District 5

Sumter County District 5 Commissioner

Commissioner Wiley resides in District 5. For the defined district boundaries, please click here

A message from Commissioner Wiley:

The Independent Fire District vote on November 8th is an important issue for the future of Sumter County and The Villages.  The issue is also very complicated, and the cost impact is still being determined. Below is a summary of the information on the topic that I’ve put together.

 There is a lot of concern about the upcoming vote on creating an Independent Fire District (IFD) formation vote that is coming up.  There is also a lot of speculation and misinformation being spread by some who are trying to pass themselves off as “knowledgeable” or even as “experts”, some of these people are running for the various County Commissioner seats.  At The Villages Republican Club meeting on Thursday, I heard some of these individuals speak and, in my opinion, attempt to spread fear and discontent about this as a way to sway voters on the issue and to vote for them.  While I am not omnipotent in my knowledge of the topic, recent service as a District Supervisor on the CDD10 board and on PWAC as well as my current service as County Commissioner has had me deeply engaged in the issue with a very good understanding of all that is happening.

 What follows is an explanation of the issue and how it will impact residents in The Villages as well as outside The Villages in Sumter County.  My knowledge about The Villages undertakings on the IFD is up to date as of my leaving office on June 10th when I assumed the position of County Commissioner, for the most up to date information, you should contact Mr. Kenny Blocker, the District Manager.

Concerning the IFD, there are several variables here and I'll try to explain them.  Please keep in mind what I will explain is the "ideal" and “theoretical” situation and the numbers involved can and will most likely change so the net impact to any individual property owner or taxpayer is still unknown at this time.

 First, we must look at the fire department structure in Sumter County, there are two, the Sumter County Fire & EMS department (SCFD) and The Villages Public Safety department (VPSD).  Both are funded from the county general fund budget; the proposed budget is about $19.3M for Sumter County and $17.9M for VPSD for the 2023 fiscal year.  About $37.2M in total, this is second only to the $42.4M proposed budget for the Sumter County Sheriff's Office budget.

Funding this is two principal sources 1) the $124 annual fire Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) for fires services on the property tax bill for each developed property in the county and 2) the county general fund funds the balance of the costs.  There are currently 73 funding sources to the general fund and there may be some addition contributions from some of these other sources but for the sake of discussion since these would be minor sources, we’ll focus on these two primary funding sources.  The MSBU projected contribution for next year (FY23) is about $9.1M, this leaves about $28.1M coming from the General Fund. 

 Just as the funding for the fire departments have multiple sources, there area other areas where expenses for the SCFD must also be determined for an accurate determination of the true operating cost.  Many services are provided by the county that benefits multiple departments from these services the SCFD share of the costs must be identified and added to the overall SCFD budget.  These services include Purchasing department, IT, vehicle servicing and many others.

What happens next is the most important part of the process and was approved by the BOCC on Tuesday July 12th.  We will have an independent company review and analyze the costs associated with the county fire department and transport services (ambulance) in the current budget and projected for the upcoming year.  They will make a recommendation on the path forward for funding of the county fire department.  The anticipated action is:

 a) The current revenues and operating expenses for fire service for both fire departments will be removed from the FY24 budget.  (Based on FY23 budget numbers this would be $19.3M + $17.9M + identified shared costs and $9.1M in MSBU revenue).  This will result in a decrease of the ad valorem tax millage rate; some of these numbers are shown below.

b) The IFD and Sumter County will set a MSBU (separate, so they may be different for each) would be based on the actual number of properties serviced by each fire department and applied to their FY24 budgets.  The Sumter County MSBU will be based on the outcome of the study approved by the BOCC and the IFD as determined by their needs and board’s direction.

 c) Some of the remaining costs for the County Fire Department would then be assessed as a Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU) on the properties service by the SCFD and not those serviced by the VSPD.  The MSTU would be an ad valorem tax on the property.  This will replace the ad valorem tax rate reduction for SCFD serviced residents.

 d) The balance of the costs should be recovered in Transport Fees – the fees charged for transport by the county ambulance services that were approved last year.  These costs and revenues still need to be calculated.  

 I'm no longer engaged with the VPSD and District office for The Villages since becoming a member of the BOCC but will share with you what I know of the anticipated plan for the VPSD funding.  Please follow up with the District staff and Mr. Kenny Blocker (District Manager) for the most up to date details on this.

 a) A board of supervisors for the Independent Fire District will be appointed by the Governor, presumably these will be residents within the IFD. 

b) The IFD will determine its funding requirements and operating budget.

c) The IFD board will establish their own MSBU to support their funding – this is the fixed dollar amount per parcel.

d) The board will set their own MSTU (or equivalent) to cover the majority of the operating cost – this is the value-based ad valorem tax millage rate that could be as high as 2 millage points ($2 per $1000 assessed value). 

e) The Villages residents also contribute $4.08 each month from each Amenity Fee paid to supplement the VPSD budget, about $3.5M as best I can recall from the budget workshops earlier this year.  This helps fund the extra services such as smoke alarm battery change out and AED programs.

f) Like the SCFD, VPSD will also be collecting Transport Fees for the ambulance services they provide, these revenues will also be applied to the operating budget to offset costs.

