By Jeanie Hankins
The Town of Wickenburg expects to receive a full refund for overdue taxes it paid earlier this year on the Forepaugh Property, but a broken contract between the Town and Wickenburg Economic Development Partnership is yet to be resolved, according to Town Manager Vince Lorefice.
In 2016, the Town and Wickenburg Economic Development Partnership entered an agreement in which the Town conveyed 77.5 acres of property 16 miles west of Wickenburg to WEDP for $10 with the understanding that it would be developed into an industrial facility to foster economic growth and bring jobs to the area. In 2017, WEDP requested a contract amendment, and the Town agreed, which required WEDP to pay fair market price for the property – approximately $245,000. WEDP was also required to open an escrow account with $50,000 to begin the transaction. The escrow account was never opened and the sale of the property did not take place by the deadline. Meanwhile, WEDP failed to pay property taxes for three years. To protect the property from other interests, the Town of Wickenburg earlier this year paid $59,769.77 for the overdue 2017 taxes. Meanwhile, the taxes for 2018 and 2019 were also due, for a total of approximately $179,000 for the three years. In addition to the taxes owed, there are currently two liens against the property totaling $102,541.61. One was filed by former WEDP employee Denise Stieger; and the other by David Cameron of Dewey.
Lorefice reported to Town Council last month that a local investor has made an offer which would “make the town whole,” by covering fair market value and the liens. Lorefice and WEDP President Alan Abare were actively working with the buyer, he said. Lorefice recently told The Sun that progress has been made on resolving the tax bill, but no deal has come through with a buyer. In an effort to make the property marketable, WEDP and the Town disputed the Maricopa County property tax bill by pointing out that the Forepaugh Property was assessed at a value much higher than the actual value of the property. After taking a look at it, the County Assessor’s Office agreed and reduced the assessed value from $6.8 million to $220,000. A subsequent review by the Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office resulted in the three-year tax bill being reduced from $179,000 (total) to approximately $14,000 (total), Lorefice said. As a result, the back taxes will be refigured, and the Town will receive a refund for the entire $59,769.77 it paid for the overdue 2017 taxes. The overdue 2017 amount will be refigured and reoffered in a lien sale (if not paid), a process that may take several months, he said.
Meanwhile, no progress has been made on the sale of the property, Abare told The Sun on Tuesday. He said the partnership has been in contact with two separate possible buyers, a “group from Utah” and a “local guy.” Abare predicts chances are better that the local buyer will come through with an offer. He said he intends to contact both parties this week to see if progress has been made.
The Forepaugh Property was not on the Town Council agenda for the meeting this week, however Lorefice predicts it will resurface again soon. “The Town may move forward to pursue legal action against the Partnership,” Lorefice said.
Abare said WEDP is prepared to give the property back to the Town. “The Town has to do what they have to do to protect themselves.”
Regardless of who owns the property, the two liens filed by Cameron and Stieger will remain attached to it, and would have to be resolved. “I don’t know what would be done about the liens,” Abare said. “That is why it is so important to try and get this done.”