Citing general dissatisfaction, the county declined to renew a contract this year with the state for a program to cover up to 90 percent of the costs for elevating homes that flood often, officials said.
The county did not renew its contract with the Texas Water Development Board for the Severe Repetitive Loss Grant Program after issues with contractors and the program’s requirements, County Judge Mark Henry said.
The program makes some homes with either four flood claims totaling more than $20,000 or two claims exceeding their market value eligible for grants for elevation or other flood mitigation measures, according to the Texas Water Development Board.
Galveston County homeowners have received about $40.12 million in grants through the program since 2011, according the board.
But the county had problems with the program, including about contractor oversight and working with the state, Henry said.
The county decided not to renew before Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 and swamped the area, flooding thousands of homes. But asked again recently, Henry said the county still did not plan to renew the program.
“It’s been nothing short of a nightmare,” Henry said, directing blame to the Texas Water Development Board for ever-changing guidelines and rules associated with the program. “They give you a set of rules on Monday and on Tuesday it’s a whole new set of rules.”
A spokeswoman for the water board, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency program, said the agency administers the program but does not set the requirements.
The county was also critical of the program because it costs more to elevate some houses than they are worth, Henry said.
The program is intended to reduce the number of flood claims filed in the National Flood Insurance Program and reduce the payouts from the badly indebted program.
The flood insurance program is administered by FEMA and the primary flood insurer for coastal homeowners.
Private insurers didn’t offer many flood insurance policies because the rates people were willing to pay wouldn’t cover the risk. The government stepped in to offset that and help reduce spending on disaster response.
But lawmakers set the rates and critics argue the premiums have been kept artificially low and don’t cover the risk when major disasters happen. As of last year, the program was about $23 billion in debt, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.
FEMA has initiated programs like the Severe Repetitive Loss Grant to reduce claims, experts said.
While repeatedly flooded properties represent just 1 percent of the policies with flood insurance, they account for as much as 30 percent of flood insurance claims and have cost the program more than $12 billion, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Galveston County has more than 2,600 repetitive-loss properties that have made more than 9,000 claims, according to Pew.
Among other complaints, county leaders didn’t like the fact they couldn’t insist on lowest bidders for contracting work because of federal requirements, Henry said.
The county also had problems with specific contractors and jobs in the program, he said.
“I think that invites all kinds of fraud and we didn’t know any of this when we agreed,” Henry said.
The program paid 90 percent of the costs of elevating a house and the homeowner paid the other 10 percent, said Myrna Reingold, an attorney for the county.
Once a homeowner had benefited from the program, the property had a deed restriction requiring future owners to carry flood insurance, Reingold said.