Sea Isle homeowners will save $800K in flood insurance program

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Mayor Leonard Desiderio, with construction official Neil Byrne and city solicitor Paul Baldini, announces Sea Isle City’s acceptance into the Community Rating System Monday at City Hall. Mayor Leonard Desiderio, with construction official Neil Byrne and city solicitor Paul Baldini, announces Sea Isle City’s acceptance into the Community Rating System Monday at City Hall.

Staff Writer
SEA ISLE CITY – Homeowners in Sea Isle City will save $800,000 a year on flood insurance premiums because of the city’s acceptance in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System (CRS).

Mayor Leonard Desiderio announced the city’s recent approval in the CRS during a press conference Monday on the steps of City Hall. Desiderio said the city now qualified for a 20 percent discount on flood insurance premiums, which will come into effect as property owners renew their policies later this year.
That’s a far cry from where Sea Isle City was in 1993, when FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration), which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program, told officials the city would be put on probationary status, a step away from homeowners here losing the ability to buy flood insurance.
“There were a number of issues FEMA had but the most important factor was that the enforcement was not there,” said city solicitor Paul Baldini. “There was a culture of looking the other way. At that time, the city didn’t require elevation certificates, some applications didn’t require a flood plain.”
The CRS is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum National Flood Insurance Program requirements. As a result, flood insurance premium rates are discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk resulting from the community’s actions.
Desiderio said one of his first meetings as mayor was with FEMA on the issue. He remembered his brother, Gerard, telling him “it’s not a good thing when (the government) spells these words out,” referring to FEMA.
“At times it looked like this would never happen,” said Desiderio. “We met with FEMA officials over the years but every time there was a disaster we were put on the backburner.”
The city avoided probationary status in 1993 and began focusing on meeting and exceeding FEMA regulations, said Baldini. He credited Desiderio with pushing through new zoning ordinances and increasing enforcement to address violations, sometimes against vocal opposition.
“I can’t tell you the number of phone calls I got on these issues, and if I got some the mayor got 20 times more,” he said. “Developers, realtors, they said it was going to be more expensive, more inconvenient. But Len Desiderio committed to it.”
“It was not a popular decision,” said Desiderio.
Sea Isle City has approved ordinances requiring all buildings be built above flood plain and eliminated ground level bonus rooms, which could be converted to livable space. Home buyers here must also sign non-conversion agreements in which they agree not to convert rooms into livable space. The city also regulated against breakaway walls.
Desiderio said Sea Isle City is ranked as a Class 6 community in the CRS. Only seven other communities in the state have achieved Class 6 ranking, he said.
“We wanted to get a discount but we were told we’re a long, long way off,” said Desiderio. “But we had confidence that not only had we complied with the regulations, but we exceeded them.
“This is a huge, huge plus for Sea Isle City and our homeowners,” he added.
The mayor credited city construction officer Neil Byrne, flood plain manager Sal DiSimone, and Joan Dermanoski, director of constituent services with Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
“This is a big deal,” said Byrne. “A lot of communities get five percent, 10 percent. This required a lot of effort by the construction office.”

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