Brooksville legislators tackle sinkhole crisis

Oct 24, 2011

The following article was published in Hernando Today on October 24, 2011:

Legislators tackle sinkhole crisis

By Michael D. Bates

Community and government leaders Monday morning presented their wish lists for state legislators, asking them for help ranging from elderly care to help during tough economic times.

A good portion of the two-hour meeting was devoted to the sinkhole crisis and what legislators could do to help alleviate high insurance coverage premiums.

County Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek opened the presentation when he said the county is losing $283 million so far this year from bogus sinkhole claims.

“This is a tremendous revenue shortage for Hernando County,” Mazourek said.

Hernando County, he said, has the dubious distinction of being the “sinkhole capital of Florida,” followed closely by Pasco County.

A huge rate hike proposed by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. recently prompted public outrage not only in Hernando County but throughout the area.

People living along the coast of Hernando County were poised to see rates go up 323 percent, from $1,356 to $5,734.

The remainder of the county would have seen an average 471 percent increase, from $1,084 to $6,192.

Citizens eventually agreed to cap its sinkhole rate increase to 50 percent and spread out payments over time, amounting to an additional $1,000 to $1,200 annually for residents.

But that’s still unacceptable, former County Commissioner Rose Rocco told legislators.

“If you get people hit with these kinds of increases, on top of mortgage rates, you’ll have more foreclosures than you can shake a stick at,” Rocco said.

Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, said he has no doubt that there is “rampant sinkhole fraud” occurring.

That led State Senator Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to urge action on the part of law enforcement.

“If there is fraud going on then someone should be arrested,” Fasano said. “Someone should be charged with a crime.”

But it’s not that easy, Mazourek said.

“Proving it is one thing,” he said. “But there is fraud going on.”

County commissioners recently tightened up its sinkhole policy by demanding that there be a better tracking system of insurance claims.

They said there are companies that prey on homeowners’ fears. Many people see cracks in their driveway or around their homes and call sinkhole companies, getting confirmations that voids are present on their property.

The homeowners turn the claim into their insurance companies, get a check but don’t get the repairs done.

Instead, they people pay off their mortgages and other debt and leave the sinkhole problem unaddressed.

Meanwhile, the property is de-valued and affects the appraiser’s calculations on homes in the vicinity.

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