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Blueberry festival, fair to request aid from Hernando

Fair association president Robin McAndrew will be asking commissioners for about $20,000 to help with marketing expenses for this year’s fair, which is set for April 4 to 12.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Fair association president Robin McAndrew will be asking commissioners for about $20,000 to help with marketing expenses for this year’s fair, which is set for April 4 to 12.

BROOKSVILLE — Organizers of two of Hernando County's largest public events will appear before county commissioners Tuesday in the hope of coaxing thousands of dollars of cash and in-kind services to support their efforts.

As they have the past two years, Florida Blueberry Festival representatives will ask commissioners for $14,000 to be used toward the estimated $30,000 cost of closing two state roads during the two-day event, planned for April 12 and 13. In addition to asking the county to waive fees for facility use, permits and use of county vehicles for transportation, organizers are asking the Tourist Development Council to pitch in $5,000 to help with marketing efforts.

Festival chairwoman Michael Heard said that the blueberry festival, which is in its third year, has a proven track record for attracting visitors to the area, and she wants the county to continue as the event's co-sponsor. While the festival has posted a modest profit its first two years, it hasn't been enough to sustain the event on its own, Heard said. Support from the county is essential to keep the festival's momentum going.

"(The festival) has shown itself to be a win-win for every resident and business owner in Hernando," Heard said. "We bring in a lot of people who stay in our motels and eat in our restaurants. I think anyone would consider that a good investment for our future."

Whether the same can be said about the Hernando County Fair is up for debate. According to financial figures provided by the Hernando County Fair Association, last year's fair earned about $86,000 in profit.

However, the association itself posted an overall deficit of $30,026 for the reporting period that ran from June 1, 2012, to May 31, 2013. The money drain isn't just a recent trend, either. Documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service show losses of $43,809 in 2010, $42,450 in 2011 and $30,101 in 2012.

Fair association president Robin McAndrew, who will be asking commissioners for about $20,000 to help with marketing expenses for this year's fair, plus a waiver for dumping fees, said that the organization's financial struggles are due mainly to the lagging economy, which has curtailed fair attendance and cut into the association's income from rental of the fairgrounds. Operational costs consume a good portion of the association's annual budget.

McAndrew said she hopes that this year's fair, which is set for April 4 to 12, will help the organization close its financial gap.

"We've never asked for any help from the county before, and that says something," McAndrew said. "We've done a lot of work to make it the best fair it can be. And it's going to take a lot more work to rebuild it back up."

County Commissioner Dave Russell said he was surprised to learn of the fair association's financial plight, and was uncertain as to how it would affect his decision on whether to grant the event financial assistance.

"It seems to me there's going to be a lot of discussion about it on Tuesday," Russell said.

Commissioner Jim Adkins, who along with Russell once sat on the association's board of directors, said he's not in favor of the county doling out tax dollars to support public events, and wants to take a wait-and-see approach before making a decision to support either event.

"If we had lots of money, maybe I might think differently," Adkins said. "But we don't have lots of money."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Blueberry festival, fair to request aid from Hernando 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 5:54pm]
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