Villagers in Sumter County have narrowly rejected a referendum that would have created an independent fire district.
The vote in Tuesday’s election was 35,207 against and 33,225 in support of the measure. The percentage breakdown was 51.45 percent against and 48.55 percent in favor of the referendum.
The referendum fared better in the newer areas of The Villages picking up 55 percent of the vote at precincts at the Ezell Recreation Center and the Fenney Recreation Center. The referendum garnered about 54 percent support among voters who cast ballots at Everglades Recreation Center.
The referendum saw its biggest losses in precincts at the Allamanda Recreation Center, Canal Street Recreation Center, Truman Recreation Center, SeaBreeze Recreation Center and Colony Cottage Recreation Center.
The Villages Independent Fire Control and Rescue District referendum was placed on the Nov. 8 ballot as the result of a series of meetings in 2021 in which Villagers were worried about extraordinarily excessive wait times for ambulances, run by a third-party for-profit entity contracted through Sumter County. Villagers overwhelmingly concluded at the time they would be better off with an ambulance service operated by The Villages Public Safety Department. That transfer took place Oct. 1.
At the same time, it was feared that Sumter County might try to take over The Villages Public Safety Department and form a single countywide fire department. Then-District Manager Richard Baier was instrumental in setting the referendum in motion. State Rep. Brett Hage got it through the Legislature and the measure made its way onto the ballot.
While Fire Chief Edmund Cain made numerous public appearances over many months to explain the advantage of the independent fire district, there were plenty in the community sowing the seeds of doubt. The Property Owners Association board came out against the measure. There were also those who cast doubt on a board that would have initially been appointed by the governor. There were fears the Developer would wield too much authority over the board.