Open Forum in The Villages, Florida

Decoding Fire Department Financing: A Conversation with Don Wiley

October 06, 2023 Mike Roth & Commissioner Don Wiley Season 4 Episode 13
Open Forum in The Villages, Florida
Decoding Fire Department Financing: A Conversation with Don Wiley
Open Forum in The Villages, Florida
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Ever wondered how the intricate web of local government and public services works? Well, we've got the perfect deep-dive for you! Our guest, Don Wiley, a commissioner in Sumter County, unfolds the dynamic and intricate world of public services, primarily focusing on the Villages Fire Department. He shares the latest updates, including the failed proposal to make the fire department independent and the recent addition of 16 ambulances to their fleet, supported by the Village Center Community Development District and ARPA funds. As he walks us through the critical developments, we also get an insight into his journey in public service and his re-election process.

In the second part of our conversation, we unpack the intriguing aspect of fire service funding. Tracing the role of county property tax and fire service assessment, we explore how these instruments finance the fire department's budget. Expect a detailed discussion on the potential economic impact of taxing businesses based on square footage. But hold on, there’s more! Our guest doesn't shy away from informing us about the significant road development plans in the county. And, for a fun twist, Don Wiley shares his experience with drone videos on YouTube and talks about an upcoming improv show. So, buckle up for a comprehensive, engaging, and informative conversation touching on a wide spectrum of community concerns.

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Open Forum in The Villages, Florida is Produced & Directed by Mike Roth
A new episode will be released most Fridays at 9 AM
Direct all questions and comments to mike@rothvoice.com

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Emily:

Welcome to the Open Forum in the Villages Florida podcast. In this show we talk to leaders in the community, leaders of clubs and interesting folks who live here in the villages to give perspectives of what is happening here in the villages. We hope to add a new episode most Fridays at 9am. We are a listener supported podcast. You can become a supporter for as little as $3 per month or you can choose to pay more. To become a supporter, go to openforminthevillagescom and click on support in the black box. There will be shoutouts for supporters in episodes. In season 4, we have made some dramatic improvements and changes. First is a clarification of the podcast's title. It is open forum in the villages, florida. To make clear that this is a regional show, independently produced for folks who live in central Florida and the villages areas. It is a dramatic increase in the use of AI in the creation of each episode. In fact, the show's announcers are now all AI voices, including me, emily. Hope you enjoy.

Mike Roth:

This is Mike Roth on Open Forum in the Villages, florida, and I'm here with Don Wiley. Thanks for joining me, don.

Donald Wiley:

Well, thanks, mike. I appreciate you having me back on.

Mike Roth:

Not good. I should have said Commissioner.

Donald Wiley:

Don Wiley, I am a commissioner for here in Sumter County.

Mike Roth:

Yes, Right, right. How long have you been a commissioner in Sumter County Don?

Donald Wiley:

About 14, 15 months.

Mike Roth:

Okay, are you enjoying the job?

Donald Wiley:

It's a new set of challenges. I do enjoy working for the people, but it definitely has its challenges.

Mike Roth:

Now. Are you thinking of running for re-election as a commissioner?

Donald Wiley:

I have already started that process. Yes, I'm in the process now of collecting petitions. I need to collect about 1200 petitions to get myself on the ballot.

Mike Roth:

Now, do you mean signatures or petitions?

Donald Wiley:

Pretty much the same thing. The petition is a half sheet of paper. You got to fill out your name, address and your voter ID number or your birthday on it. Then I'll get submitted to the supervisor of elections for validation. Once we have 1200 of those, then I'm good to go. I'll be on the ballot. Right now we're about a third Don.

Mike Roth:

Okay, good Don, I know that you started a political career in the Villages by working as a CDD number 10. Right, how many years did you work on the CDD?

Donald Wiley:

I was a CDD supervisor for about seven years. There was an opening that came up because of two of our commissioners being removed by the governor. I followed the process of applying for the position. A couple of months later, I got a phone call from the governor's office. I was appointed to the position. Then, of course, I had to run to keep that position after the primary was over. I did that last year and I'm completing the term of the previous commissioner. If I get reelected, then it'll be for four years instead of two. Oh, that's better. Yeah, less headaches for a couple of years.

