As the 2006 hurricane season begins for the east coast of the United States, Florida property owners have learnt that they will have to pay one per cent of value of their home insurance to cover an insurance deficit of $1.5 billion.

The assessment will replenish the local Hurricane Insurance Catastrophe Fund, which will be out of pocket when tax-free bonds are sold to cover the cost of repairs from the past two years.

Chief financial officer Tom Gallagher points out that owners of Florida homes will directly benefit from the assessment, since insurance coverage will remain widely available, comprehensive and cheaper. Since insurers save $2.5 billion via the fund, Floraida property owners can expect to benefit to the tune of $400 to $500 per policy.

Governor Jeb Bush, present at the cabinet meeting that agreed on the assessment, concurred that "it saves hundreds of millions of dollars". He added: "The Catastrophe Funds have made it possible for homeowners to be able to access insurance."

Eight million tourists visited Florida last year, 60 per cent of them heading for the US entertainment capital, Orlando, for its theme parks, lakes and world-famous golf courses.

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    Carol McDonald