Algiere prods state to hasten building code review that is blocking insurance discounts

Algiere prods state to hasten building code review that is blocking insurance discounts

The Westerly Sun

The director of the state Department of Administration is looking into ways to address a delay in the adoption of new state building codes that could save state residents — including those in Charlestown — thousands of dollars on flood insurance premiums, state Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said Thursday.

Algiere said he spoke with Michael DiBiase, the director, on Thursday morning and DiBiase planned to meet with his staff on the matter.

“He’s very much aware of this issue,” Algiere said. “We, along with other states, have the 2012 building code, and they want to adopt a new building code, but because of the strict cost-benefit analysis that must be undertaken, pursuant to state law, the Administrative Procedures Act, it’s taking them a while because it’s a very tedious task — it’s a large amount of regulations so it’s taking some time.”

The state building codes are normally updated every three years. The last update was in 2012 and the next one should have been in 2015. The 2015 codes have already been created by the Rhode Island Building Code Standards Committee, but by law they cannot be submitted for approval until a cost-benefit analysis is done of every code modification.

The problem with using old codes is that the Insurance Services Office, a privately owned ratings service for the property-casualty market, downgrades outdated municipalities when it evaluates their codes and enforcement. Insurance companies, in turn, use ISO grades when they set their premiums.

Some towns receive insurance discounts through programs like the Community Rating System, but less favorable grades result in fewer discounts. For example, Charlestown, which Algiere represents, would have been eligible to move from a Class 7 rating, which gives property owners a 15 percent discount on flood insurance, to a Class 6 rating, which would provide a 20 percent discount, if not for a demoted grade from the Insurance Services Office, according to Charlestown Building and Zoning Official Joseph Warner.

Algiere said DiBiase understood how using the outdated codes could affect cities and towns’ insurance rates.

“He is going to again meet with his staff to determine whether or not anything can be done to speed this process along,” Algiere said. “We had, I think, a very good conversation — he’s very much aware of this and he’s going to try to make reasonable efforts to get the process moving along, but there were no promises at all.”

In an email Thursday afternoon, Brenna McCabe, public information officer for the Department of Administration, confirmed that DiBiase would meet with his staff to “further address these items.”

McCabe also wrote that the cost-benefit analysis provision in the Administrative Procedures Act, which was added in 2016, “is designed to help protect public health and safety while also preventing unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations from impacting businesses and individuals.”

“In the past, Rhode Island has been ranked by national media and business leaders as having one of the most onerous regulatory environments,” she wrote. “The revised Administrative Procedures Act represents [a] serious commitment from our policymakers to clean up our state’s rules and regulations and increase transparency.”

McCabe said, “This is not a simple task, and involves more than 27,000 pages of agency regulations (which include the building codes). Our team is hard at work to meet this challenge, and it does take time.”

McCabe said that while the state has limited resources, the challenge with the building code regulations is their complexity and volume.

“The building code is a comprehensive collection of many sets of regulations, all of which can affect Rhode Island’s economic development. This is a challenging task, but it is a priority,” she wrote. “The final product will yield tangible benefits for both the municipalities and the business community moving forward, and we are committed to a thorough process with that in mind.”

The price of the cost-benefit analysis was estimated by one consulting firm at $780,000, not including all of the reference manuals.

Algiere said DiBiase did not mention funding the project in their conversation.


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