Donald Wiley:

Just doing it every two years. I don't know how our congressmen do it every two years. It's constant campaign mode. It's crazy.

Mike Roth:

Yeah Well, I personally think some of the US congressmen should be term limited out.

Donald Wiley:

You're not going to find any arguments at this side of the mic.

Mike Roth:

Yeah 10 years in congress seems like an eternity. Some of them are there for 40 years.

Donald Wiley:

Yeah, I think 40 years Career politicians I don't see the value in it. There is some validity in continuity and having experience People in there, but after 20 or 30 years it's like no, no, no, you're an institution, you're not a public servant anymore. Right.

Mike Roth:

Right, don, I brought you on the show today to talk a little bit about what's happening with the fire district here in the villages. I know last year a vote was taken to make the villages fire department a independent fire department, which was voted down, and there was a proposal for a massive tax increase which the commissioners, thank goodness, termed down. Why don't you fill in for all the listeners in a couple of minutes where we are today?

Donald Wiley:

Okay, so the independent fire district, yes, it was voted down. I think it was unfortunate. I was all in favor of it. But that's ancient history and now we move forward.

Donald Wiley:

Over the last year and in this upcoming year we have added basically 16 ambulances to our fire department fleet. Used to be a contracted service for six and with six they had enough business to basically make a profit and completely fund it at no cost to the county. With 16 ambulances Now we have a tremendous amount of overhead costs. The benefit is response times are now much lower and you're not waiting for, hopefully, 45 minutes to two hours for an ambulance. There's more ambulances available, so that availability is what we're paying for, and each ambulance takes seven to eight people to fully staff around the clock, 24, seven, seven days a week. That remains Cost has to be paid for. The residents demanded it. The county gave it to him. My impression is I think a lot of people thought somebody else was gonna pay for it. Hmm, well, that's. Somebody else is facing you in the mirror every morning in the bathroom. We have to pay for it.

Mike Roth:

Okay, so a little positive note the funding for the ambulances themselves. That's taking care. Where did that come from?

Donald Wiley:

So Village Center Community Development District paid for the 13 ambulances that are in the Villages Public Safety Department. Mm-hmm. They have I think nine or ten in the stations and a few extras and they have some peak capacity. Also on the county side we had some heavily they called it ARPA funds, basically the, the money that Congress Passed down to the, to the various cities and states, for COVID relief.

Donald Wiley:

Mm-hmm part of that was used to purchase six ambulances. We're still waiting on those. There's a huge backlog. Last email I saw, I think there's like 97 Ambulances that have to be built before ours are even on the assembly line. Wow, yeah, so so there's a backlog, so right now we're leasing four of them from AMR.

Donald Wiley:

We've just come to an agreement with Citrus County. We're going to rent some of theirs that they're getting ready to retire. They're still serviceable but they're near their inner service life. But they'll still be adequate for the next year or however long we need them, without having to make a substantial investment. So you know the money's there to pay for the ambulances. The residents aren't having to pay for the ambulances, which is a good thing.

Mike Roth:

Yeah, it's a good stroke of fate.

Donald Wiley:

Yeah, but the increase was really about the operating cost. You know, you're adding, like I said, 78 people per ambulance times. 16 ambulances Well, that's a lot mm-hmm and that that has to be accounted for. The plus side to it is now response times are Five to ten minutes instead of 45 minutes to two hours.

Mike Roth:

So that's actually going to save some lives, isn't it?

Donald Wiley:

Well, yeah, that's, that's the whole goal. So we took. So we have the new ambulances. It's got to be paid for. We had a study done, figured out what the exact cost was. We came up with a costing model. Unfortunately, during the the the process of evaluating the study I'm going to stand up and take credit I failed to ask all the right questions. I asked the initial question how are other counties doing it? The response I got was they're using a similar method. I didn't ask the question how did their rates compared to ours? And I also didn't ask the question how does this really impact individuals and businesses? Once the trim notices starting came coming out, then we saw those answers.

Donald Wiley:

Mm-hmm and they were pretty devastating. It was going to have a huge negative impact on the Business economy of Sumter County. And Sumter County is not just the individuals in the villages and the individuals outside the villages, it's all the residents and it's all the businesses. You can't have one without the other, so we have to protect both on a go-forward basis.

