A1 A1
News
editor's pick centerpiece featured
Risk 2.0 won't be your grandfather's flood insurance rates

GALVESTON

People fearing big changes in their flood insurance rates got a reprieve from Congress on Thursday.

As part of a vote to continue funding the government through Dec. 3, Congress also passed an extension of the current version of the National Flood Insurance Program.

The extension gives people in Galveston County, and around the country, more time to come to grips with a new flood insurance program that could mean savings for many and price hikes for some others.

Friday was supposed to be the day FEMA, which manages the flood insurance program, begins implementing new insurance premium rates through a system called Risk Rating 2.0.

The system is supposed to charge premiums to the program’s policyholders based on the flood risk of their individual homes, rather than by using a system based on maps and the likelihood of a geographic area flooding during a 100-year storm.

For most people in Galveston County, the change would mean a modest rate hike, according to FEMA estimates. For a small group of people, the new rating system would mean massive premium rate increases.

Tami Inman, a former Bayou Vista city councilwoman, said flood insurance costs for her house, which is elevated 14.5 feet and has never generated a flood claim, would increase almost 470 percent with the change.

“I pay $879 a year,” Inman said “The way the new risk rating would calculate me, my rate would be close to $5,000 a year, six times what I’m paying now.”

Inman didn’t fully understand why her home on a canal warranted such an increase, she said.

‘COMPLETELY WRONG’

Part of the reason is because her policy is grandfathered, which allowed her to pay lower-than-average rates, she said.

Risk Rating 2.0 ends grandfathered rates.

“I think it’s completely wrong,” Inman said “Some of the data they’re using is 10 years old. We have the biggest drainage ditch because we have the bay right there.”

Not everyone in Galveston County will see such extreme increases, according to the federal government.

About 79 percent of flood insurance program’s policies, 607,645 in total, will increase between $0 and $10 a month, according to FEMA. Monthly premium costs for another 14 percent would decrease, according to FEMA.

Only 3 percent of policies would see the greatest increases of more than $20 a month, according to FEMA.

In Galveston County, the greatest increases will occur at a slightly higher rate. About 4.2 percent of policies in the county, 2,828 policies total, will see increases of more than $20 a month, according to FEMA.

A far greater number, 8,097 policies, will see premium decreases.

MORE RESILIENT?

The new flood rating system goes into effect Friday but would have initially applied only to new flood insurance policies. Rate changes were to be phased in for existing policies as they renewed, beginning in April.

Increases will be phased in over time and could take up to 20 years to take full effect. It’s not clear how much the Congressional decision Thursday will delay the changes.

The system is supposed to make the flood program’s funding more stable and make costlier homes in more flood-prone areas pay a larger share of the program, rather than be subsidized by it.

Although Risk Rating 2.0 will create equity in flood insurance prices, it’s unclear whether the program will make Texas better prepared to withstand and recover from future floods, said Wesley Highfield, assistant director of the Texas A&M University Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas.

“All of this risk rating is really to benefit the flood insurance fund,” Highfield said. “When you ask if it will increase resiliency, I think the answer is, ‘It depends.’”

Highly insured communities respond better and recover faster from floods, Highfield said. It would be good if the new ratings caused more people to buy and maintain flood insurance, he said.

But it’s unclear whether the new rating system will do that because of a lack of clarity about how costs will change in coming months and years, Highfield said.

‘IT’S VERY FRUSTRATING’

Also frustrating people about the new program is a deficit of information, said Terrilyn Tarlton Shannon, owner of Insurance Junction, and a former Galveston city council member who has long advocated on insurance issues.

There was confusion among and a lack of information for insurance agents and underwriters about how FEMA was calculating the replacement costs of homes under the new program, Shannon said.

She feared the new system underestimated replacement costs of some homes, which might become clear only after a damaging flood, she said.

“They’re not giving us the information we need when we ask the questions,” Shannon said. “As an insurance agent, it’s my job to be an educator, and it’s very frustrating.”

If FEMA is underestimating replacement costs, and plans to reevaluate those costs after a flood, the agency could end up penalizing policyholders for being underinsured, she said.

‘ADDITIONAL SCRUTINY’

The new rates are supposed to be based on the flood risk of individual properties, how often a property floods, what kinds of flooding a property is at risk of, the distance to a water source, elevation and the cost to rebuild.

The new system was supposed to go into effect in 2019, but it was delayed for two years.

Despite FEMA’s position, the new system will mean rate relief for a significant number of policyholders, the October implementation drew criticism about surprise hikes.

