On the eve of crucial fire department changes up for consideration by Sumter County commissioners, County Chairman Craig Estep has been hospitalized and will miss Tuesday night’s meeting.
Commissioner Roberta Ulrich likely will lead the meeting as vice chairwoman, but it is not clear whether commissioners will vote on all the changes or table them until Estep returns.
County Administrator Bradley Arnold wrote in an email that the agenda hasn’t been changed.
“There is no action by the BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) until the meeting and I have not pulled any items from the agenda,” he wrote.
Three major fire department actions on the agenda include:
- Increasing the annual fire assessment fee by $1 to $125 per parcel, the maximum allowed under a current cap.
- Setting annual business inspection, hazardous materials incident response and emergency medical services fees for both county fire departments.
- Discussion about creating a dependent fire district for The Villages, which would allow The Villages Public Safety Department (VPSD) more control over its finances while remaining under ultimate authority of Sumter County.
The modest fire fee hike comes after commissioners last month rejected a substantial increase in fire assessment fees that would have taxed non-residential property on square footage. Business owners complained at a public hearing that their fees could reach $40,000 or more.
Service fees for the cost of annual business inspections and for hazardous materials responses would provide some revenue to reduce the loss of the proposed fire fee increases and help avoid firefighter layoffs.
The dependent fire district, which could take effect in October 2024, would be governed by a five-member board and could set its own tax levy. Board members would be appointed and then elected to subsequent terms.
Last fall, voters rejected creation of an independent district that would not have been under county authority. Commissioners can create a dependent district without a referendum.
The VPSD provides fire and emergency medical services in The Villages while the Sumter County Fire Department offers those services in the rest of the county, including Wildwood, smaller cities and rural areas.
Sumter County commissioners will appoint the district’s board members, but Villages District Manager Kenneth Blocker submitted a slate of preferred candidates in a recent email to Arnold.
They include Dr. Mary Ann Scott, Dr. Kathleen Gowin, Fred Briggs, John Dean and John Patella.