Naples residents could soon pay as much as 11 percent more for their fire insurance if the city does not come into compliance with 2012 state standards.
A November visit by the Insurance Services Office (ISO), a national organization that rates fire districts on their abilities to fight fires, will determine how well Naples is equipped. The city currently holds a Class 2 designation on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the highest.
In the meantime, Mayor John Sorey said the city is challenging the Florida Fire Prevention Code, which went into effect Dec. 31 and dictates water flow requirements to new homes. Sorey said the city won't attempt to come into compliance until that avenue has been explored.
Fire Chief Steve McInerny said in addition to being out of compliance with state code, the city has grown so much in the 20 years since its last ISO visit that it will likely suffer a decrease in its rating anyway. Since its last rating, the city has annexed 23 properties and lost two firefighter positions.
"We would still have an ISO problem even without the new fire flow standards," McInerny said. "We've known there were problems going back to January 2010. ... Then the state law changed in January of this year. Now we're getting heat from a second angle."
A 2010 study commissioned by the city estimated a possible 3-percent increase in insurance rates if the city should drop to a rating of 3 and an additional 8-percent increase if the rating should drop to 4. That could mean an 11-percent insurance rate increase if the rating drops from a 2 to a 4.
The study did not address what the financial impact could be if the rating drops to a 5 or more.
A preliminary visit by ISO inspectors in March showed the city could drop to a 4 or 5 on the scale with its current staffing levels and deficient water flow available to the mansions of more than 5,000 square feet that are becoming more frequent in the city, McInerny said.
The new Florida code states that new homes of 5,000 square feet or less must have access to water that flows at 1,000 gallons per minute for one hour. Larger homes must meet requirements on a sliding scale for different gallon and duration requirements.
Dozens of new homes built in the city this year don't meet those requirements.
To meet the new standards, the city could do a combination of the following: make costly improvements to its infrastructure, purchase a $250,000 fire boat to combat waterfront fires, and require that builders outfit new homes with fire-resistant building materials or fire sprinkler systems.
While Sorey agrees the city's rating will likely suffer with the new ISO inspection, he said it's a matter of opinion whether the drop will affect insurance rates.
"Some insurance agents say as long as you're in a range it doesn't have make a difference," he said. "We're probably going to be a worse rating but we'll have to see how the cost to citizens compares to the cost to correct any deficiencies and see what makes the most sense."
Sorey said the city is hoping to challenge the code and make the new requirements recommendations.
"We're working with (State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater) at state level in Tallahasee," he said, "and we're also talking to the legislative delegation about the possibility of introducing legislation that would move (the requirements) from the code to the annex, and take it back to a non-mandatory process."