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Sumter commissioners agree to framework to extend VPSD funding

Originally published in The Villages Daily Sun

Residents’ property tax dollars next fall in Sumter County will continue to support firefighters in The Villages.

Sumter County commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday night the county should continue to fund The Villages Public Safety Department through Sept. 30, 2024, while keeping those funds separate from what county uses for its own Sumter County Fire and EMS, so taxpayers can see clearly where the money is going to each department.

A new agreement was needed beyond Sept. 30 after Villages residents voted against the creation of an independent special fire district last November.

The commission’s funding approval is a modification to the existing agreement with VPSD.

“The District manager (Kenny Blocker) called me about a week or so after that vote and said ‘I have people concerned in regard to what’s going to happen. There’s all kinds of rumors about what the county is going to do,’” said Bradley Arnold, county administrator. “I have since met with him twice and shared my intent to recommend to the board that we continue for one more year with similar, but not the same, contracts we have with The Village Center Community Development District.”

Arnold explained the hard line to determine service boundaries for the two departments will remain, but the departments will continue to support each other through mutual aid requests.

Among the contractual language that needs to be updated is the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity issued to VPSD by the county to allow it to operate ambulance transports and agreements for fleet maintenance and 911 call processing.

A new fund in the county budget would be created to provide greater transparency, Arnold said.

“Fund 183, which currently does not exist in any of the budget documents, will be the District government’s fire and EMS operations,” Arnold said. “This lays out how we’re going to be providing transparency in the budgeting process. It will be the same level of detail you see in the Sumter Fire and EMS budget.”

Since VPSD also provides fire and EMS services in Lake County, a new formula will be devised to take those parcels into account.

Future VPSD capital projects that top $10,000, such as purchasing new fire engines and ambulances, and constructing or renovating fire stations, will not use county tax dollars, but rather come from a portion of Villages residents’ amenity fees, investment income and transport fees.

A new taxing unit would be established for residents in Sumter County outside of The Villages, Arnold said.

“That will mirror those amenity fees on the Sumter County portion and again will be focused on capital expenditures,” he said.

A countywide fire assessment fee will still be collected. A study approved by commissioners last year will explore possible adjustments to that fee. Arnold said the desire is to keep a flat residential rate per parcel, but move to a tiered rate for commercial properties based on square footage.

The commission will hold budget workshops July 11 and 12. The fire assessment rate will be set July 18 at a regular commission meeting.