Skyrocketing Christian Valley insurance bills blamed on rating mistake

Rural Auburn residents erroneously dropped from fire protection area
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - If you live in the Christian Valley area and your homeowners insurance bill has just taken a sudden leap, you may want to get in touch with Placer County Fire officials. Placer County Fire Warden Brad Harris told the County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that his office is working to correct a clerical error by risk-information business Insurance Services Office (ISO) that has resulted in skyrocketing insurance bills for some residents of Christian Valley, a rural community located north of Auburn. “Some insurance rates have jumped six-fold up to $6,000 to $7,000 (a year),” Harris said. Not all insurance carriers are boosting rates based on the ISO fire rating, Harris said. But independent carriers, which use the New Jersey-based business’ ratings, have been reporting customer concerns, he said. The revised rating is due to an error that apparently shows Christian Valley with no fire protection from any nearby department. Placer Fire has jurisdiction in the area and Harris said staff is working to correct an error that seems to have been made under the mistaken assumption that Christian Valley wasn’t picked up for protection when the Placer Consolidated Fire Protection District was dissolved and rolled into Placer Fire. Placer Consolidated was absorbed in 2006, which makes the error even more perplexing, Harris said. The result has been a series of high-billing complaints to Placer Fire that started with a trickle of one or two a week in April and are now coming in at a rate of sometimes 20 a week. The inquiries – usually based on assumptions that hydrants aren’t close enough to properties – are continuing as more billings are mailed out by insurers, Harris said. Harris said the best thing to do is for customers with billing concerns to contact their agents, who can work with fire officials to correct any errors. Placer Fire is attempting to have ISO make its database changes at least a month from now, he said. The North Auburn, Ophir and Meadow Vista areas have not been affected, Harris said. Capt. Bob Eicholtz is the contact person with Placer County Fire, either at (530) 745-3574 or Fred Vitas, of Auburn’s Vitas Insurance Agency, said his business was able to help one Christian Valley resident who had seen a homeowners insurance bill go from $1,300 to $5,300. It was resolved with a new bill being sent for $1,400, he said. “The bill didn’t recognize that hydrants were close by,” Vitas said. “My suggestion would be not to panic, contact your agent, and hopefully, there will be a favorable resolution.” ISO describes itself on its website as an independent organization that serves insurance companies, insurance regulators and others by providing information about risk. It collects information about local fire-protection efforts in communities throughout the U.S. and then analyzes the data to assign a ranking from 1 to 10. Harris said Christian Valley residents were reporting a ranking of 10 – the worst score possible. In the past, the area had a “5” ranking, which was good, Harris said. Class 10 indicates that the area’s fire-suppression program, including communications, fire department and water supply don’t meet ISO’s minimum criteria. Harris said it is not known why the error occurred. A call to ISO on Tuesday was not returned.