By John Schaffner

editor@reporternewspapers.net

Atlanta homeowners can expect insurance rate increases of as much as 10 percent, according to insurance officials, because a rating agency is lowering the city’s public protection rating by two points.

Some insurers have said the lower rating could result in an $85 increase in the premium on a $250,000 home, which means most Buckhead homeowners could expect an even larger premium increase.

But city officials insist home­owners will not pay more for their insurance, despite the preliminary report from New Jersey-based Insurance Services Office (ISO), which found issues with the city’s fire protection, hydrant system and emergency communications.

“No business owner and no homeowner in the city of Atlanta should see a difference of any kind in their insurance,” Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Greg Giornelli said.

ISO lowered Atlanta’s public protection rating from a 2 to a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine said the lower rating could result in as much as a 10 percent increase in insurance premiums.

The ISO gave Atlanta a preliminary score of 69.53 out of 100. The city reportedly needs at least a 70 to receive a 3 rating and 80 points to get back to its 2 rating.

In December, Oxendine asked for a thorough review of Atlanta after several rounds of budget cuts resulted in the full-time closing of two fire stations as well as “brownouts,” in which stations are temporarily shut down and their firefighters are moved to other stations to handle service calls when staffing is low.

The ISO is an advisory organization that compiles information for the insurance industry. Among other things, the ISO evaluates municipal and county fire protection. Using the 10-point Public Protection Classification program (PPC), the ISO provides information that can be used to set premiums.

In the past four months, the ISO conducted an in-depth PPC evaluation of Atlanta’s water system, emergency communication system, and firefighting policies, procedures, staffing, training and capabilities.

The draft report shows Atlanta’s preliminary score is a 4. ISO procedures allow the city 90 days to develop an improvement plan and six additional months to implement the plan. The ISO then re-evaluates the city.

The ISO last evaluated Atlanta in the early 1970s, at which time the city earned a rating of 2. That rating will stay in effect for up to nine months while the city develops and puts in place its implementation plan.

Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran said: “We have welcomed this exhaustive review of our firefighting capabilities and will use the evaluation as a blueprint for improvements. We intend to use the next nine months to make changes recommended by the ISO, and we are confident we can regain our previous rating.”

Oxendine said that to get a better rating, the city must improve its training and increase the number of its engine companies and the number of firefighters in those companies.

City officials, however, said staffing was not a major factor. Cochran said the department is making changes to improve how it documents training and increasing driver training.

City officials said they are already planning some changes that should increase the rating, such as repairing its valve hydrants.

According to ISO officials, the preliminary rating has no effect during the implementation period, and if the city regains its previous rating in nine months, there will be no changes for homeowners and businesses.

“It is our intent, it is our goal, it is our expectation that we will maintain that rating permanently,” Giornelli said of the rating of 2.

Atlanta’s rating of 2 places it in the top 2 percent of the 1,144 Georgia cities and counties measured by the ISO. A score of 3 would place Atlanta in the top 7 percent of Georgia cities and counties, and a score of 4 would place Atlanta in the top 15 percent. In metro Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties have ratings of 3, and Gwinnett County is a 4.