ISO Increase Fuels Public Outcry

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Citizens in Pickens County yesterday urged the county to do something about increasing insurance rates. Specifically, citizens are concerned about home insurance rates, effected by Insurance Service Office (ISO) ratings. ISO ratings correspond to the number of fire stations in a county and their proximity to homes. The fewer the stations in a county, the higher the rating, which increases homeowners’ insurance. But, during yesterday’s meeting, Fire Chief Bob Howard said the county’s rating hasn’t change. Commission Chair Robert Jones added that the rate varies depending on where a citizen lives in the county. The closer a citizen lives to a fire station, the lower the rating.

Speaking on behalf on Salacoa Highlands residents, Home Owners’ Association President Ralph Peterson presented the situation to the board.

“Our rating is going up from a six to a nine or possibly a 10 for some of us. Now we’re looking at four to $6,000 a year more, just covering fire insurance,”

he said. Peterson said his subdivision has 526 lots and approximately 100 homes.

“Our front entrance is exactly five miles from Bethany-Salem (fire station). There is one hydrant and it is (also) at the entrance,”

Peterson explained. One criteria ISO takes into account in establishing a rating is the proximity a home is from a fire station. A five mile distance will lower the rating. Peterson disputed that the five miles proximity from the Bethany station was not accounted for in ranking the rating and forthcoming increase.

He also said many who live in the community, like himself, are on fixed—incomes and can’t afford any such increases.

“One couple in the past couple weeks has (already) been hit with a $4,000 increase,”

he said. Peterson continued to paint a grim picture if increases are fully implemented.

“These houses are going to end up going into foreclosures. That’s going to hurt the county. The (slim) chances of having other people actually build here because of it is going to hurt the county, because they’re not going to be able to afford it (due to the rate),”

he said.

Fire Chief Howard, said, though, that ISO ratings in the county haven’t changed.

“The ratings are the same as they’ve always been. However, the insurance companies are now going strictly by what the ISO states that they have to go by, which means that the rates that you are getting from a fire district, such as Bethany-Salem, was for properties within five miles,”

he said. Howard said the only way to keep home insurance rates down is by building a fire station in that area, which the county currently can’t afford.

Fire Stations are included on the next SPLOST referendum slated for next year’s ballot. But, Peterson said he is looking for a solution for the interim

Peterson recommended the Pickens BOC unite with other county commissioners and write a letter to the state insurance commissioner, to put pressure to stave off the increase, which Peterson says the insurance commissioner has the authority to do. Although the board was willing to write the letter, County Attorney Phillip Landrum III recommended contacting the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). Landrum said ACCG, a lobbying group for county governments, could bring the issue up with legislature, which he said was the better option.

“That’s a whole step further that what we thought we were going to get,”

Peterson said.

“Without homeowners out there, Salacoa Highlands is just going to turn into weeds and woods.”

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