It was the most residents the New Hyde Park Village Board trustees said they’ve seen at a Village Board meeting in a long time.
Inside the Marcus G Christ Community Center that officials say has not been renovated since the 1980s, the New Hyde Park Village Board on April 7 presented the 2022 through 2023 tentative budget with a total appropriation of $7,370,510.52. This budget will exceed the 2 percent tax cap limit, raising village taxes by 15.66 percent, or $200.88 to an average household with 5,400 in accessed value. Half of those taxes will fund the construction of a new community center that will replace the Marcus Christ Hall. The other monies will fund medical expenses, salary increases, tree maintenance and tax certiorari settlements.
“The game plan for the design is to have the whole front entrance being glass, for natural lighting to come in,” Mayor Christopher Devane said. “To push the building out so that it’s in line with Village Hall. We’re going to push it out about 20 to 25 feet, thereabout, not to hinge on our memorial there, but we’re going to push it forward. We’re going to look for every possible avenue to make it green: solar panels… Anything that we can do, any grant that we can get. Our architects are assisting us in that regard and the facility is hopefully going to be a beautiful facility that anyone can use.”
The vision of the one floor community center is to serve as a place where senior residents can get their flu shots and then have cake and coffee and where community organizations can have their meetings. Devane said he would like to see it being used every night.
“I’ve heard from people who say that seniors are on fixed incomes, how can you do this?” Devane said. “I get it. I really do. The easy thing to do is to sit here and tell you we’re not raising taxes at all and that we’ll sit in this hole for the next year, in this facility that we’re embarrassed by that we come in to vote and maybe come in one other time of year. We’re not proud of it… I’m not doing that. We need to address it this year and we’re not kicking it down the road.”
While all residents were in agreement that something had to be done about their community center, some were skeptical about the tax increase at a time that prices are going up due to inflation and supply chain issues. Some were also worried that the Village Board was being too ambitious as other projects that are funded by the federal American Rescue Plan are being completed around the village such as the remodel on the Village Hall, the addition of amenities to Memorial Park and other various project. And other concerns expressed included that the promise of this new community center will not be met and this year’s raise of taxes will become a trend for the following years.
However, Devane insisted that there will always be a road block when it comes to raising taxes.
“I am probably the most fiscally conservative person you’ll ever come across,” Devane said, bringing up how he and fellow officials have teamed up with community residents to help finish projects at cost, as well as holding state officials to their promise of grants and funding. “We’re fully capable of doing this job. I know you know we are. But we’re going to continue to push forward and push forward.”
Deputy Mayor Mahdvi Nijjar reminded residents that this is a board with new faces.
“This is our first year in,” Nijjar said. “We’ll be here for another three or four years. So you can come find us… So test us out.”
While there was much concern about raising taxes, excitement was also in the air about the idea that soon residents may have a new community center they can be proud of in the next year to a year-and-a-half.
“I think the idea is fantastic,” said resident Ellen LaRegina. “I’ve been in this room 40 years and it hasn’t changed. I think the $100 you’re saying is money well spent because you are right, this is the center of the community and it’s a disgrace.”
At the end of the meeting, some residents told the Village Board that they received clarity on the budget and why their taxes might be raised. Devane and the New Hyde Park village officials then opened the door to Village Hall to show residents the progress so far on the renovated court room, main hallways and side entrance: a display of community pride.