Discussion of the proposed 2017 city salary ordinance at the March 15 City Council meeting included a line item that would create a stipend related to the city's efforts to improve its Federal Emergency Management Agency community rating system status.
The stipend would be compensation for work intended to improve the city's CRS rating from a 5 to 4, which ultimately would save all property owners required to purchase flood insurance an additional 5 percent on their premiums.
Participation in FEMA's CRS program is voluntary for a municipality, said City Manager Ed Stinson. Nearly every coastal community willingly participates, however, since very few property owners in a flood-risk environment are exempt from carrying flood insurance, and the insurance is only available through the federal government.
When a municipality signs up for the community rating system it is automatically assigned a rating of 10. Lowering the rating – and therefore flood risks – is a time-consuming process that includes fulfilling a multitude of criteria.
Among them are keeping the public informed about precautionary measures, improving stormwater drainage and management, pursuing low-interest funding for upgrades to bulkheads, and other factors.
The average savings per household went from $180 to $226 when Brigantine's status was lowered from 6 to 5, and it would go down an additional 5 percent this year if the rating is lowered to 4, which Stinson says is a realistic expectation.
That would translate to a total savings of $2,021,337 among all Brigantine flood insurance policy holders.
With every improved CRS rating, FEMA also increases its expectations from municipalities. If Brigantine gets lowered to a 4, it will be audited every three years instead of every five, and would be subject to an annual review designed to provide proof that it is doing what it says it is doing to mitigate flooding – and that requires more manpower.
That is where the proposed stipend comes in, which, if passed by council at the April 5 meeting, would be for a maximum annual amount of $5,000.
The stipend would go to Rachael Beckner, whose full-time status as technical assistant to the construction official would also include assistant to Stinson as the the CRS coordinator.
Brigantine's gradual CRS improvement from 10 to 6 was spearheaded by former city solicitor Tim Maguire. Since then, with the addition of new pumping stations – including three more coming to Hackney Place, East Evans Boulevard and at the boat ramp on Bayshore Avenue – the city has strengthened its FEMA status behind the efforts of Jim Bennett and emergency management, John Doring and public works, Rich Stevens and the construction department, and the backing of council. As FEMA's expectations increase, however, so does the workload.
“We have a good foundation set up and are very strong in every aspect of the CRS program,” said Stinson. “But with the increased demands I needed some help, and it would have been unfair to just put it all on Rachael's shoulders on top of what she's already responsible for in the construction office. That's why I suggested the stipend to council.”
Introduction of the salary ordinance, including the stipend, was approved March 15.
“Considering what we'll be saving on flood insurance, I think it is certainly money well spent,” said Councilwoman Karen Bew.