In October 2017, The Enrichment Academy (TEA) opened its doors in The Villages. The District Government created The Enrichment Academy because its predecessor, The School of Lifelong Learning closed abruptly. The loss was unacceptable. Fred Briggs then President of the VHA was an integral part of the promoting the necessity of for continued educational opportunity for members of the community. Through Fred’s leadership and VHA support District Government created TEA. It was an outstanding achievement.

Villages residents are now facing another unacceptable issue. Funding for our Villages Fire/EMS Department as we know it is questionable. Sumter County voters defeated a referendum to establish an Independent Fire District in November 2022. Voters defeated the referendum 51% to 49%. Sumter County administration prepared a 2024 budget that included funding for The Villages Fire/EMS Department. Commissioners passed the prepared budget. Last week Sumter County Commissioners retracted an earlier vote leaving a deficit of fourteen million dollars.

Members of the community are concerned. What is next? How do you propose filling the 14-million- dollar budget gap? Will there be Fire/EMS Department staffing cuts? How will the 14-million-dollar budget cut affect the proposed station and staff increases by The Villages Fire/EMS Department? What are the options available for gaining control of Fire/EMS funding? What are the options to make funding fair and equitable for Villages Residents and businesses? These are all valid questions. We deserve better.

The VHA hears these questions and is committed to providing leadership to work with District and County Government to help solve this problem. Our organization has a strong history of positive, constructive dialogue. The outcome of cooperative dialogue results in remarkable results. The Enrichment Academy is proof.

Peter Russell
VHA President