Mike Roth:

What is the tax increase Look like for the individual homeowners?

Donald Wiley:

Alright, so that's that's a tough question to answer. We don't have that answer yet. We're looking at several different options for how to go forward with funding. We shot down the the funding model that was rec recommended because the economic impact was too devastating. So we're going through some austerity this year. We've cut some services. We haven't cut any any Firefighters, so we've kept our staffing good, kept all our fire stations man. Mm-hmm.

Donald Wiley:

So that's a good thing, but you know it's definitely some tight budgets. You know we're gonna be brown bag luncheon it for a while. Mm-hmm but you know we're looking at a different, different models. One of them is called a dependent district. There's also a what's called an MSTU Metropolitan Service Taxing Unit.

Mike Roth:

Why don't you start with the? In that first thing you say well, which was the independent district the dependent fire district, dependent fire district. Exactly what does that mean? So?

Donald Wiley:

dependent means that they don't have the ultimate authority in Taxing. They're going to be given a certain percentage of the total property tax bill that's allowed under the state legislature, which is 10 millage points. They'll be given a certain number of millage points that they can use for assessment. They will come up with their budget and they will submit it to the county board of commissioners. Then it's either a thumbs up or thumbs down vote. It's a thumbs down vote. They got to go back to the drawing board. It's a thumbs up then. It's just, it's a single line item.

Donald Wiley:

Mm-hmm in the budget for fire for that dependent district. The current thinking on the dependent district is that the villages Would be a dependent district and then the rest of the county.

Donald Wiley:

Mm-hmm would continue under the current plan. Basically, we would take all the the cost for fire services out of our budget. We know those numbers now we have a very clear picture on what those are, and that would reduce our millage rate. And then this mst you this Tack this basically a fire tax, if you will. Mm-hmm would replace it and it would be different for Inside the inside the villages and outside of the village mm-hmm.

Mike Roth:

What would the? Was it the second option you talked about for a second second?

Donald Wiley:

option, so that that's again just taking out the dependent fire district out of the picture all together and just having the taxing unit, the MST you. That would be controlled by the county commissioners for all of the fire departments in Sumpto County. Right now we have what's called an MSB you Metropolitan Metropolitan Service Benefit Unit. This is the hundred and twenty four dollars that most people are thinking is what they pay for fire service. Mm-hmm but it's not. It's not what they pay for fire service.

Mike Roth:

How do you calculate where your actual cost is for fire service?

Donald Wiley:

So it's the hundred twenty four dollars. Mm-hmm plus plus, go into your tax bill For your property and the very first line item is the county tax. It's right above the school tax. So for me it's about thirteen hundred dollars. I think we look at yours, we just looked at mine, I got fifteen hundred dollars. Take about a third of that mm-hmm and add those two together, that's what's going to pay for fire service in Sumpto County.

Mike Roth:

Okay, so currently in the fifteen hundred dollar example it's five hundred dollars plus the one twenty four, right six twenty four.

Donald Wiley:

Yeah, but yeah, that's six hundred twenty four dollars. For me it's a five hundred and change whatever the, and that's that's typical of a homeowner. If your home has less of a value, you're gonna pay a little bit less. You're still gonna always pay the hundred twenty four that exists to make sure that everybody pays, because there are some properties that have lower values, mm-hmm. Throughout the county and the homeowners pay sometimes zero in county property tax Because of the exemptions the homestead exemptions, maybe they have a disability exemptions, whatever they are. So a lot of people have zero property tax, they still have to pay a school tax and they're still gonna pay the hundred and twenty four. Same thing goes for businesses the businesses.

Mike Roth:

How is that going to be calculated for a business?

Donald Wiley:

Well, we don't know. We had a plan and that was what got shot down on the 22nd of August. That was to tax it based on square footage and there was three different categories. There was commercial, industrial and Institutional. Institutional would be like hospitals and nursing homes and things like that. Industrial would be some of the factories, like what's out at the governor Rick Scott industrial complex sure and then Commercial, was about 52 cents a square foot.

