The insurance company cited the cost of claims filed against law enforcement as a reason for the increase.
County commissioners voted to pay the increase Wednesday after they questioned their insurance agent about Travelers Insurance's annual profit margins and the timing of its decision to notify the county of the rate increase.
Commissioners voted Wednesday to pay nearly $1.4 million a year for property and casualty insurance. It is an increase of $391,000, or 24 percent, from last year, according county documents.
County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the county had to accept the higher rate because it wasn't told about the increase until March 5 and the county's current policy expires at the end of March. He said the county will be working to find alternative providers after their yearlong policy expires in April 2014.
"I do have some questions as to why we were notified a month out," Carpenter said. "We will be having our folks look ... at what we can do to open it up" and have more insurance companies to chose from.
Bob Kyser, president of Kysar Insurance Agency, which covers the county, said the insurance company took into account the five-year average of the cost of claims against the San Juan County Sheriff's Office and the San Juan County Detention Center
Kyser Insurance Agency is a broker for Travelers Insurance policies.
"We weren't expecting this type of an increase for law enforcement but we were expecting to see it was going up," Kyser said. "It's a tough pill to swallow."
Kyser said officer-involved shootings and other law-enforcement claims in other parts of New Mexico, and even around the country, contributed to San Juan County's rate increase.
Rising insurance rates for covering law enforcement agencies in jails are going up nationwide for several reasons, including the number of lawsuits that are being filed against police department and jails, the cost of reinsuring those agencies is increasing and insurance companies are seeing shrinking gains on their investments in recent years, Kyser said.
"San Juan County does an excellent job running its law enforcement," he said. "This is a national trend."
However, a reduction in claims filed against the county will result in a cheaper premiums, he said.
"If history starts to change and claims go down, you have a good chance of seeing premiums go down," Kyser said.
There were 70 claims filed against the San Juan County Sheriff's Office and the San Juan County Detention Center in a six-year period starting in April 2005, according to documents Travelers Insurance used to explain the county's increasing rate.
San Juan County had four large claims filed against it in the last five years.
· In September 2008, Deputy James Frost took Bobbi Jo Long to jail for an outstanding warrant. Long had ingested a fatal dose of methanol and asked to be taken to the hospital. Frost didn't tell jail staff and Long died in jail several hours after she was booked. The county paid her family $1.1 million and Frost was fired "almost immediately after the incident," said Deputy County Attorney Doug Echols.
· In November 2010, Leroy Garcia, a San Juan County jail guard, was charged with multiple counts of raping a female inmate. He was convicted of two counts of rape in September 2011 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. The victim in the case filed a lawsuit against the county. The county settled the case by paying the victim slightly more than $250,000.
· In March 2011, deputy Dale Frazier beat a Navajo man with his flashlight on Main Street in Farmington. The beating was captured on videotape and Frazier was later convicted of a civil rights violation in October 2012 and sentenced to probation. The county settled for $250,000, Echols said.
· In January 2012, Jasper Lopez was struck and killed by Sherry Milliron on U.S. 550 south of Bloomfield. Minutes before he was killed, Lopez was driving with a sheriff's deputy looking for his car. The deputy left Lopez at a gas station when he was called to a fatal crash down the highway. The county's insurance company has said the incident may leave the county vulnerable to more than $400,000. The claim is still open.