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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 15, April 13, 2007

Dear Floridian:

It’s tax time! This year’s deadline for filing your federal income taxes is Tuesday, April 17, 2007. If you waited until the last minute to file, you are not alone. The IRS estimates that more 20 percent of taxpayers wait until the last two weeks to file.

Please take the proper preparation and care with filing your tax return so that you can maximize your refund and avoid any costly mistakes. Filing your tax return online has become easier than ever and is a great way to prevent mail fraud.

More than 95 million Americans are eligible for free tax filing at http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=118986,00.html.

The process of filing your taxes can be long and complicated. If you need assistance, please pursue one of the following options:

  • Taxpayers can call 1-800-829-4477 at any time to reach the IRS' TeleTax line, which offers pre-recorded tips on 150 tax topics.

  • The IRS also staffs a help line at 1-800-829-1040 that is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time from Monday through Friday.

  • The IRS posts answers to its most Frequently Asked Questions at http://www.irs.gov/faqs/index.html.

If you are concerned that you may not make the deadline, you should immediately file for a six-month extension. However, you should note that any taxes you may owe are still due April 17, 2006.  

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM SET TO EXPAND STATEWIDE WITH 11 NEW WIND INSPECTION FIRMS
Program will resume free home inspections within two weeks

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that 11 new windstorm inspection firms have been selected to aid Floridians interested in hardening their homes through the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program. After a two-month competitive bidding process, these firms were chosen based upon their scores, capacity to perform a minimum number of quality inspections each week, and in-house resources available to manage the large number of applicants to the program.

Each inspection firm must ensure that their inspectors pass Level 2 background checks, including fingerprinting and drug testing. Each inspector must also undergo the required education and training on mitigation techniques and the MSFH program.

“These inspection firms had to meet the strictest of criteria in order to be considered for this program,” said CFO Sink. “We want homeowners to be highly satisfied with the services they receive from the My Safe Florida Home Program once it expands statewide.”

Together, the 11 inspection firms have each been selected to serve in specific regions of the state to ensure maximum statewide service. After a 60-day ramp-up period, each firm has agreed to conduct a minimum of 1,000 inspections a week. Inspections firms were selected to cover specific regions, as detailed below:

  • Panhandle (Region 1) – AmeriPro Inspection and Thomas Enterprising

  • North Florida (Region 2) – AmeriPro, Skye Tec, and Alltech

  • Central Florida (Region 3) – Florida Real Property Administrators, JVI Inspections, Professional Service Industries, and Home Inspections.

  • South Florida (Region 4) – Applied Research and Associates, W.B. Sanders, Don Meyler Inspections, and Skye Tec

The pilot phase of the MSFH program was launched in late August 2006. During the MSFH program’s 2006 pilot phase, more than 14,000 free wind inspections were conducted in 17 counties. Along with an inspection report, these 14,000 homeowners received a grant application to apply for matching funds, and the department has received applications from more than 4,100 homeowners to date. These homeowners are currently working with licensed contractors approved by the MSFH program and making recommended improvements to their homes. Once the work has been completed, the state will reimburse the homeowners for 50 percent of the actual cost of the improvements, up to $5,000. To date, more than $47,000 in grant money has been awarded to 19 Floridians in seven counties.

The MSFH program helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. To achieve this goal, the program offers eligible homeowners a free home inspection by trained and qualified hurricane mitigation inspectors. Homeowners who have received these inspections also have the opportunity to apply for a matching grant of up to $5,000 to make recommended improvements.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE PROVIDES
FREE TRAINING FOR VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS


Nearly 200 volunteer firefighters from throughout Florida will converge this week at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala to get the latest training on firefighting and investigative techniques dealing with potential threats from agribusiness chemical accidents to bombs.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal and oversees the fire college, said the annual Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend ensures Florida’s volunteer firefighters have access to regular training to help them better protect their communities and themselves. The event begins on Wednesday and continues through Sunday, April 15, at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. This is the 14th annual Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend.

“In all that we do at the State Fire Marshal’s Office, our goal is to protect the lives of Floridians, especially those who work hard to protect our families, homes and communities,” said CFO Sink. “We want to do all we can to make sure they get back to the firehouse and their families safely after every call.”

Participating firefighters will be able to attend a choice of more than a dozen classes, from 8 to 40 hours each, on a variety of subjects ranging from basic fire skills to apparatus operations to decontamination for hazardous materials and mass casualty incidents. Housing is provided at the fire college, and participants get continuing education credits to help build their careers.

