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St. Pete mayor, Realtors urge action on flood insurance rates

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster joined with state and local realtors Tuesday in urging Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to take additional steps to delay implementation of federal flood insurance rate increases.

They said that unless Congress halts scheduled rate hikes for grandfathered and newly purchased properties, it could have serious negative economic effects and undermine steady progress in sales of new and existing homes
in Tampa Bay and throughout the state .

"Just hit pause," Foster testified. "It will have a devastating impact on St. Petersburg and Pinellas County." Foster specifically suggested that Attorney General Pal Bondi file a lawsuit in attempt to force a moratorium, but Bondi did  not address the issue during the meeting.

Also testifying was Brandi Gabbard, incoming chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Association of Realtors. She said about one third of all properties in Pinellas would be affected by the rate hike -- more than any other county in the United  States. The effects would not just affect wealthy coastal properties, but inland homes as well, many owned by seniors living on fixed incomes.

Scott and Cabinet members listened but did not take any action. "We all have to be very aggressive in letting our Congressional leaders in Washington know how this is going to affect us," Scott said. The governor has
already sent letters to U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, expressing concerns that the rate hikes could have on Florida's economy.

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), recently testified before Congress that legislative action was required to forestall the rate hikes.

Clearly, political leaders at all levels are worried about being blamed for the rate increases on homeowners, which Foster said was clearly the federal government's responsibility.

"Nobody can blame the mayor of St. Petersburg -- although people will try," said Foster, who faces a tough battle for re-election in November against former state Rep. Rick Kriseman.

-- Steve Bousquet