By Jeanie Hankins
Five deeds of trust formerly filed against the Forepaugh Property have been released, but no further progress has been made in conveying the 77.5 acres from Wickenburg Economic Development Partnership back to the Town of Wickenburg. With $268,643 in encumbrances against the property, the transaction does not seem likely in the near future.
The Town of Wickenburg recently served legal notice of breach and default to the Wickenburg Economic Development Partnership, rescinding all contracts and demanding the property be conveyed back to the town free and clear.
The Forepaugh Property consists of three parcels totaling 77.5 acres about 16 miles west of Wickenburg along SR 60. Part of a former World War II training facility, the three parcels were given to the Town of Wickenburg by the US Government following the war. For the better part of the past 10 years, WREDP has been working to bring development of some kind to the property, according to its chairman Alan Abare.
On July 25, 2016, the Town entered into an agreement with WREDP, deeding the land to the partnership for $10 with the understanding it would be used for an economic development project. According to meeting minutes, Town Council trusted that WEDP had engaged with potential investors and property buyers with the intention of establishing a railroad rehabilitation and improvement facility. In 2017, the agreement was amended to reflect that within 60 days an escrow account would be set up to for the benefit of the Town and $50,000 would be deposited into it. Further, if WEDP or an investor were not engaged in a financing agreement within 180 days, the $50,000 would become property of the Town. If financing were found, the Town would be paid a total of $262,592. With neither of those stipulations met, in 2018 WEDP was granted another 120 days to complete the sale of the property.
Now, six months later, no developer has come forward, and no sale or lease has taken place. Meanwhile, since the property was conveyed to WEDP in 2016, Maricopa County property taxes have been adding up. When the three parcels were owned by the Town of Wickenburg, they were not subject to taxation. WEPD is not exempt from property taxation. Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office records show a total $111,092.61 due for 2017 and 2018. This year’s taxes will amount to an approximately $55,000. According to Maricopa County Assessor’s Office records, on Feb. 14, 2019, the Town of Wickenburg purchased, for $59,769.77, the tax liens, which had come up for auction as a result of the 2017 unpaid taxes. According to Town Manager Vince Lorefice, the taxes were paid in order to prevent other investor from obtaining an interest in the property.
The County taxes are not the only encumbrances on the property. During the May 6 Town Council meeting, David Cameron of Dewey appeared with his attorney seeking restitution for money he had given WEDP to purchase property. According to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Officer, WEDP Secretary Bill Cowles filed a lien on Jan. 15, 2019, against the Forepaugh Property on behalf of Cameron in the amount of $39,204. The lien was filed despite a provision in the 2016 agreement with the Town which stated no liens could be filed against the property. In addition to the Cameron lien, the Recorder’s Office records reveal six additional liens filed on Jan. 15, 2019, by Cowles for the following persons/entities and amounts: Bill Cowles, $18,060; Tom Watt, $1,000; Denise Steiger, $63,337.61; Wickenburg Community Hospital, $14,500; Brian Jones, $14,500; and Ron Badowski, $16,250.
On May 30, Cowles, Watt, Jones, Badowski and Wickenburg Community Hospital each released the deeds of trust filed against the property. The releases were delivered to Lorefice at Town Hall. That leaves Steiger’s and Cameron’s claims totaling $102,541.61 remaining, in addition to the taxes owed. Steiger is the former WEDP executive director.
The Town’s legal notice of default demanded WEDP convey the unencumbered property back to the Town by June 7. A public records request by the Sun concluded the only contact from WEPD has been the five lien releases. As of Tuesday morning, the agenda for the June 17 Council meeting did not include discussion on the Forepaugh Property.