Hartford raises concern over building sale
City says no contact with School District before sale

By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT - Daily News

July 3, 2014

HARTFORD - The decision by Hartford Joint 1 School District to purchase the former Froedtert Clinic building on West Sumner Street has Hartford officials concerned.

At a June 24 special district meeting, voters and school officials agreed to purchase the 29,844-square-foot building for $750,000.

Officials said some space could serve as a location for the district’s administrative offices. They also hope to rent an area to the Cooperative Educational Service Agency for an at-risk student education program.

City Administrator Gary Koppelberger, in a memo to other city officials June 27, expressed surprise and concern about the purchase. He said they learned of the deal after reading a story in the Daily News.

“No contact between the city and the School District occurred prior to the announcement of the transaction and there does not appear to have been any communication with the Common Council’s school district liaison,” Koppelberger said. “The School District may not have consulted the city prior to the transaction, but this afternoon (June 27) it contacted the city assessor about a tax exemption.”

Koppelberger said he could see advantages and disadvantages to the city from the sale.

“It removes a large retail facility located on our only major retail thoroughfare (Highway 60) and transforms the space into a noncommercial use,” Koppelberger said. “For this reason we are typically uncomfortable with tax exempt uses on a state highway. On the other hand it removes an empty storefront, which ought to be good news for everyone else with one.”
 
John Stellmacher, the district’s director of business services, said the night of the special meeting the purchase would have “zero impact” on taxes.

Koppelberger took issue with Stellmacher’s statement and said it didn’t tell the whole story. He said this year the property paid $26,572 in property taxes of which $8,528 was paid to the city.

“The city share of this tax loss is more than three-quarters of a cent on the mill rate annually which we must recover by other means,” Koppelberger said. “Members of the council have complained ... when city staff proposals have included removing taxable properties from the rolls and have also argued that tax impact decisions made by the city should be coordinated with other taxing entities, like school boards.”

On the other hand, Koppelberger said, a similar building would “cost more to construct than the sale price of the West Sumner site. If it makes the school district more efficient perhaps that’s the basis for the ‘zero impact’ theory mentioned in the article.”

School Superintendent Mark Smits said the deal made sense to the district.

“We have a building they wanted $1.5 million for and we were able to purchase it for $750,000.”

Smits said if the district had pursued constructing a similar size building, it would have cost close to $2 million and the district would have faced more red tape to have the building meet the district’s needs.

“We’ve been unsuccessful in past referendums to build more space,” Smits said. “We had to purchase a building a while back for the early learning center and we rent space at three other locations. We’re growing and we need more space.”

Smits said the city has never consulted with the School District when it approved a new low-income housing district or new subdivisions.

“That all adds to our capacity,” Smits said. “That costs us more money when additional children come to our schools.”

Other city officials did not return phone calls before press time.