DADE CITY — County commissioners on Tuesday approved $80,000 for nearly 20 Pasco festivals, plus funding for a new concession stand for J.W. Mitchell Park, though Commissioner Jack Mariano objected to both projects.
Mariano's stance sparked contentious debate, but he couldn't persuade fellow commissioners to spike the plans. He was the lone "no" vote in both cases.
The grants are routinely awarded each year to support events ranging from Chasco Fiesta to the Longleaf Triathlon. But Mariano objected that some smaller events like Dade City's Pioneer Days Festival didn't prove they generated more patrons at local hotels.
"You've got some people who didn't even report heads in beds at all, and you're still giving out the money," he said. "Great event, great cause. If the focus is for tourist development, for heads in beds, they need to show that and have some accountability."
Mariano pointed to a Port Richey roller hockey tournament that gets $2,000 twice a year from the county. Each event generates $90,000 in economic activity and 265 hotel nights.
Ed Caum, a staffer in the county's tourism department, said the return on investment for a sports event "is never going to be the same as it is for an arts fest or a small quilt fest."
Commissioner Pat Mulieri said the county shouldn't forget about those cultural events.
"I don't play soccer," she said. "But I like art shows. And so do a lot of other people. They eat in the restaurants. They buy little trinkets."
The vote to approve the grants was 3-1, with Mariano voting against and Commissioner Ted Schrader missing the early part of the meeting.
Later in Tuesday's meeting, Mariano sparked a minor dustup when he suggested that the county delay spending $58,000 to replace a concession stand at Mitchell Park. He said commissioners should wait until they get proposals for up to three new parks that would be run by private companies.
One park, he said, could be a complex of softball fields located at Starkey Ranch. If that were built, parks officials might reconfigure Mitchell's fields.
"And that may change exactly where you want to put this concession stand," said Mariano, whose daughter plays soccer at the park.
But Commissioner Henry Wilson, who coaches at Mitchell Park three days a week, said the 30-year-old concession building needs to be replaced. There have been problems for years at the bathrooms. There is no inside meeting room for coaches or other groups. Kids have to wait out storms inside cars instead of going inside a building.
"We need to move forward with the building today," said Wilson, who debated the issue but did not vote because his private soccer club would benefit from the project.
Mulieri also appeared to lose patience with Mariano's argument: "Give the kids a break, Jack. You're trying to push your ideas into another commission district and I think you're wrong."
With Wilson not voting and Schrader absent, the vote to approve the building was 2-1.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.