LIBRARY DIRECTOR AND BOARD RESPOND TO RESIDENTS' CONCERNS REGARDING NEW LIBRARY
July 16, 2015 -- The proposed purchase of the 5.3 acre Halm Industries property on Glen Head Road and the building of a new library dominated discussion at this past Wednesday evening’s regularly scheduled Gold Coast Public Library Board of Trustees meeting as the nine Trustees and Library Director Michael Morea responded to several questions and comments from residents. The message from the four residents who spoke at the meeting was clear - they are concerned about how the cost of the proposals will impact their taxes. And from the Library Board and Mr. Morea the message was equally clear - that the purchase of the property and the building of a new library is a community decision, and one that will be made only after residents have had the opportunity to get complete information regarding the costs, what a new facility would look like and the services it will be able to provide, and the impact of the project on each individual homeowner’s tax bill.
The library board had announced at a meeting two weeks ago and in a posting on the library facebook page two days later, that it had entered into a contract with the owner of Halm to purchase the property for $5.7 million. The purchase is contingent upon the outcome of a bond referendum that the board said will be held before the end of the year. At that time, if voters residing in the library district approve, then the Library Board, on behalf of the community, will proceed to obtain bond financing for both the cost of the property and of a new building.
Nine community members attended Wednesday's meeting, with four asking questions of the board during the public comment period. The questions and comments related primarily to concerns about property taxes in general, the impact that bond financing the land purchase and new construction will have on residents’ tax bills, and the overall process that has been and will be followed before the bond referendum is held.
Mr. Morea said that with a contract having been signed, the library board and the community can now discuss actual costs, not only of the purchase of the land but also of constructing a new library, and how residents’ wallets will be impacted, as well as what services and opportunities they will get in return. The library “wants to put the most accurate information in front of the community and put a plan in front of the community that makes sense,” he explained, before a bond referendum is held. “We know nothing can happen unless you approve it. The funding for this project can only happen if the community gets a proposal that it feels is worthwhile to the future of this community. . . The cost will be in front of you before there is a vote." The full cost, and the amount that will be financed through a bond issue is unknown at this time. A Gold Coast Library press release sent out this Friday stated that when the process of looking for a larger library space began, "the board had the goal of delivering to the taxpayers a project that would add less than $100 to the average residential real estate tax bill."
As for the process going forward with regard to the property itself, Mr. Morea said that an extensive inspection, including environmental testing, would be undertaken, and that after a site plan is developed by the architect, a state mandated environmental impact (SEQR) report would be done. None of these steps, he and board members explained, could take place without a contract first being signed.
With regard to the cost to taxpayers, Library President Nancy Benchimol said that the library board has hired a financial services firm that will be able to provide specific information on how the bond financing will impact each homeowner’s tax bill depending on the assessed value of his or her property. “Whatever amount your house is assessed at, you will know what the impact on your taxes will be,” she said. Additionally, while the design of the new building will not be a finished product by the time of the referendum, voters, she said will know what they will be getting in a new library - the overall square footage as well as what components will be included in its design.
That design, Mr. Morea explained, will be based on input from the community. This past April, that process began with two meetings at which residents were able to offer their thoughts on what they would like to see in a new library. Residents will once again have the opportunity to offer their input this September when Russ Davidson of KG&D Architects, the firm that has been hired by the library, presents his initial design proposals based on feedback from those April meetings.
A Glen Head resident said she was concerned about the loss of tax revenue currently paid by Halm, with that burden being shifted to other residents.
A trustee replied that the owner of Halm said he is currently paying about $120,000 in property taxes with about 30% of that on the residential (class 1) portion of his property, and the remaining amount on the commercial (class 4) portion. If the library were to purchase the property, the current owner’s residential tax obligation would be redistributed among all other class 1 taxpayers, while the commercial share would be shifted to other class 4 property owners.
Another resident asked how much of the 5.3 acre property the library intended to use. Mr. Morea said about half. Trustee Kevin Kelly explained that the owner of Halm was unwilling to break up the property for the sale, and that the western portion of the property, which includes a residence would not be developed by the library.
Mr. Morea said that there was an advantage to the community purchasing the entire property. "You can impact what happens to the rest of the property," he explained. "Whatever is not used, we can sell. . . . The public is going to decide what they want to do with it.” He continued that it is possible that the community would want it to be a park with nature trails, or that it may want to sell it, but ultimately it would be in the community’s hands what happens to the remaining 2+ acres. If it is sold, Mr. Morea continued, a portion of the original sale price for the 5.3 acres would essentially be “returned to the community.”
Asked if the board had considered other properties, Mr. Morea said that it had - almost since the library’s opening in 2005. What makes the Halm property, particularly attractive, he explained, is that it would create a “civic center” for the community, with the Library, the community center, athletic fields and fire house essentially located in a single area, where various community organizations, other local groups and community members could gather.
As the public comment portion of the meeting came to a conclusion, Mr. Morea said, “We are looking to talk to everybody. Encourage your friends to reach out to us. If anyone has any questions, they can arrange a meeting with me. We will do everything we can to get you answers.” A mailer he said, explaining where things stand now and what the process will be going forward, would be going out to the community soon.
Later in the meeting, after public comment, when all but two of the audience members had left, Trustee Kelly asked Mr. Morea during the budget discussion what he would want the library to be able to do that it is not able to in its current space. A larger space, he replied, would mean that residents who turn out for “meet the author” events would not be turned away because of limited space, as was done recently, and that more programs and classes would be offered, since with multiple meeting rooms they could be held simultaneously. “Our biggest problem,” he said however, “is the use of the library on a daily basis. . . You cannot come here with the expectation that you can use this as a library. There is no place for students to meet with each other. There is no seating space. There is no place to go.”
A library is much more than just a place you go to take out books, Mr. Morea seemed to be explaining.
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LIBRARY BOARD ADOPTS 2016 BUDGET; COMMUNITY VOTE ON SEPTEMBER 9
Updated July 20 (Original Post - July 17, 2015) -- At its monthly meeting this past Wednesday evening, the Gold Coast Library Board voted unanimously to adopt its budget for 2016. The $1,616,845 spending plan represents an increase of $11,890, or .7%, over the current year’s budget. The amount to be raised in taxes will increase by $20,815, or 1.4% over this year - below the anticipated tax levy limit established by New York State. The largest increase in the budget, is for payroll expenses which will rise by just over $24,000. Library Director Mike Morea explained that the increase was largely attributable to a part-time librarian now becoming full-time, and the increase in the state’s minimum wage, that will rise to $9/hour in 2016. He also said that the budget anticipates an $8,000 reduction in PILOT funding for 2016. The adopted budget must be approved by a majority of the residents who turn out at a vote to be held on September 9, 2015.
CORRECTION - An earlier version of this article stated that a part-time maintenance worker position was being changed to full time. That was incorrect. It is in fact a part-time librarian being changed to a full time position.
GOLD COAST LIBRARY ENTERS INTO CONTRACT WITH HALM TO PURCHASE 5.3 ACRE GH PROPERTY FOR $5.7 MILLION (July 1, 2015)
MEETING OFFERS RESIDENTS GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY TO SAY WHAT THEY WOULD LIKE TO SEE IN A NEW GOLD COAST LIBRARY (April 26, 2015)