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TOURISM EVENT FUNDS LOWER

County grants to promote events such as the Chasco Fiesta get reduced amid budget woes.

More requests for money, fewer funds to go around.

That budget season theme continued Wednesday as the Pasco County Tourist Development Council awarded nearly $54,000 to festivals, art shows, road races and other special events - about $25,000 less than organizers got this year and $51,000 less than they wanted for next.

"This year is obviously tough on everybody," county tourism manager Eric Keaton told the advisory council, which forwards its decision to Pasco County commissioners for final judgment.

The money for the grants comes from the bed tax, a surcharge on hotel stays. The special events - ranging from the 11-day Chasco Fiesta to a new Wesley Chapel 5K run - are supposed to use the money to help promote their events to potential visitors outside of Pasco County.

Marketing funds for special events are lower next year due to a combination of declining revenues and a decision to shift more money into event sponsorship, mostly sports tournaments that would not be in Pasco if it weren't for the financial assistance, said Keaton.

Commissioners are set to vote next month on a proposal to raise the bed tax from 2 to 3 percent. Money generated by the increase - most recently estimated at $300,000 - would go toward event sponsorship and advertising under a plan endorsed by commissioners last month.

The grant awards were based on a combination of factors, from the hotel stays generated by the events to the advertising budget.

Council member Toby Caroline said she wanted event organizers to understand that they must include the county logo in print advertisements and mention it on radio and television spots.

That isn't always the case, she said, noting that organizers for one event, which she did not name, had turned in 20 proposed advertisements, only two of which mentioned Pasco County.

"If you're asking for our help ... then we'd like to see 'sponsored by Pasco County,'" she said.

Keaton said after the meeting that as the county's advertising budget has declined, from $107,000 to just more than $70,000, the marketing provided by the special events is even more significant.

"This is essentially a branch of our advertising," he said.

Every event asked for a good bit more than it got. For instance, Chasco Fiesta had asked for $30,000 but ended up with $12,201. Wesley Chapel Celebration of the Arts asked for $8,000 but got $3,674.

No doubt, organizers behind the 17 events are having an equally tough economic time.

The most recent case in point: Just last week, tourist officials learned that one of the county's premier events - Little Everglades Steeplechase - was canceled for 2010 after financially-pinched sponsors dropped out or reduced their contributions.

Jack Phethean, a Steeplechase representative who sits on the tourist council, said Wednesday that organizers were saddened by the cancelation. But he said they think they'll bring the event back in 2011.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Fast facts

Council recommends nearly $54,000

The Pasco County Tourist Development Council on Wednesday proposed the following grant awards to local events next year:

Farm Fest & Quilt Show: $1,903

Pioneer Days Festival: $3,571

Athletes Who Care Triathlon: $1,481

2010 Chasco Fiesta: $12,201

Cotee River October Bike Fest: $3,220

Cotee River Seafood Festival: $1,767

Founders Day: $1,656

Longleaf Triathlon: $1,189

Music & Motorcycles: $2,255

Orange Blossom Special BBQ: $2,271

Pasco Bug Jam: $8,095

Pasco County Fair: $2,646

Rally to Remember: $830

Rattlesnake Festival: $2,103

Suncoast Arts Fest: $4,036

Wesley Chapel 5K: $695

Wesley Chapel Celebration of the Arts: $3,674

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