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CARLTON FLETCHER: Move by Albany fire officials, Dougherty County may have $10 million impact

OPINION: ISO ruling could save homeowners thousands

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been turning.

Billy Joel

It’s become cliche, this habit we have of taking potshots at all public employees and elected officials in response to financial issues that ultimately impact our bottom line in a negative way. We need some justification for our anger, so we direct it toward people whose salaries are paid with our tax dollars.

I admit, there is a level of righteousness in play here. Those folks are spending our money, after all, so if we’re not satisfied with the return on investment, we have a right to complain. But this habit of knee-jerk condemnation has become too much of a go-to response.

And so many times it’s wrong.

An excellent case in point: Hundreds of homeowners in the unincorporated portion of Dougherty County have been obligated to pay outrageously high home insurance premiums because they fail to meet one of two requirements dictated by the Insurance Services Office, the agency that establishes insurance standards worldwide. ISO standards dictate that homes located within 5 miles of a fire station and within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant are eligible to receive the lowest possible fire rating within the county in which they’re located.

The lower the rating, the lower the insurance premiums.

The 1,200 or so homeowners in Dougherty County most severely punished by this ISO requirement are those whose residences are located within 5 miles of a fire station but not within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant. Those individuals have had their insurance premiums determined based on having “9” ratings, the second-worst rating a dwelling can be given. Neighbors only a few hundred feet closer to a fire hydrant are eligible to receive “2” ratings, the second-best rating given by ISO.

The difference is significant. A prospectus prepared by insurer Reynolds Shugart & Associates shows that a relatively modest $145,000 home in the county that’s located in an area with a 9 rating would pay $2,298 per year in premiums for a simple homeowner policy. That same home located in an area with a 2 rating would pay $1,111 annually.

“That’s based on an average-sized home,” Albany Fire Chief James Carswell noted. “A lot of those homes impacted by the 5-mile, 1,000-foot requirement are much larger. And when you get into commercial property, you’re talking about significantly more money.”

At the suggestion of a fire safety consultant, Carswell and his staff decided recently to look into an ISO ruling made in tiny Rincon, Ga. The agency agreed that if the responding fire department in that north Georgia city could lay hose with enough pressure to flow 250 gallons of water a minute for a two-hour period and could get the hose laid out for delivery within 15 minutes, that would make up for property not being within 1,000 feet of a hydrant.

Carswell, Assistant Chief Ron Rowe and others with the department started doing a little investigative work. When they discovered ISO had given credit in a Colorado community under similar circumstances to property as far as 8,000 feet from a hydrant, they started testing their firefighters.

“We had no trouble whatsoever getting the hoses in place and delivering the required amount of water up to 6,000 feet from a hydrant,” Carswell said.

Confident his department could meet ISO requirements, Carswell took a proposal to the Dougherty County Commission: You get us four vehicles to deliver the hose — one for each fire station located outside Albany’s city limits — and get us enough high-pressure hose to deliver the water, and we’ll give a lot of homeowners in the county lower insurance rates.

“It’s not very often you have an opportunity to get a (10-year) $10 million return on a (one-time) $623,000 investment,” Carswell said, indicating the cost of the service truck/hose tender vehicles and 24,000 feet of hose. “And there’s a multiplier to that money, too. It’s not just insurance savings. When people keep more of their income, they spend more of it in the community.”

The County Commission did its part Monday, approving the equipment purchases that will allow the fire department to apply to the ISO for approval of lower ratings of impacted residences. Once the ISO does an audit of AFD — which is due soon — those homeowners should be eligible to immediately start reaping the benefits.

Not too many people are ever going to be happy about paying taxes. But before they offer blanket condemnation of all county employees for “wasting” their hard-earned money, there are 1,200 homeowners in unincorporated Dougherty County who should consider the elected officials and public servants who are obviously looking out for their best interest.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.