LIVINGSTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency will drop unincorporated areas of Livingston Parish from the Community Rating System (CRS), a move which will hike flood insurance premiums for thousands of homeowners.
Removal from the program came after the parish could not provide copies of every permit associated with elevation certificates.
The fall in the rating from 9 to 10 for Livingston Parish removed the smallest discount on the CRS scale and will increase monthly premiums at least 5 percent for homeowners covered through the National Flood Insurance Program, which operates under the FEMA umbrella.
A “10” rating renders disqualification from the CRS program and deems a city or parish ineligible for discounts on premiums for NFIP-backed flood insurance policies.
The cities of Denham Springs and Walker are not included in the rate hike. Both municipalities currently have an “8” rating, which results in a 10 percent discount.
NFIP discounts increase by 5 percent with each higher grade. A “1,” the best rating a community can attain, yields a 50 percent discount.
The removal from CRS – a voluntary program - will take effect May 1, according to a letter Livingston Parish Government received from FEMA April 1.
The higher premiums will affect between 16,000 and 17,000 homeowners across the parish. A five percent rate increase on a $1,000 per year premium will tack an additional $50 to the annual flood insurance bill.
“It’s not a big cost to the taxpayers, but it’s something we want to get back for them as soon as we’re allowed to,” Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said.
The ouster also coincided with efforts by the Parish Council to put more anti-flood legislation on the books.
The Parish Council earlier this year approved a code of tougher drainage ordinances regarding impact studies and design requirements for new developments. An ordinance to regulate the amount of dirt fill on a new development remains in discussion.
“Those are things that could have eventually helped us on our rating, but now we’ve been kicked out of the program,” District 2 Parish Councilman Garry “Frog” Talbert said. “It’s extremely frustrating.”
FEMA’s letter to the parish – dated April 1 – cited that the parish failed to comply with Activity 310, a prerequisite for Class 9, which required both the elevation certificates and the permits.
FEMA audits the parish every year, but the most recent survey was the first time the agency required all elevation certificates from the last five years.
The Permit Office provided the elevation certificates, but FEMA also required copies of permits to go with each elevation certificate.
The files were stored in a now-obsolete computer system which did not allow the Livingston Parish Permit Department to generate reports on the thousands of records FEMA requested, according to parish officials.
DeeDee Delatte, assistant permitting director, brought in workers from other offices, but the parish did not have time to carry out the request, Ricks said.
The parish requested more time to provide the required, but FEMA denied the request.
“They tighten the program every year, and once they made request for permits, we knew there would probably be a problem,” Ricks said. “By the time we got that request, it was absolutely impossible to carry out.”
The use of the computer program MyPermitNow, a “real time” program which allows customization of reports, should make a difference with the next audit, he said.
Ricks admits reentry into the CRS will not come easy for the parish.
“Part of the problem is the tightening of restrictions, and it’s going to be tough to get back into the five percent savings,” he said. “We have now implemented a new system that will allow us to give FEMA all the needed information in a future disaster, so I feel very confident we will get the five percent back."