Fair insurance rates for coastal communities and clarification on municipal authority to enforce smoking bans on beaches were among concerns elected officials in New Hanover County recently discussed with state lawmakers.
“Coastal insurance – that is becoming a real problem for those in Topsail Beach,” Mayor Howard Braxton said Monday, Feb. 25, during a New Hanover County Local Officials Caucus at Wilmington City Hall. “We’re on a fixed income and as insurance goes up we start losing people.”
Homeowners’ insurance rates have been rising disproportionately in coastal areas compared with more inland areas of North Carolina, said Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-Brunswick and New Hanover.
“We are in fact a coastal state,” Hamilton said. “When hurricanes come across the Atlantic and they enter…along the coast or along the shoreline here, they often make it all the way to the mountain communities.”
Homeowners insurance rates were up 17.5 percent in the beach areas of New Hanover County and 29.8 percent in other areas of the county in 2009, whereas rates dropped 4 percent in Charlotte and 6 percent in Gaston, Mecklenburg and Union counties, according to a breakdown of North Carolina Rate Bureau data sent by Kathleen Riely, governmental affairs director for the Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS.
“We all need to be treated fairly,” Hamilton said.
Coastal counties are willing to pay their fair share but are being required to pay more, said Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover.
“We are stuck until we change the law,” Goolsby said. “And to do that we’ve got to get all these other people that are getting the great deal across the state to say ‘Oh yeah, let us pay more.’ And that’s what we’re up against.”
State lawmakers from North Carolina’s coastal counties planned to continue meeting as a coastal caucus to address homeowners insurance and other issues.
“We’re trying to find strength in numbers,” Goolsby said.
Lending institutions that require insurance levels and the Rate Bureau that sets the rates also are part of the equation, said Reps. Rick Catlin and Ted Davis Jr., both R-New Hanover.
“We need to look at North Carolina in determining our rates,” Davis added, rather than looking at what has happened in other states.
Coastal caucus priorities also include funding for coastal inlet dredging and beach nourishment, lawmakers said.
“Please keep teaching your colleagues in Raleigh how important that is,” Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti said of beach nourishment.
Cignotti also raised the issue of clarifying the town’s municipal authority to enforce a smoking ban on state-owned parts of beach strands.
He noted estimates from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show about 400,000 people die annually from cigarette smoking.
“To me that’s a nonpartisan issue,” Cignotti said. “It’s a health and litter issue.”
Davis told Cignotti he has learned there cannot be local bills that deal with the environment, health or nuisances.
Limitations on local, private and special legislation include subjects relating to health, sanitation and the abatement of nuisances, according to the North Carolina State Constitution.
“So we are not going to be able to have a local bill that will allow either Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach or Kure Beach, if they so choose, to pass such an ordinance to enforce that on state-owned property,” Davis said. “What will have to be done is a statewide bill.”
Not everyone in the state may be in favor of allowing a local entity to enforce ordinances on state-owned property, Davis said.
“That’s the snag,” Davis said, adding he would continue to look into the issue.