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By Staff | Jan 30, 2014

These homeowners from Muncy have been severely affected by the rate hikes for flood insurance as a result of the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012. From left to right are Jeff Waltman, Nikki Burrows, and Gary Weigel. They, and many others, expressed fear of losing their homes during last Saturday's rally at Trout Pond Park.

MUNCY – A call to act and a plea for reform prompted many local homeowners to attend a rally against flood insurance rate hikes as a result of Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Congress passed the act so that FEMA could make changes as to how the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is run. Some of these change have already occurred, and more are coming. Subsidies are being phased out to help alleviate the program’s debt.

Nearly 100 irate homeowners came to Trout Pond Park on Saturday afternoon to express their fear of losing their homes due to unaffordable premiums.

Nikki Burrows who lives on Carpenter Street in Muncy said new maps were drawn up, and now others will be notified to pay higher rates for flood insurance. “Many of our neighbors dropped their flood insurance because they can’t afford it,” she said. However, since she and her husband Jeff have a mortgage, Burrows said they were notified by their insurance company that their rates would increase to $1,174 from $368 on a home purchased for $100,000 in 2006. “We put a lot of work and money into it. It was last appraised for $150,000.”

There is also going to be a 20 percent increase for the next five years and Burrows said that she could end up with a premium of $4,230 per year. “This is way more than my mortgage. My equity is gone. Worthless! This was going to be used to put my kids in college.” She added, “The house is now worth literally nothing. We can walk away. What’s the point of continuing a home that’s worth nothing.”

Neighborhoods, some with long time residents, are starting to show ‘For Sale’ signs such as S. Washington Street in Muncy. “They want out,” said Burrows.

Congressman Tom Marino (middle right) came to a rally at Trout Pond Park Saturday afternoon to hear the testimonials of homeowners impacted by Congress passing the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012. George Kasimos (far left) from New Jersey and organizer of 'StopFEMANow' pointed out the discrepancies of FEMA's attempt to raise the rates for flood insurance.

Jeff Waltman closed on his $60,000 Muncy home in December 2012, not aware of the passing legislation five months prior. He paid $592 for flood insurance at the time. He said he was notified the first week in October 2013 from his insurance company that policy changes were coming. He was also informed that he needed an elevation survey which cost an additional $500. By the end of October he said he received another mailing asking for more measurements and photos of his property. Meanwhile, his insurance policy was about to lapse on Nov. 30 so he quickly put it together “to make it work in time.” To his dismay, Waltman received another letter the second week in December stating he had to pay $9,096 on a $60,000 home.

“FEMA wanted these properties already occupied when these rates were issued,” remarked Waltman.

Jeff Smead from Muncy said he heard about it through word of mouth. Neighbors would ask, “Did you check your flood insurance lately? Everything was kept ‘hush-hush’,” he said. “Nobody could give us answers,” he said after he and his wife made several phone calls when they received their notice to pay $10,960 from $754. He also paid to have an elevation certificate done hoping that would lower the cost, but it did just the opposite. “This was a criminal act passed intentionally,” said Smead. “We did everything right before they gave us this quote.”

To help out at the rally, guests from other affected areas such as Jersey Shore, Wilkes Barre, Danville and New Jersey came to speak out on the negative impact of the legislation. A board member from Jersey Shore council remarked how it’s a problem throughout America. He said he owns the oldest house in Jersey Shore and thought he was getting a nice house for his money. 50 percent of Jersey Shore’s residents are now affected.

Before Congressman Tom Marino spoke, Montgomery’s Mayor Andy Onufrak said this affects everyone in the county, and all property values, not just flood victims. “We’re all victims in this bill.” Thirty percent of Montgomery’s homeowners are affected. “Not one politician said, ‘ I made a mistake.’ They snuck this in like an omnibus. Incomes in all boroughs are going to change.”

Marino agreed that it does nothing for our towns. “I don’t like what’s happening. We have to repeal this!” Marino informed those there that he is going to be sitting in conference this week trying to resolve the issue by talking to experts on both sides. Is the government trying to build reserve by getting more people to pay flood insurance? “There has to be a repeal,” voiced the Congressman. And the focus will be on three key issues. First of all, people will get to keep their homes and at their pre-value. And most importantly, pay reasonable insurance rates. Marino assured his audience, “I work for you, and so do those rotarians in D.C.”

The government subsidizes by two thirds, and only 44 percent of premiums go to pay outs. Ten percent of the people account for one third.

George Kasimos, a licensed real estate broker from New Jersey and organizer of StopFEMANow, told Marino of a Texas home that was given 2 million dollars from FEMA to rebuild over and over. It was only worth $116,000. “FEMA doesn’t listen,” he shouted and encouraged Marino to get some political pressure to roll back the flood zones.

“I want to save my home. What could be more important than that? Soon properties will be uninsurable if this legislation is not corrected,” added Kasimos.

“I called 50 people and no one called me back,” replied Smead. “Do they even care?”