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Facts questioned as vote looms on future of motor coach rally in Hernando

The Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association has worked with the county for 15 years to host its annual rally at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2012)

The Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association has worked with the county for 15 years to host its annual rally at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

BROOKSVILLE — The Family Motor Coach Association has sent out a ballot to its chapter presidents and national directors asking whether the Southeast Area organization should return to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport for its 2014 winter rally.

Accompanying the ballot is a batch of letters and memos, including a fact sheet that local officials say isn't very factual.

"We're baffled,'' said Michael McHugh, Hernando business development manager. "Obviously, they have not painted a very favorable viewpoint of our community or our airport.''

Last week, on behalf of the airport, McHugh sent an offer to the organization to cut license fees, take over property maintenance, provide a hangar and round up volunteers to help with the rally. The proposal was designed to solve specific problems identified by association officials. Among those concerns was the fact that the rally, which has been at the Hernando airport for 15 years, was costing more than it was bringing in.

As of Wednesday, McHugh said he had received no formal response.

But the backup material sent to voting officials critiques the county's offer.

Cutting the licensing fee results in "no gain or loss in rally expenses,'' writes Douglas Pearson Sr., a Family Motor Coach Association official.

Having the county provide $8,000 of grounds maintenance and mowing results in "no gain or loss in rally expenses.''

Pearson goes on to say that the county's offer to lease the group a hangar to offset the cost of tents for the rally actually increases expenses for the rally. So does the use of volunteers to help with event.

"In summary,'' he writes, "Hernando County has not provided any concessions that would reduce our operating expense. On the contrary, when studied, their offerings actually increase our financial obligations.''

Pearson says accepting an offer from the Volusia County Fair Association to move the rally there would be a better way "to stop the bleeding.''

Hernando County Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut said he was confused by Pearson's assessment.

"I couldn't make heads or tails of it,'' Schraut said. "This whole thing is slanted toward them going to Daytona.''

The fact sheet also talks about the deteriorating west runway where the rally is held in Hernando and problems with the roof, door and lighting in the storage buildings and office space the association uses at the airport.

Schraut said the runway is in good enough shape to drive on at 80 mph and that the motor coach association owns the building that needs a new roof. He also questioned other details presented as "facts" by Ralph Marino, the national vice president for the association's Southeast Area.

So did County Commissioner Diane Rowden, the commission liaison to the airport.

"I was really shocked when I saw the facts here,'' Rowden said. "They're just looking for anything to make us look bad.''

Marino urges the voting directors to vote to move the rally.

"After careful review of the (Southeast Area's) financials, the decision to stay at the airport and continue to lose money or to move to the Volusia County Fairgrounds is up to you,'' Marino wrote.

Completed ballots are due Wednesday.

Schraut said he planned to talk to the Aviation Authority about the latest developments during today's regularly scheduled meeting and hopes to get information to the voting officials that presents a more accurate picture of Hernando.

"We do not believe that what is being presented was a fair assessment of what's taking place,'' he said. "Hopefully, we will get some accurate information disseminated.''

Schraut said that none of the paperwork assembled for the voting directors talks about how the offer Hernando made included plans to work an even better deal for the rally after 2014. There was also no recognition of the 15 years the airport and the association have worked together successfully.

Schraut said he had talked to between 50 and 60 people at this year's rally, and they voiced strong support for staying in Brooksville.

But they are not the association officials who will be voting.

"I am very disappointed in the way this was slanted,'' Schraut said. "Nothing here presents what Volusia would cost. Everything presented here was derogatory to Brooksville and the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport."

Marino did not return a phone call or email from the Times seeking comment.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Facts questioned as vote looms on future of motor coach rally in Hernando 03/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 7:07pm]

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