“I had been paying about $1,400 a year for my homeowner’s insurance,” Wigginton said. “The renewal bill was for $12,386. I knew there had to be a mistake.”
But it wasn’t a mistake. The ISO rating, which determines how fire insurance is priced, had changed from an ISO-2, almost the lowest rating, to an ISO-10, the highest rating possible.
About 500 residents who live in the Tyus area between Carrollton and Bowdon have suffered similar shocks in recent months. Another 750 homeowners, who live in the Hulett area have also seen their insurance rates skyrocket.
According to Carroll County Fire Chief Tracy Smith, the reason for the change is that the private organization which calculates the ISO ratings changed its method of figuring how far a residence lives from the nearest fire station. He said the calculation used to be estimated “as the crow flies.” Now mileage from a fire station is calculated precisely by global positioning system equipment, which measures it right down to the foot. He said the recalculations are not just being done in Georgia, but all over the country.
“A fire station has to be within five road miles from the house and a fire hydrant has to be within 1,000 feet for a low rating,” Smith explained Thursday night to a town hall meeting at Old Camp United Methodist Church. “Homes that are within five miles of a Carrollton city station get an ISO-2 rating.”
That was the case with Wigginton’s home before the GPS measurement was made. Now, the insurance company says he lives 5.1 miles from the fire station and his rating was changed to 10.
Wigginton said he was able to get the premium down to about $6,900 by bundling some of his other policies with the same company. He then shopped around and found a rate near $3,300 with another company, still more than twice what he was paying last year.
More than 100 people turned out for the 6 p.m. meeting, held by District 4 Commissioner John Wilson, to ask what the county can do to fix the problem.
The fix will be building new fire stations in Tyus and Hulett, which Smith said will save homeowners $2 million in insurance premiums. The holdup is the county budget.
Commissioner Kevin Jackson, whose District 5 includes Hulett, said the county has the special purpose local option sales tax funds to build the two stations. The county bought foreclosed property in Hulett for that station two years ago and Smith has located a similar tract near Tyus. But, he said, SPLOST funds cannot be used to pay for personnel.
“It comes down to the budget and general funds,” Jackson said. “Five or six years ago, when the economy was good, this wouldn’t be a problem. Adding 12 new employees now is the biggest hurdle. We’re barely keeping our head above water now.”
Smith said it would cost about $600,000 to add the personnel to man the two new stations, money county officials say will be difficult to find.
Smith said he’s able to staff the fire department now by making use of part-time certified firemen and volunteers. He said new health insurance rules under Obamacare will increase the cost of benefits.
He said once the county has the required two acres to build a station, it takes about a year to order and get the fire equipment delivered and about the same time to build the station.
Commission Chairman Marty Smith praised all the people for turning out at the town hall meeting and said citizen input is how the commission makes decisions on where the county is going.
“I assure you, if my insurance went up that much, I’d be jumping up and down,” the chairman told the group. “We’re looking at every feasible way. The budget process is just starting.”
Smith said the county would make use of inmate labor to help construct the fire stations, but said it wouldn’t use inmates are firefighters, a suggestion offered last year by former Chairman Bill Chappell, which was quickly put down by the rest of the board members.
Fire stations and insurance rates weren’t all that was on the minds of the people attending the town hall meeting. Wilson also invited county Tax Commissioner Vickie Bearden to talk about the new automobile title tax that goes into effect today and Matt Windom, director of the Carroll County Water Authority, talking about a special tap-on rate for customers wanting to hook onto county water lines.
Bearden has a simple message, “Be patient,” because she said the lines at the tag office are going to be long and slow as clerks have to explain the new law and help people who bought cars in the past year decide if they want to stay with the old ad valorem tax system or opt-in on the new title tax. People who buy cars, starting today, have no option. They will pay the new title tax. And those who bought their cars before Jan. 1, 2012, will go on paying the ad valorem tax, as long as they keep the car.
But, Bearden said, the county is adding extra security at the tag office because some people may get angry when they find out the costs they’re facing to title their car.
That includes people who have purchased a used vehicle, possibly at a cheap price, from a private individual.
“You may have gotten the car for $2,000, but our book says that model is valued at $5,000, so that’s the value you have pay for in title tax,” Bearden said. She said these people may be facing several hundred dollars in title taxes to license the vehicle.
Other vehicle owners likely to be angry are those moving in from other states. They will have to pay the 6.5 percent title fee on all their cars, although they can pay half up front and the remainder over the other half of the year.
Bearden also reminded people that have the opt-in option that they have until the end of this year to make a decision.
“If you don’t have to be at the office tomorrow, don’t come,” she advised.
Windom said the Carroll County Water Authority has installed about 75 miles of new water lines in the county and needs to sign up as many customers as it can
The usual tap-on fee is $1,600, but Windom said through June, the authority has a special $975 rate, and will allow $575 to be paid down and the remainder paid over a 24-month period.
“We’ve had 180 new customers sign up since last February and we haven’t had a rate increase in nearly two years,” he said.