The Florida State Fire College is located at 11655 NW Gainesville Road in Ocala. For more information about this event, log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/sfm.


STUDY: INSURANCE FRAUD BIG IN FLORIDA, AND SO IS THE RESPONSE

Florida's insurance fraud division ranks second in the country, leading the nation in criminal cases it sent to prosecutors for potential trial, and ranks near the top in other key fraud-fighting categories, a Coalition Against Insurance Fraud's state fraud bureaus study shows.

"Florida has some of the largest insurance-fraud problems in the U.S. The fraud division has mounted an energetic response, but the state needs more resources, including fraud prosecutors, before it can begin turning the corner on this crime," said Dennis Jay, the Coalition's executive director, in a release.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud conducted an annual study of the 47 state anti-fraud agencies as a barometer of progress in fighting insurance fraud nationally, said James Quiggle, director of communications.

On convictions, Florida ranks second nationally with 493 criminal convictions in 2005--a 27 percent increase over 2004. Florida's convictions are more than five times the national average of 93 convictions per fraud bureau, according to the study. California ranked No. 1, with 1,546 convictions. Based on cases presented for prosecution, Florida's fraud division sent a nation-leading 773 cases to prosecutors in 2005, slightly ahead of California's 754 cases. Florida's total is more than six times the national average of 119 cases presented per fraud bureau.

Also, Florida's fraud division ranks third nationally with 11,068 case leads it received in 2005. Case leads come from insurance companies, calls to the fraud hotline and referrals from other law enforcement agencies, a release said. Florida's total is nearly four times the national average of 2,834 case leads. Florida, California (27,687) and New York (25,945) jointly account for more than half of all case leads received by the nation's fraud bureaus.

In terms of investigations opened, Florida ranks fourth nationally with1,643 fraud cases opened for investigation in 2005. Florida's total is more than twice the national average of 650 cases opened. New Jersey leads the nation with 2,977 cases opened.

Meanwhile, Florida also has one of the nation's largest fraud divisions. It reported the third-largest budget in 2006 ($12.8 million), and third largest staff (171 employees). Florida's budget is four times the average budget $3.2 million, and the division employs more than five times the average of 32 employees. California leads the nation with a $36.8 million budget and 298 employees.

From a court-ordered restitution standpoint, Florida leads the nation in court-ordered restitution with $131.5 million in 2005, with New Jersey second at $89.9 million. The study doesn't track how much money is collected.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud is a national alliance of insurance companies, consumer groups and government agencies combating all forms of insurance fraud. The full study is available at www.InsuranceFraud.org.


FLORIDA TRUCKING ASSOCIATION (FTA) HOSTS ITS 2007 LEGISLATIVE DAY AT THE CAPITOL

Underneath blue, sunny skies and the canopies of stately oak trees, majestic 18-wheeler trucks brushed with “No-Zone” logos had a picture-perfect stage as they rolled into the Capitol Courtyard on March 28. At the request of Senator Daniel Webster and Representative Dennis Ross, Senate and House Resolutions were presented recognizing March 28 as Truckers Day in Florida, and Governor Charlie Crist signed a Proclamation for the observance of Truckers Day at the Capitol.

FTA was indeed honored that Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink stopped by and enrolled for “No-Zone” driver education training and received her official certification from FTA Road Team Member Andy Severe, pictured to the left.

Over the course of the day, nearly 200 students from local area high schools—East Gadsden High, Leon High School, Godby High School—and out-of-area middle school—Lyons Creek Middle School in Coconut Creek—received instruction on how to “share the road safely with big trucks”.  Taught by the best in the business—FTA’s Road Team—students were taken through a safety demonstration duplicating a real life highway scenario with cars and trucks.  As part of the instruction, students were able to get behind the cab of a big rig and see from the inside of a big-rig cab the blind spots around tractor-trailers where cars "disappear" from a truck driver's view—referred to as “The No-Zone.”  FTA is grateful to the Driver Education Teacher Charles Green from East Gadsden High School, Driver Education Teacher Adolph Hicks from Leon High School and Driver Education Teacher Jesse Forbes from Godby High School for taking the opportunity to learn about FTA’s No-Zone training program and for including their students in this driver safety education experience. 

A special note of thanks is extended to FTA Member Companies that provided the No-Zone equipment:  AAA Cooper Transportation, Armellini Express Lines, Landspan and Mckenzie Tank Lines.  Training cannot take place without the equipment and the trainers and we are grateful to the sponsoring FTA Member Companies for their contributions and commitment to FTA programs. 