In a Sept. 16 letter, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, including Galveston-area U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican from Friendswood, urged FEMA to delay the program’s launch.

“Massive rate changes should be subject to additional scrutiny and review by members of Congress in a long-term reauthorization, not arbitrary FEMA deadlines,” the letter said. “A delay in implementing Risk Rating 2.0 is needed to allow Congress time to work on a comprehensive long-term reauthorization of the NFIP.”

FEMA took no action, but Thursday’s vote delayed the launch for about two months.


This Weekend

After 13 years, the trolleys have come back to Galveston.


This weekend

Islander works to fill hole in the bagel market while Galveston also gets its first Asian market. Read all about it and more in Laura Elder’s Biz Buzz.


News
Festival season returns to Galveston and so do old apprehensions

GALVESTON

The sun shone as visitors strolled along The Strand on Saturday during the Galveston Island Shrimp Festival, one of the first big downtown festivals to return since the pandemic halted special events last year.

It was a good sign for organizers moving forward with events that bring many thousands of visitors to the island during the fall.

And they expect record numbers of visitors and locals eager to make up for missing out on festivals canceled by COVID last year.

With the return of festivals come the pre-pandemic complaints about street closures and lost revenue, while others argue the events are crucial to downtown and the island economy that’s heavily dependent on such events in the off-season.

This year’s shrimp festival just might have been the best yet in terms of turnout, said Mike Dean, owner of Yaga’s Entertainment, which hosts the festival.

“It was really busy,” Dean said. “I think the demand is there for festivals.”

Organizers of other festivals are making plans for a big return.

The Galveston Island Oktoberfest will look largely the same as the 2019 festival, although tables will be spaced farther apart, said Brandi Painter, parish administrator and Oktoberfest board secretary. The event is a big fundraiser for First Lutheran Church of Galveston.

“Oktoberfest benefits the ministries of the church,” Painter said. “It was tight last year.”

Painter can’t imagine a scenario in which the church would cancel the festival, she said.

“I believe the city’s going to issue the permit,” Painter said. “I don’t think Gov. Abbott’s going to shut down the state. We are full-speed ahead.”

Motorcycle event Lone Star Rally also is moving forward with plans, promoter Melissa Penland said.

The Lone Star team thought long and hard about holding the festival, she said.

“A lot of people were planning on coming whether there was an official event or not,” Penland said. “It would be better to have an organized event with a lot of outdoor activities.”

Penland plans to host events from The Strand to the seawall with the hope of spreading people out and thinning out some crowds, she said.

GOOD FOR BUSINESS

The return of festivals is a relief to some downtown business owners.

The scarcity of events last year was a blow to Murphy’s Irish Pub, 213 22nd St., said Hugh Marney, who manages Murphy’s and two other downtown Irish pubs.

“The lack of festivals seriously hurt us last year,” Marney said. “Festivals are good business for bars and restaurants.”

The bar last weekend saw an uptick in business, which Marney attributes to the shrimp festival.

It also was a good weekend for Seal Grief, who owns The Strand Brass and Christmas on The Strand, 2115 Strand St.

“We did wonderful,” Grief said.

ALL OR NOTHING?

But that’s not true of every event downtown, Grief said.

“We’re not too crazy about motorcycle rally because they make more noise, in my opinion,” Grief said.

The shop fared better during the first weekend of November than it typically does during Lone Star Rally, despite the fact some motorcycle enthusiasts traveled to Galveston anyway, she said.

Before the pandemic, some merchants were weighing whether events really belonged in the downtown area. While festivals generally are good for hotels, restaurants and bars, they can be hit-or-miss proposition for shops, which might sell to one crowd but not to another.

The discussion about whether festivals belong in the downtown area has been going on for a long time, said Trey Click, executive director of the Historic Downtown Galveston Partnership.

“I don’t know that it’s going to change in the near future,” Click said. “I think that we’re going to have festivals in downtown.”

Deciding which events belong downtown and which don’t is a potential minefield, he said.

It has to be one way or another: Either allow festivals or don’t allow them, he said.

“You either have to do them all or not do them,” Click said.

‘OFF-SEASON SUCCESS’

Holiday Victorian festival Dickens on The Strand is widely beloved, especially by shops that attract Christmas shoppers, said Wendy Morgan, owner of The Admiralty, 2221 Strand.

“A mistake would be to say people don’t like events downtown,” Morgan said. “It isn’t about the events per se. It’s about the impact to our traffic. If we’re getting people in our doors and they’re active customers, then that’s all great.”

Festival organizers say they work with businesses downtown.

