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The Villages
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Public comment will be sought at hearings on fire assessment fees

Two April 23 public hearings will provide an early opportunity for people to comment on anticipated fire assessment fees for both Sumter County fire departments.

Sumter County commissioners voted Tuesday night to schedule both hearings at 6 p.m. at the start of their regular meeting.

The Villages Public Safety Department (VPSD) provides fire and emergency medical services in The Villages. The Sumter County Fire Department provides those services to the rest of the county including small cities and rural areas.

Property owners will pay only one fire assessment fee depending on where the property is located. The new fees will take effect Oct. 1.

Services provided to both fire departments by the county such as emergency dispatching services and vehicle maintenance will be funded by county property taxes.

It’s likely that property owners in both fire service areas will see substantial increases over this year’s fire assessment fees of $125 per parcel.

After the public hearings, Sumter County commissioners will consider ordinances establishing municipal service taxing units for each departments to allow the collection of fire assessment fees.

The VPSD Dependent District Board will determine the amount of fees needed to adequately fund fire and emergency medical services. Sumter County has oversight over the dependent district’s budget.

Sumter County commissioners will receive a study next month that recommends fire assessment levels for various types of property in the non-Villages portion of the county.

A similar study last year recommended calculating fees for commercial and industrial property based on square footage, which prompted an outcry from business owners who said their annual fees could reach $40,000 or more.

After heated opposition at a public hearing, commissioners abandoned the plan, setting fees at $125 per parcel, a $1 increase.

 Rejecting the higher fees spawned a financial crisis and severe budget cuts for both departments.

 To avoid layoffs, firefighters agreed to forego stipends and a cost-of-living increase. Stipends were restored this month.

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