MISSOURI COUPLE SENTENCED FOR FRAUD 

A Missouri couple were sentenced Tuesday for taking more than $200,000 from local residents for post-Hurricane Ivan construction work but not completing it.

William and Anita Morrison, owners of the contracting company Total Response Systems, were convicted in October of bilking scores of Escambia County residents through shoddy construction work.

Circuit Judge Michael Allen sentenced William Morrison Jr. to 12 years in prison. His sentence will run consecutively with a 15-year sentence he received for vehicular manslaughter in Missouri.

Anita Morrison was given six months in jail and 25 years of probation. She also was ordered to stay out of the contracting business.

Pensacola resident Rhonda Gaines-Williams, who fell victim to the Morrisons, was hoping for longer prison sentences.

"The jail time that both of these con artists got was minimal compared to what they did to a lot of people around here," Gaines-Williams said. "I really feel that she was the mastermind behind the money scam and should've gotten more time."

Detective Robert Vose of the Department of Financial Services Division of Insurance Fraud helped with the case.

The Morrisons arrived in Pensacola after Ivan struck on Sept. 16, 2004. They were accused of offering their contracting services -- for which they had no license -- between November 2004 and August 2005.


LEARN MORE ABOUT FLOOD INSURANCE

Did you know that flooding is considered the nation’s number one natural disaster, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)?  The 2007 National Flood Safety Awareness Week was held March 19-23, with March 22 as Flood Insurance Day. 

Flash floods, inland flooding and seasonal storms occur both inland and on the coast and affect every region of this country.  Know that floods do not occur only within designated high-risk flood zones on the map.  Recent statistics show that from twenty to 25 percent of all flood insurance claims are filed in low-to-moderate flood-risk areas.  

Flood insurance is available through nearly 100 insurance companies in more than 20,200 participating communities nationwide. Everyone can purchase flood insurance - renters, business owners, and homeowners. The average flood insurance policy costs around $500 a year. And in low- to moderate-risk areas, lower-cost Preferred Risk Policies (PRPs) start at just $112 a year. 

Here are steps both renters and property owners can take to protect themselves and their financial security from flood related damage:

Find out your flood risk right now by entering your address at FloodSmart.gov "Assess Your Risk” or by calling 1-800-427-2419.  Insurance agents can also help check your risk.   

Make sure you have the right insurance: Review your insurance policies and find out what they do and do not cover. Learn the difference between replacement cost coverage versus standard coverage, which only pays the actual cash value of insured property. Be sure that you have enough insurance to cover recent home renovations or improvements. Know that most homeowners insurance polices do not cover flood damage, so be sure to consider flood insurance for both your structure and its contents. There is typically a 30 day waiting period for a flood insurance policy to take effect.  Remember to renew the flood policy annually.

You can review more information about your insurance rights in the State of Florida by reading the Consumer Guide to Homeowner Insurance produced by the Florida Department of Financial Services.  The guide may be obtained by downloading it from the website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or by calling the toll free Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762 and asking for a free copy to be mailed to your home. 

Inventory your household possessions: For insurance purposes, be sure to keep a written and visual (i.e., videotaped or photographed) record of all major household items and valuables, even those stored in basements, attics or garages. Create files that include serial numbers and store receipts for major appliances and electronics. Have jewelry and artwork appraised. These documents are critically important when filing insurance claims.

Protect important financial documents: Store copies of irreplaceable financial and family documents in a safe place, preferably one that is protected from both fire and water. Documents include automobile titles, tax records, stock and bond certificates, deeds, wills, trust agreements, birth and marriage certificates, photos, passports and insurance policies. Keep originals in a rented safe deposit box. And don't forget the household inventory file! 

Safeguard your home by cleaning debris from gutters and storm drains to allow free flow of potential floodwater.  Install backflow valves in waste lines to keep water flowing in one direction, and protect your well from contamination.                   

When threatened by floodwaters, move valuables and sentimental items to the highest floor of your home or business before evacuation.  Plan and practice a flood evacuation route, ask someone out of state to be your "family contact" in an emergency, and make sure everyone knows the contact's address and phone number.  Build an emergency supply kit: Food, bottled water, first aid supplies, medicines, and a battery-operated radio should be ready to go when you are. 


Consumer Services Helpline (800) 342-2762
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