Sumter County Commissioners will use federal funds for ambulances

The Villages Public Safety Department already has received the first two of 12 new ambulances it ordered in January.  Sumter County is expecting delivery of its 12 fully equipped ambulances by November or December.

Sumter County will use $3.05 million of $25.7 million in federal funds from the COVID American Rescue Plan Act to pay for new ambulances after all.

The idea was originally surfaced last year by Commissioner Doug Gilpin, who repeatedly asked the board to use at least some of the federal windfall to resolve public outcry over abysmal ambulance wait times.

However, Gilpin was overruled by the new majority of chairman Craig Estep, suspended commissioner Oren Miller and former commissioner Gary Search.

That trio, who jointly campaigned on a promise to slash property taxes by 25%, instead pushed through a 2022 budget with a 25% spending increase and no money earmarked for ambulances they instructed the fire department to buy.

“The fact is the previous board had priorities that I didn’t agree with,” Gilpin said. “I am always an advocate for exhausting any available federal and state funds before we dip into the county budget. The ambulance purchase is an excellent example of an opportunity to do that. So I’m happy with this decision.”

The county will now earmark the $3.05 million from its budget for the future new service center at the intersection of U.S. Highway 301 and County Road 470.  

The county placed its order for 12 fully equipped ambulances REV Technical Center in February, and they are expected to be delivered in November or December, said county administrator Bradley Arnold.

Based on that timetable the county will need to utilize American Medical Response beyond the end of its contract, which expires Sept. 30, for ambulance transports in the portions of the county outside of The Villages.

Sumter County Fire and Rescue was to have assumed ambulance service from AMR at that time in the rural county, while The Villages Public Safety Department assumed service for the retirement community.

VPSD already has received the first two of its 12 ambulances it ordered in January and expects nine more by the end of July. Officials said that its last vehicle is on track for delivery by September to begin operating within The Villages on Oct. 1.

Of the remaining ARPA funds, $6 million will now support the county health department, addressing criticism that the previous board was more focused on tax increases than on public health.

The remaining $16.6 million will go toward improvements to water and sewer infrastructure throughout the county and expansion of broadband internet. Those projects include:

$4.5 million to help fund three projects in Wildwood that will increase capacity for water and sewer along State Road 44 between U.S. Highway 301 and Interstate 75 for future industrial, commercial and mixed-use development in the area.

$4.3 million to connect the water systems of Webster and Center Hill, similar to an agreement already in place between Wildwood and Coleman.

$4.3 million for an agreement with Charter Communications to expand broadband access. The public-private partnership will support a network capable of providing high-speed internet access to approximately 3,600 addresses countywide.

$2.5 million for Village Center Community Development District for capacity upgrades for the Little Sumter Service Area along U.S. Highway 441.

$900,000 to expand water and sewer services from Bushnell to the site of a future county service center at County Road 470 and U.S. Highway 301.

$97,000 for a sewer service study in Lake Panasoffkee.

Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.