FULTON COUNTY – The Fulton County Board of Commissioners entered into a joint partnership with HomeServe USA Corp, also known as USA Repair Management Corp., to sell what the county calls discounted insurance for water-sewer lines.
This is a voluntary insurance program intended to protect homeowners should their water or sewer lines need repair. Those lines leading from the house to the meter are the homeowner’s responsibility, said Fulton County Director of Public Works Director David Clark.
According to Clark, HomeServe is allowed to use the Fulton County logo in correspondence introducing its optional insurance program to homeowners.
“In exchange for the use of the logo, HomeServe provided Fulton County with a $100,000 royalty payment,” Clark wrote in an e-mailed response about the relationship.
The solicitation material was reviewed by Fulton County before it was mailed out by HomeServe. In light of concerns expressed about the use of the logo by some Fulton residents, Clark said the county has suspended further mailings by HomeServe.
Also in the solicitation letters, residents were directed to the website, www.FultonCountyPlans.com. When the screen comes up, both the HomeServe logo and Fulton logo appear on the screen, with the Fulton logo in the center. Under it the website states:
Fulton County has partnered with HomeServe to offer their customers affordable emergency repair plans that can help protect against costly and inconvenient repairs to systems throughout their homes and properties.
Nevertheless, residents have complained that the letter looks like a bill. The solicitation letter has the Fulton logo only followed by the copy which states:
Exterior Service Line Review for Fulton County Resource Division Customers
Under that is the name of the homeowner and address in a box on the left margin and on the right it states: Status: NOT COVERED Reply Requested within: 30 Days.
Some residents say it looks more like a summons.
The letter goes on to state that HomeServe and Fulton County Water Resources Division (the county department dealing with water services) are partnering to offer insurance for damage to water or sewer lines at a “reasonable cost.”
The letter does state further down HomeServe is an independent company and separate from Fulton County.
Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann said she has not been happy with the rollout of the HomeServe campaign. Originally, it was presented to the Fulton Commission as a straightforward opportunity for residents to get the insurance at a discounted rate because if there is a break in the line between the street and the house, it is the responsibility of the homeowner.
“When the letters came out it had our logo on it and there was a tone to the letter that was not what we thought we were entering into. It looked like [the insurance] was not an option,” Hausmann said.
The first wave of letters went out six months ago and the board demanded HomeServe adjust the mailings to make plain the insurance is purely optional to the homeowner.
“They subsequently sent out a second round of letters, and that was not what we intended [the program] is to be communicated to our customers,” Hausmann said.
There are now discussions ongoing right now to rework the letter once again, making it clear that the program is completely optional and offered at a discount, she said.
The commission’s intent was to offer residents a service only if desired.
“If we can’t get it straightened out, we will terminate the agreement,” Hausmann said. “We recognize it is a problem.”
Commissioner Bob Ellis said the agreement was entered into before he came aboard as commissioner and he didn’t like the arrangement.
“When the [first] letter came out, I didn’t like the concept in general. I particularly didn’t like the fact that it had our logo on it,” Ellis said. “I thought it was misleading and confusing to the people who received it.”
Ellis said he inquired about it, and discovering what it was he lobbied to soften the language so people understood it was optional and not something they were obligated to do and get the logo off.
The language for a second letter was reworked, and the logo was taken off the envelope, but it remained on the HomeServe solicitation letter.
“Hopefully we will revisit this to see whether we want to continue with [the partnership],” Ellis said. “I would prefer we did not have any arrangement.”
HomeServe spokesman Myles Meehan said the company got involved to meet a need outlined by Fulton County Division of Water Resources to provide water line insurance.
Most residents do not know they are responsible for those repairs until they discover a problem.
HomeServe responded to a request for proposals sent out by Fulton County to companies offering the optional insurance and repair services, Meehan said.
“As noted in the opening paragraph of the mailing materials to residents, this is a partnership between [Fulton County] and HomeServe,” Meehan said.
The county is making the services available at the resident’s pleasure and HomeServe is the provider.
“All mailing materials [intended for residents] were and will always be reviewed and approved prior to use,” he said.
Meehan said the first two mailings in October 2015 and February 2016 to a limited group of residents raised no red flags to the company’s knowledge and had been approved for mailing.
Meehan did state HomeServe frequently modifies the format “while maintaining the key messages and content.” And this was done for the third mailing in December 2016.
“We are constantly adjusting our mailing materials, purely as part of our commitment to better communicate to and serve our customers,” Meehan said.
HomeServe is developing another mailing and is in discussions with Fulton County about it, he said.
Nationally, HomeServe works with more than 400 municipalities and utilities to provide their service to 2.8 million homeowners.
Meehan also noted in the time HomeServe has worked with Fulton County, it has provided more than $100,000 in service work to Fulton customers who otherwise would have dipped into their pockets to complete.