Hernando County commissioners gave the go-ahead Tuesday to a four-year agreement with a motor-coach association to hold its annual rally at the airport, despite an effort by a local watchdog group to put the brakes on the project.
After listening to Hernando County Airport manager Bob Mattingly talk about the economic benefits to the county, commissioners voted unanimously to accept the proposed contract with the Family Motorcoach Association to hold its Southeastern rally here for the next four years.
The rally will bring 2,500 motor homes to the airport for four days in February.
"I think it's a fabulous project," Commissioner Paul Sullivan said. "I think for us to pass this up would be a huge mistake."
His comments came after members of the Hernando County Good Government League raised concerns about the contract.
County officials say the motor-coach group will pump about $5-million into the economy and propose spending $30,000 on improvements at the airport to accommodate the group.
One of the improvements is a $20,000 water main. Mattingly announced Tuesday that the Florida Department of Transportation will give the county a $16,000 grant toward the cost, leaving the county to pay about $4,000.
Good Government League members said the motor-home group generated only about $1-million during previous rallies in Titusville. Mattingly said that he arrived at the $5-million figure by considering the indirect effects of their spending.
"I think this is a snow job," said Dick Pritchard, a Spring Hill retiree and a member of the Good Government League.
He questioned the wisdom of charging the group a minimum fee of $5,000 or $1 for each day pass sold, saying the group would make more money than the county under such an arrangement.
He also said those attending the rally should pay the prevailing campground rate of $14 to $25 per day, instead of the $2-per-day rate under the proposed agreement.
"These people are wealthy," he said. "If they can pay $200,000 for a motor home, they can pay more than $2 a night to park it."
Members of motor-coach groups said they spend a lot of money in host communities.
"These people will spend money in Hernando County, and they will spend a great deal of it," said Pat Brewer, a local funeral home owner and an officer in a motor-coach group affiliated with the Family Motorcoach Association. He said three clubs already have expressed interest in holding smaller rallies in Hernando County before the main event. Groups also will participate in golf and tennis tournaments that will benefit Hernando County charities.