by Rick Boettger
We Monroe County property owners are grossly overpaying for our windstorm insurance. Everybody knows it. But there is something we can do about it, if our County Commission will help us replace Citizens with a fair insurance program.
The facts about how much we overpay are available from Citizens themselves. From 2003-2021, we paid almost 3 times as much in premiums as we received in payouts for windstorm damage—almost all of it for Irma, the only year they paid us more than we paid them. And this was over a period when we had 14 hurricanes that required evacuations. The numbers were: $1.354 billion in premiums we paid them, and $489 million in damages they paid us.
That is, they made a profit of over $864 million—over 10% yearly of our entire County budget, that is, money we pay to the State on top of the taxes we pay to the County. This is NOT the money we pay for normal insurance against hurricanes. This extra $864 million is what we pay to cover, mainly, sinkholes in the panhandle. In the massive foreclosure days I noticed that the banks were including, as expenses in their final judgments, large numbers for “subsidence” insurance. This made no sense to me, as we do not have sinkholes, or “subsidence,” in Monroe. That’s when I found out the poor counties in North Florida, which have far more voters than we rich folk in Monroe, were getting their sinkholes paid for with our hurricane premiums.
Okay, that is enough complaining. I propose that we actually do something about it. It is simple. Fire Citizens, and have the County insure us themselves. Oops, I said “themselves,” but remember, we ARE the County. We should simply insure ourselves, at a fair rate. This is not rocket science. Note that the State was smart enough to do this in 2002. Because so many private insurers had pulled out of Florida, we simply decided as a state to insure ourselves. Partly this was to protect the value of our Florida real estate—we can’t get mortgages without various forms of insurance.
Right now, usurious insurance premiums are the biggest, perhaps only, threat to the value of our homes in Monroe. We in the County should try to be only as wise as the state of Florida was in 2002. I have forewarned our Commissioners, Administrator, and County Attorney that I will be putting this formally before the Commission at its July 19th meeting next week. This is just the first step. I will not be asking them to approve or even discuss the merits of this proposal. I will only ask them as a first step to authorize our Administrator, Roman Gastesi, to allow any member of his staff he chooses to work with me, and I presume FIRM, our nonprofit insurance watchdog, to research how this might be done.
And here’s the most important reason to at least make any attempt at all to look into this. Right now, Citizens doesn’t give a damn about our complaints, and we need to motivate them to do so. They use their phony science to justify charging us any damn number they care to. They don’t even have to tell us how they judge our risks—we argue that our building standards are so much higher than the rest of the state, that we don’t have as many damage claims as the mainland does, and they blow us off.
We have a good enough case that they should be worried about losing us. The real science behind evaluating risks is the numbers I showed you, above. Their actuarial models are just speculation. Eighteen years of actual payouts versus premiums is the factual science that should determine what we pay.
Of course, I realize this would be a complex issue on many fronts. I would also hope the Commissioners might authorize our very capable County Attorney Bob Schillinger to lend his office’s skills to inform my own legal analysis of statutory ramifications.
Again, the best reason to start investigating this possibility of the County self-insuring would be, at the very least, getting the Citizens board to start taking our objections seriously. One calculation they might make is to reduce the amount they are gouging us. Nothing like the threat of an expensive legal action to open one’s eyes to compromise.
So: the question is, will our mostly new County Commission be up to this task?