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Raid Festival gives more than it gets, figures show

The annual Brooksville Raid Festival held in January netted the smallest revenues in recent years, but the non-profit committee of local residents and business people who sponsor the Civil War re-enactment donated more money than it took in from this year's event. According to figures recently released by the Brooksville Raid Festival Inc., the primary sponsor of this event that is one of the biggest Civil War re-enactments in the state, the raid earned profits of about $5,262 this year from admission fees, concessions and sponsorships, among other things.

In turn, Brooksville Raid Festival Inc. donated a total of $5,475 to four different groups, doing so by delving slightly into a pool of money left over from the previous year's raid festival that was earmarked for expenses that later were found not to be needed.

As in past years, the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and the Hernando County Historical Museum Association were the biggest recipients of donations this year, each getting $2,000. The local Boy Scouts of America council received $250 for the use of its 1,400-acre Sand Hill Boy Scout Reservation on State Road 50, where the event was held. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office Explorers Club received $1,225 for helping provide traffic control for the event.

After the donations, the raid festival committee still has about $4,089 left in its accounts from past years' raids that will help pay for next year's weekend-long festival.

"I think this proves that the allegation that we are hoarding money is ridiculous," said Kathy Vidal, chairwoman of this year's festival committee. "We're keeping only what's needed to put on the event each year."

Ms. Vidal released the raid festival's financial statements to the St. Petersburg Times after accusations of financial mismanagement were raised by one of the longtime participants in the re-enactment who has been critical of the Brooksville Raid Festival Inc.

Jeff Grzelak, an Orlando civil war re-enactor who helped organize the first Brooksville Raid re-enactment 11 years ago, said unanswered questions about where the proceeds of the event were going was one of the reasons he chose not participate in the event next year.

"These people (the raid festival committee) have been involved with the Brooksville Raid only in the last few years," Grzelak said in an interview last month. "And ever since they've been involved, they've sunk their claws, their tentacles, deeper and deeper into it."

Grzelak, who is chief of staff of a group of Union Army re-enactors called the Union Army, District of Florida, did not return a reporter's phone calls Friday.

In explaining the breakdown of donations, Ms. Vidal said that the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce was entitled to a large donation because it has been the chief sponsor of the event for the past eight years and because the business group gives office staff and space to organizers each year.

"The (raid festival committee) itself is an offshoot of the Chamber," she said. "(The Chamber) has always been active, ever since it was first approached (about organizing the event) eight years ago."

Like the Chamber, the Hernando County Historical Museum Association receives a goodly amount of the raid revenues because it also donates staff help and other resources, Ms. Vidal said.

The controversy over the raid committee's allegations raised by Grzelak, along with criticism by him and other Brooksville Raid participants, has put what has become Hernando County's biggest annual festival on the firing line in recent months.

Last month, a group of Confederate Army re-enactors said it would follow Grzelak's group and bow out of next year's raid.

But many, if not more, Civil War buffs have pledged their support for the next year's event.

Exact tallies of how many re-enactors are planning to participate in the event will not be made until late this year.

But judging from letters of support the raid festival committee has received, she said it will probably be in excess of the 500 re-enactors from throughout the Southeast who participated this year.

"We already have had commitments from twice as many sutlers ... craftsmen, artists and traders ... than we had last year," she said. "We don't have any concrete numbers at all on the re-enactors ... but we're still expecting more than last year."

An estimated 10,000 spectators showed up at this year's Brooksville Raid to watch the two re-enactments of an actual Civil War skirmish that took place near Brooksville on July 9, 1864.