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The Villages
Monday, September 20, 2021

County official has harsh assessment of motives of The Villages administrator and fire chief

Bradley Arnold

A proposal by The Villages Fire Chief Edmund Cain to create an independent special fire district is outside the scope of a Sumter County committee appointed to study options for improving ambulance service, according to County Administrator Bradley Arnold.

Cain unveiled the proposal last week and was invited to the committee’s Aug. 4 meeting to provide more detail. Committee members also asked County Attorney Jennifer Rey to prepare a report about independent special districts.

The fire chief said the special district, which requires state legislative approval, would provide greater uniformity of services throughout The Villages, which includes portions of Lake and Marion counties. The district would have authority to levy its own property taxes and impact fees instead of relying on county and Villages funding. He said creating the special district also would be effective to cope with the rapid growth of The Villages.

Cain also has said he supports making ambulance services a responsibility of the county’s two fire departments. The Sumter County Fire Department provides services outside The Villages.

County commissioners appointed the Ad Hoc Committee on Fire, EMS and Medical Transport to study options for the system and make recommendations by September.

Ambulance services currently are provided by American Medical Response (AMR), a national private company. AMR has come under fire this year for long ambulance response delays of up to an hour or more on some calls.

In an email to Rey, Arnold said any report on the special district plan should be made directly to commissioners instead of the committee because it involves financial and governance issues.

District Manager Richard Baier, Chaplain and Community Development District 3 Supervisor Gail Lazenby, and Villages Public Safety Fire Chief Edmund Cain, from left, at an event in 2019. Lazenby has since been appointed to the ad hoc ambulance committee.

“Mr. (Richard) Baier and Chief Cain have been working on a means to avoid being held accountable by the (Board of County Commissioners) both operationally and financially, therefore, this must be their offer for that to occur,” Arnold wrote. Richard Baier is The Villages district manager.

Asked by Villages-News.com to elaborate on this response, Arnold wrote, “I have elaborated to the board in public meetings and past budget letters.”

The ad hoc committee is expected to decide whether the county should continue to use a private ambulance service, convert to county-operated ambulances or put the services under greater oversight of the University of Florida Health, which operates The Villages and Leesburg hospitals and provides medical direction to AMR.

If commissioners decide to convert to county-operated ambulances, Sumter County may be able to use federal stimulus funds to buy them. The county is expected to receive up to $25 million of these funds and buying a fleet of ambulances could cost $6 million or more.

Arnold said during a recent budget workshop that the Florida Association of Counties has indicated the stimulus funds possibly could be used for ambulances.

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