Donald Wiley:

Doesn't sound like much, but you get a business with, you know, 30, 40,000 square feet all of a sudden. That's a huge addition. Well, they were already paying not only the 124, but they also have to pay that same third of their Advalerum tax their county tax towards fire service.

Donald Wiley:

So nobody was paying 124. A few people were in smaller houses, but businesses, residents, nobody was really paying 124. Common misconception, just it's one of those must called an urban legend or an urban myth that's being spread by by certain sources. That that's just simply untrue right.

Mike Roth:

It came from a different pot Right Right, Different line item.

Donald Wiley:

That 124 generated about nine and a half million dollars last year out of a 38 million dollar budget for our two fire departments. The rest of it came out of the general fund. Okay, and the general fund is. Primary sources are Adlerum tax. So where do we go from here? You know we got to try and figure out a way to fairly charge everyone for these additional ambulances.

Mike Roth:

Actually, it's not the ambulances, it's the crews for the ambulances, you're right.

Donald Wiley:

Yeah, let's correct that. I guess we need to back up and understand what happened with our fire budget. Two years ago there was a huge outcry that people wanted faster response times with our ambulances. They wanted better service. We had a commercial contractor that was running six ambulances on average that cost the county nothing. Well, unfortunately, with that few of ambulances, yes, they were able to turn a profit, but their response time was real slow, sometimes 30, 40 minutes, sometimes an hour or two hours. I know when my mom fell once we waited for an ambulance to get there. It seemed to take forever.

Donald Wiley:

Now, if somebody takes a fall or maybe has a coronary condition or something like that, you're in the villages five, six minutes and there's a fire truck and an ambulance out in front of your house. So what we're paying for is that availability to have the capacity. So if there's, let's say, a big accident on the I-75, and it ties up three of the ambulances, there's still plenty of other capacity to handle the normal day to day emergency. So all of that created new costs that got rolled into the general fund budget In an effort to try and balance the budget. We took the cost for actual firefighting out of the budget and we put it into the fire assessment and that's what made everybody think, well, costs went up. Fire department costs themselves didn't go up. It was the operating costs, the staffing for all these ambulances that was the principal driver in driving up the cost and the budget for the fire department. So we're again on the 22nd.

Donald Wiley:

That plan for it evaporated. Let's say yeah, it was voted. I made the motion because it was going to be a huge economic impact to the county. Most people think, well, let the rich business owners pay it. Businesses don't pay taxes. I own a business. I don't pay a diamond taxes. I collect taxes and I pass them on to the government. Same thing with any other business. People say, well, the villagers can afford it. The villagers isn't going to afford it. They're going to raise the rent on their merchants for those properties and those merchants are going to charge you more.

Mike Roth:

Or they're going to go out of business.

Donald Wiley:

Well, if their prices go too high and it causes them to go out of business? You're right, we have a lot of businesses along I-75. Okay, at the various interchanges in Sumter County there's a rather robust commercial district. It's driven by Turnpike or, excuse me, i-75 traffic. Sure, people are stopping for gas. They're going to get something to eat. Well, if you raise the fire rates for the gas station, they got to raise their price. So you come into Sumter County. Hey look, gas is a nickel a gallon more. Well, we'll just wait till we get to Citrus County or we'll wait until we get to Marion County and get gas. That only affects the gas station, that affects the restaurants and all the other services there and the people that work there, and this was just too huge of a negative impact. We're talking people's lives, their jobs.

Mike Roth:

Okay, so we're talking. We did a little bit of long division before the show started to try to figure out what the average homeowner's increase would be for the next tax year. You said it was like $26 million.

Donald Wiley:

Yeah. So with the defeat of the initiative to raise the fire assessment, we had to cut $26 million out of our budget and the brunt of that came out of fire department costs. We had plans for growth. We had plans for adding additional people. All those have been axed. We have a very good working relationship with the union. I don't remember the name of the union, but it's 53, 51, 31. That represents the firefighters here in Sumter County.

Donald Wiley:

And they've done. They've really come to the table and they've been a real good partner in that with the county and so that's helped us tremendously. Their concern was they didn't want jobs to be lost.

Mike Roth:

Right. So we had $26 million that we had a cover and we have 100,000 payers.

Donald Wiley:

Yeah, basically 100,000 pieces of property.

