Sunday, October 6, 2013

Homeowners in Fire Zones May Well Be Dinged Next Year- And They Should BE!

A house is fully engulfed by the Black Forest Fire.
A home is engulfed by flames in Black Forest back in June this year. Higher fees, taxes and insurance premiums on these home owners ought to limit future disasters here in Colorado.

"Wildfires have been part of living in the West ever since people first settled here. For several decades, there has been a continuous buildup of hazardous fuels and this growing risk requires a response."  - Governor John Hickloooper, last Monday at State Capitol after referencing the creation of his Wildlife Insurance and Forest Health Task Force in 2012 and the need to impose higher fees, taxes, insurance premiums on those living in fire danger zones.

Imagine a person choosing to live near a fuel dump where partly- filled cans and containers of gasoline are regularly tossed. Imagine also that each year fierce, dry heat is incepted by climate conditions which trigger one or more explosive fires  after the containers explode.  Yet each year the fuel dump dwellers expect government resources to bail their homes out, while also expecting insurance companies to cough up the bread for rebuilding and not raise their premiums.

What's wrong with this picture? Everything.

In the case of the Colorado fires, specifically the Waldo Canyon fire last year which destroyed over 350 homes, and the Black Forest fire this year which destroyed thousands, we know the fuel includes hollowed out pine and other trees,  turned into tinder by the Mountain Pine Beetle.  In effect, all those folks living in the forested areas of the state are inhabiting de facto "fuel dumps" which was the point of the governor's remark last Monday.  And if they are living in those fuel dump zones, then they ought to be expected to pay more for the privilege  - given precious fire fighting resources will most likely have to be expended there.

As the Colorado Springs Gazette pointed out Tuesday(page B-1) , according to Hickenlooper's proposal, home owners in high risk fire areas would "have their properties rated for wildfire risk and face special fees and taxes to help fund fire mitigation efforts - under recommendations released Monday by the governor's wildfire task force."

Of course, this is eminently reasonable! If you choose to live in a sequestered, private area laden with tinder for wildfires, you ought to be expected to pay for likely consequences and resources needed to help you - given the experiences of the last two years. To expect those of us who live in "normal" areas to swallow higher insurance premiums for your choices is nothing short of nuts. Why should we, given we derive no benefit? (I.e. being able to book your home for a weekend stay - getaway.)

Therefore, exceptionally assessing higher fees, taxes and even higher insurance premiums for properties in high risk fire areas is both rational and fair - and certainly not "spoils taking" ass suggested by Robert Samuelson (last blog).

Still, local GOP-ers, like Springs Mayor Steve Bach, are complaining and arguing that they "would not support a state wide fee for mitigation".  Oh, and he also rejects any talk of a "mitigation audit" - based on state assessors rating homes on a 1-10 scale for fire danger, as recommended by Barbara Kelley - executive  Director of the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies. (op. cit., p. B-5)

Such audits, if yielding scores as high as 9 or 10 would "render some properties uninsurable and thus unsellable". The task force has also recommended disclosures of the risk ratings when homes are sold.

Reepos like Bach hate such proposals because, of course, they don't wish to antagonize their higher income voters, most of whom are those with the properties in the higher risk areas.

But, if our legislators are sane they will ram this task force mitigation mandate through - like they earlier did Colorado's gun control legislation, including limiting magazines to 10 clips.

Stay tuned!

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