 Again, for the most accurate information please contact Mr. Kenny Blocker, The Villages District Manager.

For both fire departments there may be internal and external revenue sources that may offset some of the operating cost in addition to what I’ve described above.  These will be up to their governing boards to pursue.

 The vote on the general election ballot on November 8th is only about establishing the IFD and not about the ambulance services.  The ambulance service issue was resolved last year and is moving forward in both fire districts.  This is the result of residents of The Villages and County Residents requirements for better, more effective, and more responsive emergency transport services.   The BOCC listened and reacted accordingly.  This higher level of service will come with a price that reflects additional staffing and equipment costs.  In the ideal world, these will be cost neutral and self-funding from the transport fees collected.

 There may also be some startup costs for both fire departments associated with establishing an IFD that would have to be absorbed in their initial budgets.

 In the end you should see on your county tax bill:

  1. A lower ad valorem property tax
  2. An MSBU – possibly different for each fire district
  3. An MSTU – dependent on your fire districts budget requirements and any other offsetting revenue sources.

 This method that is in motion that I have described removes the cost of fire protection and transport service from the general property tax bill and collects it from the separate MSBU and MSTU fees.  It prevents residents in or outside The Villages from being double taxed for the fire services.
 In the ideal world there would be a net zero change in your property tax bill, but there are other factors that come into play such as the costs and revenues from the in-house ambulance services that were approved last year, as well as many other things.
 Again, please understand that what I've described is the ideal situation and there are many variables that will impact this and there are a lot of numbers to be crunched to determine the exact impacts and cost.  Also, please reach out to Mr. Blocker for more details on the VPSD funding side.

 One of the drums that have been being banged by these fear mongering “experts” is that the actual numbers for the cost impact won’t be known until June 30th 2023.   While upsetting to some, this is not an attempt from either Sumter County or VPSD to hide anything, it is simply because these numbers are still being and will continue to be calculated.   A little forethought should put this issue into perspective:

  1. On the county side the ad valorem millage rate adjustment can’t be calculated until the exact number of properties and their values are determined in each fire district is known, this is a huge task that the Property Appraiser must do for each fiscal year.  These certified values will not be completed until June 30th, 2023.
  2. Both fire departments have to determine their operating costs under the new configurations, this is still in transition.  For SCFD this includes identifying shared services costs from other county departments and resources.
  3. Transport costs and recovery rates that impact the budgets can’t be accurately determined until they are operational, have some operating history, determine the recovery values, and recovery rates.
  4. Current economic conditions (inflation) are very unpredictable, the closer to the go-live point that budgets are determined the more accurate they will be.

 All of these things being considered, we can do some very rough calculations on some of the impact of the proposed changes.  I’ll use the proposed FY23 budget numbers to get an approximation of some of the items.

 To determine the ad valorem tax millage rate change we need to know two things, 1) the value of the fire service costs to be removed and 2) the value of 1 millage point.

 How much will be removed from the general fund budget, I’ve discussed this already discussed this – about $37.2M less the amount collected by the current MSBU of $124/property/year $9.1M or about $28.1M (unrounded is $28,188,777), these numbers do not include costs for shared county services.

 How much is a millage point worth?  In the proposed FY23 budget the millage rate of 5.5936 will yield $95,037,767 in ad valorem taxes or about $16,990,447.48 per millage point.

 With these numbers the ad valorem tax millage rate anticipated change would be:

 $28,188,777/$16,990,447.48 or 1.6591 points or about a 29.7% decrease in the ad valorem tax rate for the county general fund budget.

 The current MSBU of $124/yr will also be removed from the county tax bill.

 This ad valorem tax decrease and MSBU removal will be replaced by a new tax, an MSTU, and a new MSBU for each fire district on the county tax bill.  How much these new taxes are still being determined.  If I had to guess, on The Villages side the rates may be comparable between old and new, on the county side it is much more difficult to determine so I won’t speculate at this time.

 Again, these numbers are very rough and have a great many other factors that will be considered that will affect them.   These are also based on FY23 values and not the more accurate yet to be determined FY24 numbers.  Overall, this should give you some ideas of what things are looking like.

 Neither the Sumter County BOCC or The Villages District Staff are trying to hide any information or misrepresent anything to anyone, it is simply a very complex and lengthy process both are going through in preparation for a possible approval vote to the referendum in November.  Information has been and will continue to be made available as it becomes available.

 Finally, once again I’ll say, for the most up to date information on The Villages side of the issue please contact Mr. Kenny Blocker, and on the Sumter County side we won’t have accurate answers until sometime in the first half of 2023 when the study is completed.

 I know this explanation is lengthy and detailed, it is a complex issue and process.  I hope this explanation has helped you understand where things are going with funding of the fire departments in Sumter County.

 One last thought, this may be a difficult decision for some, the only advice I can give on this issue is when to determine if it is worthwhile.  The only time you will truly be able to answer what the value of all this is when those big red trucks roll up to your home as the smoke is coming out the windows and all your possessions or the life of someone you love is at risk and these brave men and women step in to do their jobs, or as you let the hand of your most cherished one go as they are loaded into the ambulance on the way to the hospital.  It is only at these moments that you will ever know that on November 8th, if you made the right decision.