Mike Roth:

So that meant about $260 per unit, which is much more reasonable.

Donald Wiley:

Well, I mean, yeah again. The misconception is that businesses were only paying 124. They weren't paying 124. You might have a $10 million facility and they're paying half a million dollars a year in property tax, and a third of that goes to the fire department. So it's not just, it's 124 plus, you know, $130,000 from your general assessment.

Mike Roth:

So I can look at it and say we need more commercial development. We're working on it.

Donald Wiley:

We're working on it. There's some initiatives going forward. The Marlino I think it's Marlene, I can't remember her first name but the south end of the Coleman Ridge development which is right across from the Governor Rick Scott industrial complex Well, that's scheduled to be all industrial and commercial property, so there's going to be some really good growth in there. Right now they're working on a deal with Monarch Ranch.

Mike Roth:

I don't know. Maybe many of our listeners don't know what Monarch Ranch is.

Donald Wiley:

So Monarch Ranch is the property that, if you're on 301 and you're heading north, okay, before you get to the turnpike, there's a massive amount of property there on the left, and this is just north of the old motocross track. Okay.

Donald Wiley:

Okay, that's the Monarch Ranch property and that goes from 301 all the way to I-75 and north all the way to the turnpike. We're looking at a more industrial there, so that's good. Warner Trucking is building a new facility up on 229. There's a lot of industrial and commercial coming our way. It would be nice if we could do like Groveland has done and attract a warehouse for Amazon and UPS. These are huge, huge revenue drivers and they also bring good job. So it just takes time. Sumpter County is a different kind of animal. We have a different kind of population. The majority of population is definitely older because of the villages. It changes the demographics, it changes the workforce. So it's kind of difficult to attract businesses. But when we do, they become very, very successful.

Mike Roth:

Yeah, depots for FedEx or UPS would be welcome additions, I think.

Donald Wiley:

That would be great, except Marion County already beat us to it. Just on the north side of Ocala there's a big depot for FedEx there.

Mike Roth:

Well, let's take a quick break. Let me put in a joke for my grandson, evan Don what kind of pizza do dogs eat? I know you like dogs Kind of pizza to talk, All right. I give up. Go ahead, paparoni pizza, all right, okay, that was for Evan.

Donald Wiley:

All right.

Mike Roth:

And now let's take a quick break and listen to a short Alzheimer's tip from Dr Craig Curtis.

Dr. Craig Curtis:

My favorite tip is involves a change in eating patterns, but it's not a drastic change. It's simply increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, other white meats and lowering the amounts of red meat, sweets and sugars and also carbohydrates. It's essentially following a Mediterranean type diet plan.

Mike Roth:

To get more information about what you're doing for Alzheimer's? Is there a website that they?

Dr. Craig Curtis:

can go to. Yes, sir, my website, www. CraigCurtisMD. com is the best place to go and it's a great resource for patients and a great way to get in touch with my office. Is there a telephone number they can call? Yes, sir, 352-500-5252. And there's a way for them to leave a message 24 hours a day.

Mike Roth:

Yes, sir, thank you very much. You're very welcome. Welcome back, and let's talk about something, some more positive stuff that's going on here in Sumter County about the roads. Okay, we've heard stories of congestion on 301 in the county areas. Why don't you bring our listeners up to speed as to where the county is on solving some of these congestion problems?

Donald Wiley:

Okay, so 301 actually is not a well, it is a state road.

Donald Wiley:

It's a problem for the county but it's not one that the county can solve. The state has funded and is moving forward with the widening to four lanes of US 301 from basically the turnpike all the way down to 471, which is about seven or eight miles south of the turnpike. So the plans right now are at about 60%. The last email I saw earlier this week in my county email box was that we're looking at a traffic circle at the north end of Marsh Bend where it meets US 301. We're looking at a traffic light at the Warm Springs and US 301 interchange, another traffic light where 301 will continue on its present course under a different name, just as Warm Springs Avenue into Coleman, and 301 would then split the area between Hammock at Finney and the Coleman Ridge development and that'll go all the way down south, going generally southwest for about another mile and a half, and then it'll turn to the west and eventually meet up with 301 again. It'll meet up at 301 where 525 East meets in.

