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Coastal homeowners vow to fight insurance rate hikes

Coastal homeowners lost a battle to keep insurance rates from rising more than 25 percent, but some say they'll make sure the war continues, even in the General Assembly.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Coastal homeowners lost a battle to keep their insurance rates from rising more than 25 percent, but some say they'll make sure the war continues, even in the General Assembly.

On May 1, homeowners' insurance rates are scheduled statewide by an average of 4 percent.

In coastal counties, homeowners will absorb additional costs associated with the  Beach Plan, a state insurance program that serves as insurer of last resort for higher-risk coastal properties.

After Feb. 1, when Beach Plan homeowners renew their policy, they will see premium that are 15 to 25 percent higher than those offered by regular insurers, up from 5 to 15 percent above the private-sector rates.

"It's a huge increase – huge. It could take people out of their homes," real-estate agent Missy Baskervill said.

Before he left office, the late state Insurance Commissioner Jim Long agreed to the rate increases to help the state prepare for the cost of a major hurricane. Analysts say the Beach Plan doesn't have enough resources to cover losses from such a storm.

However, some local officials say the rate increases will be a hard blow for the coastal region's economy to absorb.

"We're just doing what anyone would do if their livelihood was threatened," said Tommy Thompson, economic development director for Beaufort County.

About 100 government and community leaders met in New Bern last Tuesday to discuss a new strategy to roll back the increase.

In particular, opponents pointed out the much smaller increases or even rate decreases that inland areas got; rates in Charlotte, for example, dropped by an average of 4 percent.

"Why should our rates be three times, four times, five times higher than Charlotte?" Thompson said.

"Punitive is what it is," said Malcolm Fearing, owner of an insurance company. "That hail deductible in Raleigh might be $50 or $500, but in Dare or the other 18 coastal counties, that could be thousands or tens of thousands of dollars."

The state raised premiums more in areas it considers to be more at risk for hurricane and storm damage, but opponents said state officials haven't presented enough evidence to justify the decision.

Fearing said that storms traveling west to east can do just as much damage in Raleigh as they do in Dare County. He pointed out that hurricanes Hugo, Fran and Floyd devastated inland counties, including Mecklenburg, Wake and Nash.

"Give eastern N.C. a little bit of respect. That's all we're asking," Thompson said. "We're not asking for any gifts and handouts or any subsidies. If the data was examined, you would see we're paying more than our fair share."

The next battlefield in this war against insurance rate increases for coastal homeowners looks to be the General Assembly.

In its final report, a joint legislative committee recommended legislation that supports rate increases while granting some protection to inland and lower-income coastal homeowners.
Meanwhile, people at the New Bern meeting incorporated themselves as a nonprofit – NC20 Inc. – dedicated to fighting rate increases. Its first move, organizers said, will be to lobby for House Bill 26 and Senate Bill 6 – both of which would delay the rate increases.

"We can't give up. We have to try and fight this out," Baskervill said. "We have to hope that our governor and our state Legislature, we have to hope that they're going to hear us."


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