DADE CITY - Pasco County's Tourist Development Council voted Wednesday to slash funding for local festivals that couldn't prove they were drawing overnight visitors.
New Port Richey's Chasco Fiesta would take the biggest hit, as the nine-day festival would lose almost $10,000 from the $21,254 tourism grant.
Kelly Hackman, a longtime festival steering committee member who was appointed executive director in May, said the cut did not come as a surprise. According to the grant application, the number of hotel room nights attributed to the festival dropped from about 400 to just 126 this year.
Being new to the position, Hackman said she didn't know if the previous year numbers were inflated. "I can only speak to the number I found this year," she said. "One hotel I spoke to in the past produced over a 100 rooms. This year they told me it was seven."
She said the committee recognizes that the 91-year-old festival is in need of some revamping. "We're prepared to deal with whatever happens," she said.
New Port Richey councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas supported the move to cut the funding for the nine-day festival. "It is a really tough nut, but it is all about heads in beds," she said.
A handful of smaller festivals also would see their funding cut significantly. Eco Fest would lose about 20 percent of its grant funding from $2,108 to $1,657. Wesley Chapel Fall Festival would lose two-thirds of its grant, from $4,972 to $1,670; and the Suncoast Arts Festival would lose about half of its grant funding, from $6,808 to $3,355.
Tourism Director Eric Keaton said the number of local events applying for grants had dropped from about 20 to just seven this year. He budgeted $80,000 for tourism grants for 2014, but the TDC recommended spending about $50,000. County commissioners will have the final say when they approve the budget this summer.
"Our role is not to supplement the budgets of these events," Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said. "Our role is to market Pasco County. I know that's a real struggle to make that call. My concern is we're supplementing the budgets of these events that have been going on for years and years and years."
The council relied on a scoring formula based mostly on hotel night stays and marketing outside of the Tampa Bay region. Two events - the Bug Jam and Pasco County Fair - benefited from using that matrix.
The Bug Jam, held annually at the Pasco County Fairgrounds, attracts Volkswagen enthusiasts from around the country and would receive the largest tourism grant: $14,905.
"This year is our 25th anniversary," fair vice president Dickey Brown said. "We're expecting record attendance. We're booking every hotel in the Dade City-Zephyrhills area."
The Fair's rodeo and midway also generate overnight stays from participants and workers, if not attendees. The Fair's grant would go from $6,130 last year to $10,679.
"I'm happy, overall," Brown said. "Our fair was getting shortchanged before."
Dade City's Kumquat Festival got the highest score based on the council's matrix but still saw its grant reduced from $6,504 to $5,529.
"I'm disappointed, but we're still going to be around regardless of what we get," said Joey Wubbana, chairman of the festival committee.
In other business, Keaton announced that the Spartan Race had canceled plans to hold a 12-mile adventure race at the Little Everglades Ranch. The ranch has hosted numerous mud runs and obstacle races such as Tough Mudder, Savage Race and Zombie 5K.
In an email to Keaton, Spartan Race founder Brian Duncanson wrote that "the company strategy has shifted to expansion only in existing strong markets for 2014." Spartan Race is planning an event in February at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, but canceled the Pasco race that was slated for December 2014.