The formation of the new Dependent Public Safety Fire District in The Villages creates a unique opportunity to review and perhaps clarify the role of The Villages Public Safety Department, frequently referred to as “The Villages Fire Department”. During the September 12 meeting, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) declined to accept the list of qualified supervisors for the newly formed District Board, recommended by The Villages District Manager. We believe it will be difficult to find a more diverse or more experienced group of qualified individuals than those submitted by the District Manager.
Keep in mind this appointed Board will only serve until the voters select the Board members in the November 2024 election a month after the new Dependent District assumes responsibility for day-to-day operations. What will be the role of the appointed Board members during the interim? Primarily the Board will establish the Dependent Fire District’s responsibilities, budget, and operating procedures. An apolitically appointed Board can give the residents of The Villages a sense of trust in the operation and costs of the new Dependent Fire District. We know the decisions made by the County Commissioners left The Villages Public Safety Department underfunded by $14 million.
In defining the role of The Villages Public Safety Department, it is important to understand that the job of the department is much more than firefighting. In fact, the vast majority of the 911 calls are NOT for firefighting. In August 2023 of the 1,993 calls received, only 21 were classified as Fires & Hazardous Conditions and 1,582 calls were for Rescue and Emergency Medical Services calls. The remaining 390 calls were classified as “Service”, “Good Intent”, “Miscellaneous”, and “False Calls”.
The primary job of the new Board will be to work with the existing Public Safety Department to review the procedures and priorities of the Department and develop a realistic operating budget so that the residents can have confidence their tax dollars are being used most efficiently. The needs of The Villages are unique and very different than the needs of the rural areas of Sumter County.
We have lost a month so the Commissioners, who could not satisfactorily resolve this crucial issue, could select their own Board members instead of relying on the District Manager’s selection. We cannot permit further delays, especially for political reasons. The appointed Board will have a unique opportunity to evaluate and reimagine the role of the new Dependent Fire District. We urge you to contact the County Commissioners and ask them to put aside politics and select the best qualified and an impartial group of residents to define the new district and establish a responsible budget and transparent funding mechanism. Residents deserve nothing less than the best possible Public Safety Department.
The VHA Editorial Board