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Officials try to clear air on rally

The Family Motor Coach Association is deciding whether it will move the annual southeast area rally from Brooksville, where it has been for the past 15 years, to Volusia County

Chris Price | Special to the Times

The Family Motor Coach Association is deciding whether it will move the annual southeast area rally from Brooksville, where it has been for the past 15 years, to Volusia County

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Aviation Authority voted this week to set the record straight on its offer to the Family Motor Coach Association.

On Friday, the authority sent a two-page letter to the association's leaders, who will soon decide whether to move an annual rally to Volusia from its longtime home at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

The letter is in response to a packet sent to those same officials by Ralph Marino, the association's southeast area national vice president.

Marino's packet contained a fact sheet, as well as a critique of recent offers from Hernando that tried to reduce the expenses the association would face at next year's rally. The gist of the packet, which included the ballot to vote on the move, was this: The only way the association can "stop the bleeding'' financially is to move.

When Hernando officials read the packet, they said, they found numerous inaccuracies and misleading statements.

Friday's letter, which was signed by authority chairman Gary Schraut, takes on those issues and also questions the deal that the association would get with Volusia County. That includes a guaranteed total payment to Volusia of nearly $160,000, whether the association meets its projected number of coaches or not.

Schraut points out that the airport's offer to the association was a one-year deal, allowing time the following year to address the association's biggest concern, the lack of buildings at the Brooksville airport that makes it necessary to spend money renting tents.

The letter also says "overhead" costs detailed for the Brooksville rally would also have to be paid at the Volusia County Fairgrounds. Otherwise, rally organizers would have to go without basics such as office supplies, a postage machine and a copier.

Schraut's letter also urges the voting officials to consider the capacity at the Volusia County site, which has room for no more than 800 to 1,150 recreational vehicles. In Hernando, rallies have reached 2,800, making the annual event a boon to the local economy.

"We sincerely hope that even with moderate growth in the economy that the (rally) will return to those robust figures,'' Schraut wrote.

He also noted that he understands that there is division among the leadership in the southeast area of the association about whether to stay in Brooksville or move to Volusia.

"There seems to be conflicting information on the actual costs of operating at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport," Schraut wrote. "I only ask that if it is going to be a decision based on financial issues, that an objective review of the Hernando County facility be performed."

County officials aren't the only ones who said Marino's "fact sheet" about Hernando County's failings wasn't so factual.

Another official of the Family Motor Coach Association, Betty Duncan, wrote an email to other officials in the association noting that Marino's packet and its conclusions didn't match the offer Hernando County made to save the group money.

Duncan went on to point out that when she visited the Volusia County Fairgrounds, she found discrepancies between information from Marino and from fairground officials. She was also concerned that the site had room for so few coaches.

If the decision to move is strictly related to budget, Duncan wrote, she wants a full look at both proposals.

"What I am reading,'' she wrote, "seems very one-sided.''

Marino has not returned numerous phone calls and emails seeking comment on the situation over the past several weeks, including messages left on Friday.

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

Officials try to clear air on rally 03/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 7:20pm]
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