It hasn’t happened overnight. However 10 years after flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene prompted the town to look into what could be done to assist those obligated to buy flood insurance, Zoning Administrator Tom Badowski said significant headway has been made.
Thanks to early efforts that enabled the town to amass easier to earn “credits” under the National Flood Insurance Program’s “community rating system,” owners of homes and businesses in high-risk flood areas have been eligible for a 5% discount since 2016.
At the time, Berlin’s rating on the 10-point scale ticked up from a 10 to a 9 providing property owners with federally backed mortgages the 5% discount on federal flood insurance they are required to carry. That discount has also extended to those who own property in one of Berlin’s special flood hazard areas who are interested in coverage they aren’t obligated to purchase.
Badowski said owners of 34 of 161 eligible properties — most along flood-prone sections of the Dog River and the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River — participated in the flood insurance program and collectively saved nearly $7,500 thanks to the 5% discount last year.
Pending review and approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Badowski said the discount should soon triple from 5 to 15% as Berlin’s rating on the 10-point scale jumps from 9 to 7 for the next five years.
Though the community rating is monitored annually, there is an opportunity for adjustment based on additional credits once every five years and Badowski said Berlin’s latest application reflected work that has been completed in recent years.
Badowski said it started with new zoning regulations that were approved by voters in 2019. Among other things, he said, those regulations sought to clearly define whether and under what conditions development could occur in various sections of the special flood hazard area.
Those new development restrictions, coupled with a welcome assist from Ned Swanberg, a flood plain manager for the state Agency of Natural Resources, provided what Badowski described as a difference-making improvement during a recent review conducted by the Insurance Services Office Inc.
Badowski said Swanberg was able to definitively map the town’s special flood hazard areas — creating a reliable resource for applying new flood-related zoning regulations.
According to Badowski, the mapping exercise generated the additional credit points needed to deepen the discount for flood insurance.
While flood insurance is a required expense for some, Badowski said making it more affordable could entice those who are eligible, but not obligated, to carry the coverage.
“That’s the goal,” he said.
Once approved by FEMA the 15% discount will remain in place for five years. Badowski said it is unlikely based on the current level of staffing at the town, that it could secure enough credits to further improve its rating in 2026.
“We’ve probably taken it as far as we can,” he said.
Still, a 15% discount is real money for those who live along flood-prone river corridors that were hard hit during Tropical Storm Irene.