Because of confusion among city and county officials, some Vero Beach homeowners are paying more than they should be for flood insurance.
An unspecified number of flood insurance holders in the city – mainly on the barrier island and along the lagoon in special flood hazard areas – received only a 10 percent discount in the most recent billing cycle, instead of the typical 15 percent, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The city has 1,348 structures in the special flood hazard areas, officials said.
The reduced discount from October 2019 to May 2020 was the result of the city’s lack of participation in an annual hurricane preparedness exercise usually hosted by Indian River County that FEMA counts as points toward a higher discount.
City and county officials chalk up the missed session to miscommunication after the Florida Division of Emergency Management – which is very involved in the FEMA program – mandated only county emergency management staff participate in an internal hurricane exercise in 2018 to test software governments use to communicate during a storm event, county officials said.
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, who heads up hurricane preparedness for the city, said he attempted to participate in the 2018 exercise, but was informed by the county the activity was only for county staff, per state direction. Currey and county officials were unaware the city could have held its own hurricane preparedness exercise to receive credit.
“It was a learning experience and moving forward we have a better understanding now,” said Roland M. DeBlois, the county’s planning director who coordinates the annual hurricane exercise – which is a simulation of how a jurisdiction responds to a mock storm.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management could not be reached for comment.
The city did participate in a joint exercise with the county in 2019 and flood insurance holders in special flood hazard areas will see the 15 percent discount reinstated in May, city officials said.
FEMA created the Community Rating System program to recognize community efforts to reduce flood risk and to reward cities, counties, residents and businesses by saving them money on flood insurance premiums. Activities communities across the country can perform to receive a discount include removing debris from water channels, keeping flood and property data on computer records and ensuring open public or private floodplain parcels will be kept free from development.
Cities and counties are rated on a scale of one to 10 – one being the best – depending on what activities they carry out each year. The maximum discount a community can receive is 45 percent for insurance holders in a special flood hazard area and 10 percent in non-flood prone areas. The county historically has been scored as a class 6, while the city is usually a class 7.
City officials believe the cards are stacked against the municipality and Florida in general, because extra activities other communities can perform to receive a higher discount don’t apply to the area. Jurisdictions with dams and levees to inspect can snag a higher discount if they prepare plans for if the infrastructure fails – a discount the city is ineligible for because of the lack of such structures, Jason Jeffries, the city’s planning and development director said.
Roughly 13,000 property owners in the county and 3,800 in city have flood insurance, according to FEMA data provided to Vero Beach 32963 by the county. The data does not differentiate between special flood hazard areas and zones outside of them.