“I’m not saying there aren’t some businesses that don’t do better, but the overall business is there,” Painter said. “It was a resounding positive impact. There will always be some businesses that won’t do as well. We try very hard.”

After shrimp festival, Dean got many calls from business owners glad festivals had returned, he said.

“For my businesses, festivals are really critical for off-season success,” Dean said.

‘WORKING RELATIONSHIPS’

What businesses want is for event organizers to work with them, Marney said. Many businesses want to be a part of — not blocked off — from festivals, he said.

“Over the years, we’ve developed good working relationships with the people that plan these events and they’re willing to work with us,” he said.

The city might be able to learn something about festivals this year, Click said. Either way, he expects it will be a busy season.

“Now that people are less afraid to be amongst each other, I think we’ll have a very healthy festival season,” Click said.


News
New top cop unveils plan for Kemah police department transformation

KEMAH

Less than a month into his tenure, Kemah’s new police chief has released a plan designed to transform his department into a model public safety organization.

Chief Holland Jones’ plan, called “The Stop, Walk, Talk, Listen and Learn Tour,” is broken down into 10 goals, including evaluating the department, meeting face to face with city leaders and community members and creating a plan to recruit talented personnel. It was posted on the city’s website to be made available to the community, Jones said.

“I’m very, very transparent,” he said. “That’s why we have all the information out there.”

The plan will start Friday and is expected to take 90 days to 180 days to complete. At the halfway point, Jones will release a status report outlining what he has learned, he said.

Other goals include filling vacant critical positions, reviewing department policies, reviewing all city-wide emergency preparedness plans, developing relationships with surrounding police departments and creating an environment that adheres to the mission of the city.

As part of evaluating the department and filling positions, several divisions, including a criminal and investigation background division and a threat-assessment and crime-prevention unit, will be created. Although this work already is done at the department, the creation of divisions will allow the department to dedicate specific officers to the tasks, Jones said.

The plan also will evaluate whether the department is aligned with the Six Pillars of 21st Century Policing:

• Building trust and legitimacy

• Policy and oversight

• Technology and social media

• Community policing and crime reduction

• Officer training and education

• Officer safety and wellness

The six pillars were created by the Task Force on 21st Century Policing begun by President Barack Obama in 2014. They provide topics for police to focus on, according to a report from the task force. The community-policing strategy the Kemah Police Department adopts will incorporate those pillars.

Jones, whose first day as chief was Sept. 7, already is making changes in the department, including hiring new personnel. The department also is going through the Texas Police Chiefs Association Law Enforcement Recognition Program, which is a voluntary program that evaluates the use of Texas law enforcement best practices in a department, Jones said.

Additionally, the dispatch unit will be going through an accreditation program in the future, Jones said. Both programs will help improve the department, he said.

“It will provide the basic, fundamental infrastructure to manage our law enforcement agency or public service organization through best practices, policies, procedures, rules and regulations and goals and objectives,” he said.

Future plans include taking advantage of the reserve volunteer program in which police officers go to Kemah and volunteer their services, Jones said.

“By revamping and revising that reserve program, I’m bringing in some of the best and the brightest police officers to the city of Kemah to provide invaluable knowledge to the city of Kemah citizens,” he said.

Mayor Carl Joiner said he has been pleased with the progress Jones has made during his short time as chief. The city council approved additional funding to bring in more police department personnel at Jones’ request, which will help with the noise and nuisance problems the city has encountered recently from bars and some short-term rentals, Joiner said.

“He’s really organizing our police department to where it’s going to just be one of the best around,” he said.

Although the city has only about 2,000 residents, the population swells during the summer as tourists flock to the area, presenting unique challenges for the department, Jones said.

“Everybody knows Kemah, for the most part,” he said. “So, it’s a challenge to go from providing a public safety service for 1,800 to 2,000 citizens to over 3 to 4 million visitors a year.”

A Galveston native and 20-year veteran of law enforcement, Jones was selected by the Kemah City Council at the Aug. 18 meeting to replace interim Chief Walter Gant, who is the city administrator. Jones also is a licensed attorney with a doctorate in administration of justice.

Since stepping into the role, he has adopted an “open-door policy” and encourages citizens to email him with any concerns they might have, he said. The department also has increased the use of its Facebook page to improve engagement with the community.

Within the first 40 days of the plan, Jones also wants to develop a calendar of community meetings, he said, adding he hopes to get out to speak with residents and hear their concerns.

“I will talk to them, listen to them, listen to their problems and concerns, listen to their voices, their recommendations and suggestions so I can give them the type of highly professional customizable services that they are requesting as a community,” he said.


Back