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New Hall County fire stations could ease insurance pinch

Commissioners OK bid process to build new station, relocate another to help give residents better se

POSTED: March 16, 2013 12:21 a.m.

Officials and residents are cautiously optimistic with the progress of two North Hall County fire stations.

The bid process for construction was put on the consent agenda at Thursday’s Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting.

“As soon as we nail down the land, construction will take 12 to 14 months after that. That’s about as fast as we can go,” Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said.

One station will be at Mount Vernon Road near Shirley Road, Kimbrell said. The other would be farther north in the area of Ledan and Will Wallace roads.

“The move forward is to go ahead and start the bid process for construction, and we’re very close to closing on the land,” Kimbrell said. “The location is already done. We’re just waiting on the land owner before the county finalizes the purchase.”

The new stations will help ease rising home insurance rates in those parts of the county, where greater distances from fire stations has led to rate increases and even canceled coverage for some.

District 3 Commissioner Scott Gibbs represents a wide portion of the North Hall areas affected by the coverage gap, as does District 2, represented by Billy Powell.

“I became aware of the issue, I want to say in July,” Gibbs said. “I had a phone call about someone’s insurance renewal rate had gone way up, so I started talking to the chief, who noted that when the station had been relocated to Clermont, it left a void and that was probably two or three years ago.”

That void became an expensive problem when insurance companies started re-evaluating rates more stringently.

“The state insurance commissioner had really been clamping down, making sure the ISO ratings were accurate and requiring insurance companies to re-evaluate and use technology to verify distance between fire stations and verify water sources,” Gibbs said.

Hall County resident Dave Long said he was dropped by his insurance policy. Later, a higher rate was negotiated.

“They could cover me, but at a substantially greater cost, $800 a year more,” the District 2 resident said.

To achieve the lower insurance rates that come with a low ISO rating — which indicates fire safety — residents need two criteria: A distance of less than five road miles to the nearest station, and a distance less than 1,000 feet to the nearest fire hydrant, Kimbrell said.

“When insurance enforcement of that came down, probably 250 to 300 homes in my district had been class 4 were re-rated as class 9,” Gibbs said.

He cited some anecdotal examples from constituents.

“A fire fighter that lives in my district was paying $900 a year, and his renewal went to $2,300,” he said. “One owner with a substantial house was paying $2,900, and his renewal cost $8,100.”

Said Long: “If you have 1,000 people paying an extra 500 a year, that’s $500,000.”

But he still wants more information on the new stations.

“I would like to know how many people does this help? How much money will it save? Is it worth the cost? Where will the station be? That’s the type of information I’d like to know before I cast a vote,” Long said.

That’s not information commissioners will have, Gibbs said, although he estimated about 300 homes in his district had been slapped with higher rates or dropped coverage.

“To be honest, I don’t think they’ll ever do that kind of study or analysis,” Gibbs said. “We’re at this point just trying to get as many stations to as many folks to where there’s no station farther than five miles away, or virtually 10 road miles between stations.”

Long, a former insurance industry worker, noted that home insurance is a federally mandated requirement with a mortgage.

“If you owe money on our house, they require you to be covered, and good luck if you get dropped — you have a huge investment,” he said. “A saying in the business is you should insure what you can’t afford to lose.”

Gibbs said building the stations is key to keeping markets competitive and promoting affordable insurance.

“Some companies will not insure homes with an ISO rating of class 9 or 10 because they don’t want the risk, so it limits the market. And the agencies know that, and they can charge you whatever they would like,” Gibbs said.

It’s only fair, he added, for residents who bought their homes when they were still class 4 amid plans to replace the relocated Clermont station.

“That’s the biggest problem I had with what happened up here. Folks when they moved out were all of a sudden a class 9, when they had been 4 when they decided to move there,” Gibbs said.


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