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Oyster Bay summer concert series hit by tightened budget

The Music Under the Stars crowd at John

The Music Under the Stars crowd at John J. Burns Town Park in Massapequa in 2016. Big acts are an "extravagance that we can no longer afford," Oyster Bay Councilman Anthony Macagnone says. Credit: Newsday / David J. Criblez

Oyster Bay’s summer concert series beats on this year even as big name acts have fallen to the budget ax.

The town board last month approved spending $61,350 on the Music Under the Stars events, which include concerts, movies and fireworks. The town’s website lists 16 concerts in July and August with the most expensive act performing at John J. Burns park in Massapequa being a group made up of the musicians who originally backed Billy Joel, the Lords of 52nd Street, for $9,000.

A decade ago, as Long Island reeled from a global financial crisis, the town approved $444,700 for 27 concerts, movies and fireworks at various Oyster Bay parks. The biggest act that year was that of a former Beach Boy, Al Jardine’s Endless Summer Band, at a cost of $33,500.

Over the past decade the programs have featured well-known bands such as Air Supply, Grand Funk Railroad, Lonestar, and Blood Sweat & Tears. Each that commanded fees greater than $30,000 per show.

“We promised the public and the taxpayers that we would be doing everything to save money, to reorganize and cut costs and this once again proves we’re doing just what we promised,” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said.

As the town’s finances declined, the music series was slashed in 2015 under former Town Supervisor John Venditto to $122,810 from $439,313 the previous year. Last year it was cut under Saladino to $71,500 from $123,000 in 2016.

Councilman Anthony Macagnone cast the lone vote against the program last year, citing the town’s poor financial condition.

“Having big acts is an extravagance that we can no longer afford,” Macagnone said in a text message.

Taxpayers don’t bear the entire cost of the series. The nonprofit Friends of the Community Service Department Inc. provides some of the funding, which it raises from private donors, for the concerts as well as for town handicapped programs. In 2018, the Massapequa-based organization is slated to provide $17,978 for the series, almost 30 percent of the entertainment budget, according to a board resolution.

“The big name acts keep getting more expensive, so we go on to lesser named acts,” said Frank DeStefano, the nonprofit’s president and a retired Oyster Bay parks commissioner. DeStefano said the town chooses the lineup. Programs such as Music Under the Stars are vulnerable to budget cuts, he said.

“We will raise funds for it to make sure they’re not knocked down,” DeStefano said.

Democrats have criticized the concerts as being promotional for Republican officials who have long dominated town government and who sometimes introduce the bands.

“People are coming to hear music to relax with their family and children . . . not listen to elected politicians promote themselves,” Oyster Bay Democratic spokesman Robert Freier said.

Saladino said he hasn’t heard any complaints.

“We’re way past the campaign,” Saladino said.

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