The Insurance Services Office, a national independent organization that collects data from towns and cities across the United States, has given Jackson a poor rating in its building code study.
In other words, people planning to build in Jackson won't save a lot of money on their home insurance.
The ISO rated Jackson's building code effectiveness at 9 on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the worst.
Jackson building and planning superintendent Janet Sanders said there are some things the building department is doing to improve the rating, but some matters are beyond the limits of the city's budget.
"Some things we can address fairly easily, some things we may never be able to address," Sanders said. "Some things we can't do with a city of this size, like have architects and engineers on our staff."
Jackson has a year to make changes within the department for a chance to improve the rating. The ISO reviews cities every five years, or whenever there is a major change in the way cities inspect their buildings.
As for immediate changes, the board of aldermen was considering changes in its outdated building codes when the ISO came in for its study several months ago. The board of aldermen has yet to act, but if it accepts the 2003 International Codes without modification, Sanders guesses the ISO rating could improve to a seven within the next year.
The city currently operates under the 1993 BOCA codes, rules for construction of facilities put in place prior to a merger of building code organizations. The new conglomerate has set the 2003 International Codes as a more over-arching standard for construction.
Sanders said the staff is also making some changes in its record keeping.
The ISO's Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule is a fairly new concept and many insurance companies have yet to use the building code rating to set rates. However, the ISO has provided fire ratings for years and those ratings have become a standard benchmark for insurance companies.
The grading schedule was started in 1995. This was Jackson's first rating.
The ISO's idea is this: The more emphasis that is put on building codes and building-code enforcement, the less susceptible buildings will be to fire, wind and earthquakes.
Most insurance companies do not raise insurance rates based on a poor rating. However, the ISO encourages insurance companies to offer discounts to buildings in communities with good ratings.
The credits, however, only apply to new buildings. The program, according to the ISO Web site, is intended to promote a long-term reduction in catastrophe damage. Staff turnover and limited record keeping at the city level make it impossible to evaluate buildings constructed before the ISO rating is determined, the organization says. Therefore, if a structure was built before the ISO evaluation, its owners would receive no credit on insurance rates based on the new ISO rating. All buildings currently occupied in Jackson will also retain the current rating regardless of any future ISO evaluations.
The proposed approval of the 2003 International Codes would address earthquake, wind and fire issues. It would require new buildings to be constructed with more stable materials, withstand 90 mph winds and make available more emergency exits in basements in case of fires.