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RESIDENTS' COMPLAINTS FLOW IN MEETING ON SUBJECT OF MANDATORY FLOOD INSURANCE

The subject of mandatory flood insurance brought forth a torrent of complaints Tuesday night from residents who think that they do not need it and who have not been able to collect when they have had a problem.

More than 100 people turned out in the St. Teresa's Parish Center for an informational meeting whose host was Common Council Member Mary Martino of the South District.

She emphasized that what promises to be a long process -- to try to get the requirement for insurance eliminated where it is not needed and get premiums reduced in general -- is just beginning.

Martino said she will work with U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who was represented at the meeting by staff assistant Laura Monte.

According to Mary Colvin of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the average flood insurance premium in Buffalo is $446, compared with a national average of $300 and a New York State average of $518. Higher real estate prices and older homes with basements account for the difference, she said.

Martino said South Buffalo residents pay a total of $400,000 to $500,000 a year in premiums but have collected only about $220,000 total in the past 20 years. The rest goes to subsidize other parts of the country where there is a greater flood risk, she said.

"This is the biggest federal rip-off there is," said Daniel Kozub, a city councilman in Lackawanna, which has a similar situation.

"Is it fair to make us pay for a policy we can't collect on?" asked Maria Moore of Hayden Street, who said Cazenovia Creek waters would have to flood four blocks before reaching her house.

Josephine Alessio of Seminole Parkway said she has to pay $296 a year for flood insurance because she is in a flood plain -- by one-tenth of a foot.

Colvin received some jeers when she told residents who said there has never been a flooding problem, "Maybe you've just been lucky."

Flood insurance only pays off when there is a general flood, and sewer backups usually are not covered, she said -- a fact to which several angry residents attested.

Federally regulated lenders must require flood insurance in the amount of the mortgage or loan if it is determined that the property is in a flood plain, officials said. In South Buffalo's case, that means a 1 percent chance of a flood.

Martino said the city and upstream communities such as West Seneca have taken steps to reduce the risk of flooding.

She said later that she has received numerous complaints from people who say they are not informed of the insurance requirement until just before they are about to sign for a mortgage.

"It was an excellent turnout," she said of the meeting. "People are frustrated and they needed an opportunity to vent."

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