Homeowner Insurance Rates May Drop

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For a while, at least, residents of unincorporated Polk County surrounding Lake Wales could see lower homeowner insurance rates because of improved scores for the city’s fire department.

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The scores are based on a study that was done last September by Insurance Service Offices. The company conducts risk-management surveys for communities and then sells the information in the form of public protection classification ratings to insurance underwriters who determine insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses.

ISO uses a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the best, meaning lower insurance premiums, and 10 being the worst, with the highest premiums.

According to Verisk Analytics, ISO’s ratings are the standard by which premiums related to fire services are determined.

It was announced recently that Lake Wales had maintained its rating of 3 within the city limits.

The city’s Fire Department covers unincorporated Polk County areas around Lake Wales as part of an Outside Protection Agreement between the department and Polk County Fire Rescue.

When the last survey was conducted in 2007, those areas were classified separately and received a rating of 4. Because the unincorporated areas are now classified with the city and the Fire Department has improved its service to those areas, they received the better 3 rating.

When determining the ratings, ISO takes into account factors such as proximity of a home or area to a fire station, the fire department’s response times and access to water supplies.

Lake Wales Fire Chief Joe Jenkins said he credits the hard work of Lake Wales’ firefighters as well as the opening of a new station on Chalet Suzanne road last April as major factors in reducing the rating.

“It does say a lot about the hard work that the guys and the gals do at the Fire Department,” Jenkins said. “To increase our rating in the OPA area is tough. There aren’t many fire hydrants out there. Our travel time and distance is increased.”

Another factor in the improved rating, Jenkins said, was the city’s utility staff, which has played a major role in helping improve the availability of water in the unincorporated county areas.

The good news, however, may not last as the Outside Protection Agreement will expire Sept. 30, at the end of the current fiscal year, and county Chief David Cash has indicated the county won’t be renewing it. That means areas covered by the Lake Wales department will be covered by county department starting Oct. 1 and that could change the rating.

According to the Polk County Fire Rescue website, the county department has an ISO rating of 5. That could become the rating for unincorporated county areas now covered by the Lake Wales department.

The result could be higher insurance rates than those residents are paying now.

The potentially bad news for the unincorporated county areas could be good news for those within city limits, City Manager Ken Fields said.

“Without the OPA we’ll be, basically, covering a smaller area with the same two units,” Fields said. “It’ll actually help us improve.”

Jenkins said the city was about five points away from being rated a 2. He plans to step up fire protection efforts within Lake Wales to get a lower rating after the next survey, which ISO indicated would take place in five to seven years.

Jenkins said businesses can expect to see fire crews more frequently as he hopes to have pre-incident plans ready to increase the department’s efficiency in the event of an emergency. Improving the city’s rating to a 2, he said, is entirely likely.

“By seeing this report we can see exactly what we need to do to obtain a 2,” Jenkins said. “I believe it’s doable.”