What do stormwater fees have to do with flood insurance rates?
Turns out, quite a bit.
Since 2001, Beaufort County’s stormwater utility has raised about $50 million in stormwater fees charged to property owners.
The county has devoted about $13 million to construction projects that improve drainage while spending millions more to create comprehensive stormwater management studies, develop new regulations and educate the public.
About $25 million in fee revenue was returned to Bluffton, Beaufort, Hilton Head Island and Port Royal for projects in those communities. Each municipality sets its own stormwater fees.
For those who don’t get too excited about drainage projects, consider this: The county’s overall stormwater efforts over the past decade led to a 20 percent break on flood insurance premiums for some in unincorporated Beaufort County.
Earlier this year, the county earned a Class 6 rating from the Federal Emergency Management Administration's National Flood Insurance Program, county officials said. Previously, the county was rated a Class 7 on a 10-point scale, in which "1" is considered best.
Not everyone will qualify for the discount, but about half of the 22,500 active flood insurance policies written for unincorporated Beaufort County will qualify for the 20 percent discount. Annual premiums on these policies total more than $12 million, and savings from the discounts are expected to reach $1.9 million a year.
Property owners in parts of unincorporated county designated "special flood hazard areas" -- where flood insurance is mandatory -- will save between $98 and $171 a year, according to FEMA estimates. The savings were applied automatically for policies issued or renewed after May 1.
(As I told one reader recently, factors other than the flood rating can result in changes to the cost of your policy. Call your insurance agent for more details if you didn’t get a discount, which was automatically applied to policies issued or renewed after May 1).
How are these two issues connected?
Dan Ahern, manager of the county’s stormwater utility said efforts over the past few years earned the county more points from FEMA’s monitors. Those higher scores, along with work by Hakim Bayyoud, who serves as the county’s floodplain manager, helped bring the higher rating.
“We set up our program so that it would get the maximum number of points,” Ahern said.
In July, Bayyoud told the Island Packet that the county was very close to receiving a Class 5 rating from FEMA, which would have brought an even greater discount (and matched the county with Hilton Head Island).
To be sure, not everyone is thrilled with paying $50 or $100 in stormwater fees each year on top of their property taxes. But savings on flood insurance rates, for those who quality, could blunt the fee or in some cases exceed it.