Commissioners adopted the $303-million budget Tuesday night, up 25 percent from last year’s adopted budget of $242 million.
Sumter County is expected to collect about $89.5 million in property taxes, up from $85.7 million this year. The budget takes effect on Friday.
If the county receives money it claims is owed by the VCCCD, that money would be allocated to fire and ambulance expenses, according to the budget overview.
“The final budget does not consider the unknown impact for a transition (in ambulance services),” according to a 24-page budget overview. The budget also does not provide funding for the upcoming loss of a federal public safety grant received by The Villages Center Community Development District (VCCCD) or for potential firefighter wage increases through a future collective bargaining agreement.
No money is allocated for buying ambulances or staffing increases at the county’s two fire departments. Last week, commissioners voted to create two ambulance services under control of each fire department beginning Oct. 1, 2022, ending a decade of private ambulance service.
They cut the property tax rate to $6.15 per $1,000 assessed valuation, below the rolled-back rate of $6.24 and a 4.37 percent decrease from last year’s rate of $6.43. The rolled-back rate is the amount needed to collect the same revenue as the prior year excluding new construction.
The county has accused the VCCCD of failing to return $2 million to $5 million in fire assessment fees as required in a 2019 agreement. The county has said the VCCCD used those funds first for expenses instead of amenity fees so there would be no money to return.
The VCCCD has disputed the allegation. The agreement calls for unused money to be returned but does not appear to specify what money can be used first.
A fleet of 20 ambulances is expected to cost at least $6 million and more employees are needed to staff them. Sumter County is moving emergency medical dispatch services under county control from American Medical Dispatch (AMR), the private ambulance provider that had been running the service. The county cut a $1.2 million grant to AMR for dispatching and is hiring 16 dispatchers, four supervisors, a center manager and a training supervisor.
Spending cuts to achieve the lower tax rate include cutting two of three proposed public information employees, eliminating a reserve fund and delaying acquisition of a street sweeper. Residents of Center Hill, Lake Panasoffkee and Webster are expected to receive municipal sewer and water due to a $25 million grant through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
At a budget public hearing earlier this month, Lake Panasoffkee residents pleaded with county officials to clean up the lake. County Administrator Bradley Arnold said the federal money is restricted to certain projects. Half was received last month with the rest expected next summer. The grant also will be used to expand broadband service.