LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The waterfront community in this township, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, is accustomed to dealing with losses due to flooding.

Despite that, until now, the township had never applied to a federal government program to receive discounted flood insurance for residents in exchange for wide-scale improvements aimed at limiting future flooding.

The Community Rating System is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum requirements under the federal National Flood Insurance Program. Little Egg Harbor has never completed the application process to receive the discounts, which can be as much as 45 percent for communities with exemplary records of managing flood risks.

The closest the township came to applying was to start the paperwork just weeks before Sandy hit the region in October 2012, Assistant Township Administrator Michael Fromosky said.

But now, faced with 5,000 damaged homes and residents reluctant or unable to shoulder the costs of rebuilding and insuring their homes against future floods, the township is working through the Community Rating System’s lengthy submission process.

Eventually, the township hopes to join neighboring communities such as Stafford Township, Long Beach Township and Beach Haven, which have reached the NFIP’s highest level of compliance, allowing residents there to receive a 45 percent reduction in their premiums.

Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora said the work the township did to reach that level has helped residents stay here.

“There are a lot of residents who live down here, and when they go to buy flood insurance and see that there’s a discount because of Stafford, they come in and thank us,” Spodofora said.

Little Egg Harbor officials are likewise hoping that savings on insurance will help some residents stay, but Fromosky acknowledges the process could take up to a year. He’s not sure why previous township officials never applied.

“I think with the township getting a discount and the flood insurance legislation being reformed, I hope that many of the people who left here after the storm come back,” Fromosky said.

The savings and flood prevention efforts become more important because homeowners in the flood insurance program are facing steep premium increases under reforms to the program that were passed less than two years ago, although the impact of the reforms has been delayed under legislation signed recently by President Barack Obama.

“We’re going to use everything that is available to get this discount. I don’t see any way we will make it this year, but I am hopeful for next year,” Fromosky said.

The rating program is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and provides lower flood insurance premiums based on a municipality’s floodplain management policies.

Fromosky said an improved rating could mean significant potential savings for both the town and residents: Individual homeowners could save $150, and the town could save about $500,000 a year.

The township is working with the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve and other organizations to make improvements.

“We’ve met with DEP (the state Department of Environmental Protection) and they are coming back to look at our elevation certificates to see if we’re OK to go for the initial approval process to have NFIP decide if the township is compliant,” Fromosky said.

In December, the FEMA-administered Community Ratings Service recognized 17 municipalities in New Jersey for reducing their flood-hazard risk, allowing residents to receive lower premiums under the National Flood Insurance Program.

In Ocean County, Stafford Township, Long Beach Township and Beach Haven received the highest level of compliance in the program and will receive a 45 percent reduction in their premiums.

Stafford Township Administrator Jim Moran said the plan has to be updated regularly to continue receiving flood insurance discounts. This year, along with receiving the 45 percent discount, the township’s rating improved, Moran said.

Stafford Township’s CRS plan is maintained by the Community Development Department, he said.

“It’s always important but particularly since Sandy and the changes in the flood insurance regulations. Those changes have now precipitated the need to find ways to reduce the impact of this on residents because the cost of (flood insurance) is, comparatively speaking, through the roof,” he said.

The bottom line is that through NFIP’s rating system the federal government is willing to reduce flood premiums because there will be less damage, said Spodofora.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-513-6686

@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter