Palmetto Bay tries to tackle the 'gorilla' of insurance

Residents backed proposals for windstorm insurance reform during a town hall meeting Monday.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

Published  November 17, 2006

After several years of destructive hurricanes, many South Florida homeowners have one common concern: insurance.

Palmetto Bay officials and State Rep. Julio Robaina, a Miami Republican, held a Town Hall meeting Monday on the subject, attracting a standing-room-only crowd.

Many residents agreed with changes proposed by Robaina and Palmetto Bay Council member Ed Feller who has been advocating for insurance reform for the past few years.

Most residents wanted to know when they would see change.

Robaina, who held a similar six-hour workshop in August, said reform could come soon. He believes a special legislative session will be held in early December to focus solely on insurance.

''We are getting ready to take on the 800-pound gorilla,'' he said.

Feller said he has drafted proposed changes that Robaina can take to Tallahassee.

He has suggested abolishing the ''artificial line'' which runs along South Dixie Highway and Interstate 95 up to the Georgia border and imposes higher rates on residents on the east side. He also wants to do away with higher fees for houses more than 20 years old and clear definitions on what should be covered by windstorm insurance and flood insurance.

''The issues are far from simple and many issues have to be looked at,'' Feller said.

Robaina agreed and said the key to making change will be by making the South Florida building code -- one of the strongest in Florida -- uniform across the state and also spreading the risk out evenly in the state, instead of just in South Florida and especially on the east coast.

Robaina also said the state, possibly along with the federal government, should look into creating a company to provide reinsurance, which insurers buy to reduce their losses.

Companies currently purchase their reinsurance from an international market that is constantly raising rates and is volatile, Robaina said.

''We are at their mercy,'' he said of the market.

Resident Robert Buzzelli said the federal government should get involved.

''Hurricanes affect Texas to Maine, not just Florida,'' Buzzelli said. ``We need a national flood or catastrophe fund.''

He also encourage Palmetto Bay to reach out to other municipalities for help getting reform.

''Inundate Tallahassee with an army of people and get their attention,'' he said. ``Let them know that something has to be done.''

Others asked the village to provide lists of contractors, roofers and other services that might be needed to repair damage after a storm.

''It's dangerous going to the Yellow Pages,'' Peter Clancy said. ``[The village] should publish a list of qualified, licensed and insured contractors.''

Cutler Bay Vice Mayor Ed MacDougall, CEO of real estate services company ChoiceOne, encouraged residents to make sure they are getting credits for hurricane shutters and other improvements they have made to their homes.

''You need to arm yourself with information and expect your agents to give you your due credits,'' he said.