Donald Wiley:

525 East is the road that goes over to the Governor Rick Scott industrial complex. I believe it's called industrial drive now. They'll put a traffic light there. It will stay four lanes for the next couple of miles until it gets down to 470. At 470. there will be another traffic light. Again, these are based on the 60% plans that we have. We got a couple more months before they get to 100%. It'll probably be another year before they actually start working the road, but it's funded. That was a great thing that happened a couple of months ago. The MPO, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is a group of the municipalities and the counties that work together in this area to drive improvements in our roads infrastructure.

Mike Roth:

So those traffic circles, the new traffic circles, are going to come in. Are there going to be two lanes or one lane in each?

Donald Wiley:

Generally, there are going to be two lanes, like we see throughout the villages, because 301 is a four-lane road. It will be a four-lane road when this is done. So that's coming Again. It's down the road. A little bit Sorry for the pun, but these things it's a big project.

Mike Roth:

Will it be commercial development on each side of 301 as it's redeveloped?

Donald Wiley:

That's hard to say, obviously at the north end. That's where the Monarch Ranch is going to be.

Donald Wiley:

The Monarch Ranch property is. So we expect to see some industrial, maybe some commercial development there. What I've seen in some drawings is some commercial development on the north side of 301 as it goes into making the left turn there at 525 East South of that, who knows, there's a lot of room for development. That's going to be up to the individual landowners, just like anything else they may want to develop into something commercial they may sell to some commercial entity. Who's to?

Mike Roth:

say Don, can you tell our listeners what the website is to see your drone videos, if a listener has not accidentally found them?

Donald Wiley:

Well, the easiest, it's YouTube. Go to youtube. com. If you go to youtube. com, slash gold wingnut. That will take you directly to my page, or you can just use the search function in YouTube. Type in gold wingnut. You can type in my name, don Wiley, you can type in the village's construction, and my videos will ultimately show up and they're numbered from 1 to, like I said, 132 is what I'm working on now.

Mike Roth:

How many people have watched your videos?

Donald Wiley:

Oh my gosh.

Mike Roth:

Round numbers.

Donald Wiley:

About 2.25 million people have watched my videos over the last couple of years. The first one came out right after Irma hit this and I think I have. I just flipped over 18,000 subscribers. Typical video might have 15 to 20,000 views. Obviously a lot of people are watching. I get a lot of comments. When I'm out on the street, people see my truck.

Mike Roth:

So what was your biggest surprise after you started producing these construction videos?

Donald Wiley:

Biggest surprise how much work it turned out to be. Oh my gosh. I mean, if you see a minute of my video, I've got at least an hour to an hour and a half of editing time. The easy part, the fun part, is actually flying.

Mike Roth:

Flying the drones, oh yeah.

Donald Wiley:

I mean I might have four or five hours of actual flying time in there. And then I got to edit out the sections that I want.

Mike Roth:

Don, do you have anything else to say before we close out this show?

Donald Wiley:

Well, just make sure that come November you guys have a new improv show coming.

Mike Roth:

Yes, November 7th. It's going to be a fantastic show. We also have a show coming up on February 4th, 24. Yeah, that one is at Rohan. The show on November 7th is at Rec Center and, as we record this today, over 50% of the tickets have been sold.

Donald Wiley:

Oh my God, I hope you sell out again.

Mike Roth:

Oh, it'll sell out probably in another two or three weeks. Excellent, Good Don. Thanks again for being with us. Thanks for having me, Mike.

Emily:

Remember our next episode will be released next Friday at 9 am. Should you want to become a major supporter of the show or have questions, please contact us at mikeatrothvoice. com. This is a shout out for supporters Greg Panjian, tweet Coleman, Dan Kapellan, Ed Williams, Alvin Stenzel and major supporter Dr Craig Curtis at K2 in the villages. We will be hearing more from Dr Curtis with short Alzheimer's Tips each week. If you know someone who should be on the show, contact us at mike@rothvoice. com. We thank everyone for listening to the show. The content of the show is copyrighted by Roth Voice 2023. All rights reserved.

Updating the Villages Fire Department
Fire Service Cost Calculation and Funding
Alzheimer's Tip and Road Development Updates