Town considers ZIP Code change to fight misconceptions, insurance costs

Jesse Hollett
Posted 2/22/17

ORANGE PARK – Officials in the Town of Orange Park are seeking a way to clearly differentiate its three square miles of town limits from parts of unincorporated Clay County with which it shares a …

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Town considers ZIP Code change to fight misconceptions, insurance costs

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Officials in the Town of Orange Park are seeking a way to clearly differentiate its three square miles of town limits from parts of unincorporated Clay County with which it shares a ZIP Code.

The town took the first steps towards clarification this week.

Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to send the topic of a ZIP Code change to its General Government Administration Committee for further study and discussion.

If changed, town papers, logos and business cards would need to be changed – a laborious, tedious and costly process – but in doing so, the town could distance itself from crimes, insurance claims and miles of distance that separate the town limits from the rest of the 32073 ZIP Code.

The ZIP Code attached to the town incorporates the Orange Park Mall, Argyle Elementary and a healthy chunk of Oakleaf – none of which are within the town limits.

Because of this geographic quandary, Town Manager Jim Hanson said the insurance rates of town residents may be a victim of a discriminatory insurance practice known as ‘redlining,’ where insurance companies deny coverage to individuals based on ZIP Code by either flatly denying coverage or selectively raising rates based on the risk assessment associated with the ZIP Code.

“The issue is that 32073 is much larger than the town limits, and we feel that our town, which is protected by the Orange Park Police Department, if it was segregated by our own Zip Code, then we are a much safer three square mile area than the rest of 32073,” said Town Clerk Sarah Campbell. “There’s 122,000 of them and only 3,000 of us.”

Conversation on a possible ZIP Code change began at a prior council meeting where a town resident, Steven Dozier, said after he moved from Fleming Island, his insurance rates climbed.

He claimed this was due, in large part, to the town being coupled with the rest of its ZIP Code, which includes Blanding Boulevard – named the worst road in Northeast Florida repeatedly in resident polling.

Roughly 10 years ago, the Fleming Island Zip Code changed from 32073 to 32003 when the U.S. Postal Service opened a new post office on the island.

“I definitely believe we have an identity crisis, so that’s high the priority list for me,” said Mayor Eugene Nix.

A ZIP Code change could help alleviate some misconceptions about the town portrayed in local media as well, Hanson said.

“A lot of the news stories reflect bad things happening in Orange Park, but they’re not in Orange Park,” Hanson said. “We did a lot of checking on that and we found that the police and fire reports are based on ZIP Code. The sheriff will say Orange Park for anything that’s in our regular ZIP Code here.”

And as for insurance company redlining being as a possible cause of higher insurance rates in the town, Campbell said a ZIP Code change could help alleviate that, as well.

“[We would be] creating a new ZIP Code that doesn’t have any risk data associated with it,” Campbell said.

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the U.S. government set out to evaluate the riskiness of mortgages and in doing so essentially created the first map of inequality in the nation. For instance, the area around Moncrief Road, a site Jacksonville officials point to as a site of urban blight, high crime – and subsequently cheap housing – is outlined as a hazardous area on these maps.

The racially-charged insurance spikes have largely stayed since the 1930s, when the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation first created these maps. The federal agency ‘graded’ neighborhoods on a four-tiered system based largely on racial makeup. Largely-minority neighborhoods were outlined in red – which infamously created the term redlining.

A project to digitize this data was completed in last October. The ‘Mapping Inequality Project’ took seven-months to compile the data and digitize using a team of scholars from four universities. The map provides redlining data for approximately 150 cities across the U.S.

Maps also include the reason why a certain area was given a certain designation using files pulled from the National Archives. For example, with Moncrief Road, the reason, simply, was that it was “occupied 100 [percent] by Negroes,” with “so-called ‘slum areas’… scattered throughout the entire district.”

If the town decides to give the go ahead on a ZIP Code change, the district manager for the Postal Service has 60 days to approve or deny their request. From there, the town must survey its residents to see if a majority even support the change. If denied, the town can also appeal the USPS decision.

However, there are no forms to fill out – the town must send a letter citing their identity crisis as a reason.

There was not a committee meeting date set by Wednesday deadline.

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