By MADDY VITALE
There are simple steps Ocean City residents can take to make sure they are getting the proper flood insurance discounts and feel secure that their homes are properly protected when waters rise.
On Wednesday night, insurance agent Tom Heist, who also serves on the city’s floodplain committee, and Benny Tafoya, of the city’s engineering department, were on hand to answer resident’s questions.
Heist led the virtual meeting and explained the city’s flood insurance rating and how it is important for people to make sure their homes are properly elevated, flood vents are installed, and the mechanicals are raised.
The city holds a Class 4 in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. The rating allows for discounts on homeowners’ flood insurance of 30 percent. The city’s goal is to achieve a Level 3 rating for a bigger discount of 35 percent.
Ocean City. like most barrier islands, is located within a floodplain. Ocean City’s almost 7,000 policy holders collectively save more than $3.3 million a year – an average savings of about $192 per participating home.
“The hard work Ocean City has done has paid off,” Heist, president of Heist Insurance Agency in Ocean City, said.
He explained that the rating system is a one through 10, with the lower numbers resulting in the higher discounts.
“Ocean City is a (Class) 4 which is a 30 percent discount. Sea Isle City is a Class 3, with a 35 percent discount,” Heist said. “Ocean City and Sea Isle aren’t only great in New Jersey, but national leaders.”
Heist credited the Class 4 rating in Ocean City to the work of Mayor Jay Gillian and his administration toward mitigating flooding on the island with a host of projects to improve drainage by replacing antiquated infrastructure and building new stormwater pumping stations.
He explained to the residents that homes built after 1974 were required to have elevation certificates and that it is worth it to everyone – including those with homes prior to 1974 – to have elevation certificates. They cost anywhere from $350 to $500 and could save property owners thousands of dollars a year on flood insurance.
During the public portion of the meeting residents asked questions including should a public adjuster in to survey a home if it suffers flood damage. Some residents asked who could come into a home to inspect it and determine if it qualifies for a higher discount. A few homeowners asked why they did not see the Class 4 discount on their insurance premiums.
Heist said there is no need to pay a public adjuster to come in so long as the homeowner’s insurance company is helpful. He said the highest rate a homeowner can see is what all compliant homes have off their flood insurance premiums under a Class 4 rating.
Tafoya explained that the city’s engineering department is always willing to help homeowners with specific questions.
The ultimate goal, both Tafoya and Heist said, is to have everyone’s home compliant to meet the flood rating standards.
Currently, Ocean City has 587 homes that do not meet the proper qualifications because they may not be elevated or have proper venting.
“I have an elevation certificate for my house and my CRS discount was zero. Can you walk me through?” asked one resident.
Tafoya responded, “Call my office to review the elevation certificate and then I could tell you what steps you could take. There is no reason you shouldn’t get the discount if your home is in compliance or if it just simple stuff that can be done.”
When it came to specifics about flood policies, Heist said it is very simple.
“The flood policy pays for the box that you live in,” he said. “They aren’t paying for anything in the yard, property, decks. They are only paying for floods, not mildew, not vehicles.”
Heist told the residents that he believes the future is private flood insurance carriers.
“There are many programs other than the National Flood Program. Private market has lower premiums and shorter waiting periods to get them in effect,” he noted. “The rates can change year to year and no regulation will stop a private market insurer from raising the rates but there are so many out there that they all try to keep each other honest.”
The presentation of the virtual meeting will be available on the City’s website at www.ocnj.us.