority touted the economic impact the change could bring.

The bottom line is companies look at their finite costs, their fixed costs of doing business," Sinyard said at the time. "One of those costs is fire protection. If they are able to save from $10,000 to $300,000, that makes a significant difference in where a company locates."

Managing Editor Danny Carter contributed to this story.