VALDOSTA -- City residents should finally receive the lowered insurance premiums promised when Valdosta officials announced a lowered Insurance Service Organization fire rating in January.

A delay from ISO in reporting the change caused confusion earlier this year when residents were told by their insurance agents that there was no record of a new rating for the City of Valdosta.

That changed May 1 with ISO officially recording Valdosta's rating as a 2 instead of a 3 and distributed that information to local agencies.

City Manager Larry Hanson said part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that the city requested an early evaluation because officials knew they would meet the criteria to lower the rating.

Insurance companies use ISO ratings to set premiums for homeowners. Lower ISO ratings translate to lower premiums because the score reflects the overall level of fire protection.

Valdosta Mayor James Rainwater estimated in January that the new rating would save homeowners approximately 10 percent on their insurance premiums. The rating is also an enticement for prospective business and industry.

Valdosta held an ISO rating of 3 for nearly 20 years, but funneled extensive SPLOST funds into fire protection in an effort to lower the score. New equipment was purchased and two new fire stations were built with sales tax monies. The city spent $3 million in SPLOST funds since 1998 for fire services and tentatively plans on another $3 million disbursement over five years should SPLOST V pass in August.

Only nine Georgia cities possess a Public Protection Classification of 2, and only 307 of 44,870 nationwide fire departments hold that rating. The ISO scale ranges from 10 -- which indicates less than the minimum recognized protection -- to 1 -- representing the best overall response.

Hanson said the city's goal was to continue to improve training, equipment and staffing to the level required for a rating of 1.

"Our goal now is achieve a 1. It may be something that is not achievable within the next year, but we hope in the short term to be among the most elite," he said, noting that Macon, Baton Rouge, La. and Charlotte, N.C., are the only southeastern cities to boast ISO's top rating.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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