Published: Dec 15, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 15, 2012 08:25 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Heartwood Drive resident Bill Tolbert and his neighbors saved thousands on their home insurance.
Tolbert said he heard that his bill could be less at New Hope Volunteer Fire Department’s annual Christmas tree fundraiser and contacted his insurance company. He recently got a check for $500, he said.
“It’s always nice to save money, rather than get charged more,” Tolbert said.
The neighborhood is tracking the savings. Most neighbors were refunded a few hundred dollars; others were told the rate change will be in their next bill, Tolbert said.
Overall, it looks as though the neighborhood of about 30 houses might save more than $10,000, said Jane Chatterjee, president of the Heartwood Residents Association.
The savings is spreading across the New Hope district, where the department’s rating rose from Class 9 to Class 6. Two out of the county’s 11 other rural departments – Caldwell and Efland – also improved their ratings.
Efland residents, whose department rose from Class 7 to Class 6, won’t see much of a change in their insurance bills. However, Caldwell residents might since their department rose from Class 9 to Class 7, in part, by signing a mutual aid deal with the nearby Eno fire district. Caldwell Chief Brad Allison said paid staff and pressurized hydrants would have made the rating better.
The Office of the State Fire Marshal, under the N.C. Department of Insurance, inspects fire departments every five years for water availability, personnel and equipment. Three more departments – Eno, Cedar Grove and Orange Grove Volunteer Fire Co. – will be rated next year. Orange Grove built a new substation this year on Rocky Ridge Road, which eventually could lower insurance bills for 400 homeowners in the eastern part of the district. In the west, the department is looking to lease land for a third substation to help another 250 homes near the Alamance County line.
New Hope Fire Chief Mike Tapp said his department will mail information soon to all district homeowners. The most any household has reported saving so far is $1,700, he said.
The department spent a few years adding equipment, building a substation and making other changes that lowered its state inspections rating. The rating, combined with a home’s proximity to a fire station, determines the cost of insurance. It was one way to repay for 40 years of community support, Tapp said.
“The cost (of the changes) was minimal compared to what people are getting back,” Tapp said.
Most rural residents now live within the optimum six miles of their local fire department. Insurers previously used an address or ZIP code, but with GIS mapping and other high-tech systems, such as Google Maps, they are finding it easier to pinpoint exactly how far a home is from its assigned fire department.
That is a problem for 112 homeowners who live in southern Orange County but more than six miles from North Chatham Fire Department. The county is negotiating new contracts to help lower their Class 10 rating, which has doubled some insurance bills and prevented others from getting insurance. None can sell their homes.
The new contracts also will reunite the South Orange Fire District, which have been served by Carrboro since Chapel Hill annexations split the district.
The county commissioners said Tuesday they plan to support the creation of three revised fire service districts – South Orange, North Chatham and Greater Chapel Hill – to help those homeowners. The North Chatham lots are only three miles from Chapel Hill’s Station 5.
The commissioners, Chapel Hill Town Council, Carrboro Board of Aldermen and North Chatham Board of Directors must approve the contracts. Otherwise, the service and insurance ratings remain the same. Residents in all three districts will pay slightly higher fire taxes to pay for the adjustment or match existing Chatham County tax rates, county officials said.