After nearly four decades, the Bellone administration is replacing Suffolk’s annual senior picnic with a free oldies concert Sept. 12 at the Patchogue Theater which will cost taxpayers more.
In the past week or so, a $6,400 county-paid mailing prominently headlining Bellone’s name went out to 22,000 homeowners 50 years and older in the 10 hamlet area around the theater, touting the free event featuring a well-known cover band, Tradewinds, and a “complimentary dessert bar” afterward.
Holly Rhodes-Teague, Office of Aging director, said the picnic once drew as many as 3,000 seniors to South Haven Park in Yaphank, but in recent years it only attracted 600 to 650 visitors. She said all 1,200 free concert tickets were given out within days. “We didn’t know if it would be a bang or a bust,” said Rhodes-Teague. “But the way the tickets went, I’d say it was a bang.”
She said the picnic used to cost between $7,000 to $8,000. But beyond the cost of the mailing, Rhodes-Teague estimated the concert, theater and dessert bar will cost another $9,000 to $10,000 -- making the total cost $15,400 to $16,400.
Several Republicans were critical that Bellone’s mailing and that the event was not publicized countywide and centered on Bellone’s own self-promotion. “I’m all for providing services to seniors in Suffolk County, but it ought to be open to everyone and there no reason why Steve Bellone’s name should be on top,” said Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). “It appears ... [he] has begun his re-election campaign using taxpayer dollars.”
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider dismissed the complaints, saying tickets were available to anyone, and county lawmakers’ names are prominently displayed at local concerts they run with county funds. “This will be a great event and I’m sure everyone will have a wonderful evening,” he said.