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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Veterans endure long wait for Suffolk Marathon profits

A U.S. Marine running in the Suffolk County

A U.S. Marine running in the Suffolk County Marathon in Sayville on Sept. 13, 2015. Credit: Richard T. Slattery

Veterans groups still waiting to receive their portion of profits from Suffolk’s 2015 marathon are in a bad spot.

Their work was good enough, and essential enough for them to be chosen by an independent panel to receive proceeds from the county’s inaugural race.

But to get the money, the groups — as they would find out later — would have to meet the county’s contract requirements, which can be complex.

In hindsight, the county would have done well to prescreen the 19 lucky veterans groups. That would have allowed the groups to submit whatever paperwork the county’s contract system required BEFORE Suffolk officials called a news conference to present the groups with gigantic cardboard checks — none of which could be deposited in a bank.

Instead, the photo opportunity came first.

As for the funds? Well, 18 months after that first marathon, only $86,100 — a little more than half the $160,000 the race produced in profits — have been disbursed. Only 11 of the 19 veterans groups have received their funds, county officials said this week.

Among those that haven’t gotten their money is the Suffolk County American Legion’s post-traumatic stress disorder committee — which is supposed to receive $4,000 for local peer-to-peer suicide prevention efforts.

To get the money, the group had to give Suffolk a copy of its 501c3, a document proving the group is a charitable organization. Fred Miller, the group’s chairman, said the document was issued in 1920 — and he didn’t have it.

Thomas Ronayne, director of Suffolk’s Veterans Services Agency, told Newsday this week that the Legion could get a copy from the Internal Revenue Service, the New York State Department of State or the group’s headquarters.

As it turns out, another Legion member, who read about the committee’s plight in Newsday, located the needed form — which the agency has forwarded to the county.

Long Island — whose modern history was shaped by veterans seeking suburban housing after World War II — is home to one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the United States. So the need for services — and funding for them — remains high. Why, then, is it taking 18 months to sift and sort this out?

Steve Bellone, Suffolk’s county executive, said in an interview that a change in how awards are handled should eliminate such delays down the line. “We learned some things after that first year,” he said. “Now, as part of the application process, the groups submit the documents that are needed.”

In other words, paperwork now is supposed to come in before, rather than after the groups are selected. Also, a county decision to have an outside group — the Recreation and Economic Development Corp. of Suffolk County, which was created to operate the marathon — handle awards will free veterans groups from navigating the county’s contracting process.

Proceeds from the 2016 marathon — profits from which were $20,000 lower than the inaugural race because of police overtime costs, a race organizer told Newsday — once again are slated to go to veterans groups. Applications for those funds are expected to be available soon, according to officials.

But what about the veterans groups still waiting for their promised share of 2015 race profits?

They, alas, still will have to get through Suffolk’s contract process, Bellone said. And if the groups don’t, unclaimed profits could be held for later distribution to other veterans groups that can.

Miller’s group has a backup plan.

A not-for-profit that — after reading of the group’s plight in Newsday — reached out to say it would help with funding should movement along Suffolk’s contracting path again go awry, according to Miller.

“Things could have gone so much smoother had we known what we needed to do earlier,” he said.

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