Charleston is looking to save its residents money on flood insurance.

The city has tapped a consulting firm to help find ways to lower premiums for residents who buy flood insurance through the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program, said city engineer Laura Cabiness.

The city is paying up to $25,000 for Raleigh-based firm AMEC Environment & Infrastructure to help find ways to lower its score in the Community Rating System. The voluntary rating system encourages municipalities to exceed minimum program requirements in return for lower premiums.

Charleston's hire comes amid mounting concerns about reforms to the federal flood insurance program. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 is expected to drive up premiums for homeowners who live in federally designated flood zones.

Communities in the ratings program are scored in several categories such as public information and regulations. They then are ranked on a scale from 1 to 10.

Charleston is ranked at Class 7, giving residents a 15 percent reduction on their flood insurance premiums. That calculates to $3.5 million collectively, Cabiness said.

The city is approaching its five-year re-evaluation in the program and is looking to lower its ranking to Class 6, Cabiness added.

That would translate into premium discounts of 20 percent, according to the program's website.

Cabiness said this is the first time the city has tapped a consulting firm to help improve its flood rating .

"The program has changed for the amount of points you get for certain activities," Cabiness said. "They're highly qualified to help us with that."

Several other local municipalities take part in the Community Rating System, including Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.