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The Villages
Saturday, February 24, 2024

Official worried The Villages’ new fire board could impose fees and special assessments

A dependent fire district for The Villages will begin operating next Oct. 1 after Sumter County commissioners unanimously approved the plan Tuesday night.

The dependent district means The Villages Public Safety Department, which provides fire and ambulance services in The Villages, will assume more control over its finances such as levying taxes and issuing revenue bonds. Sumter County Fire and EMS provides fire and ambulance services outside The Villages.

A governing board will supervise the district. Earlier this month, commissioners appointed Stephen Bogle, Chris Christopoulos, Kathleen Gowin, John Dean and Maryanne Scott to the board. Bogle, Christopoulos and Gowin will serve initial three-year terms while Dean and Scott must stand for election after one year.

Sumter County will retain budget authority over the district, which will function only within that county’s area of The Villages. Commissioners must approve or reject the district’s budget each year.

Under the ordinance, the district is authorized to levy a property tax rate up to 75 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation.

Last year, voters rejected creation of an independent fire district for The Villages. Adopted by ordinance, a dependent district does not require voter approval.

The dependent fire district vote came after Commissioner Jeffery Bogue raised concerns about the ordinance. He said a workshop is needed because commissioners had no opportunity to discuss the proposed district.

“I think we may have to consider tapping the brakes here,” he said.

Although the county restricts the district’s maximum tax levy, Bogue said the district could impose impact fees or special assessments without county oversight.

County Chairman Craig Estep said commissioners can work with members of the district board and Commissioner Andrew Bilardello said the county is empowered to dissolve the district if abuses occur.

Impetus for creation of the dependent district came after both fire departments faced severe budget cuts when proposed annual fire assessment fee increases were rejected by commissioners in August.

Layoffs were avoided due to cost-cutting measures and after firefighters agreed to forego a cost-of-living increase.

The rejected fire fee hikes were the result of a study that recommended assessing non-residential property on square footage, which business owners complained would raise their annual fees to $40,000 or more.

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