By Jeanie Hankins
The Town of Wickenburg has served notice through its attorney to the Wickenburg Economic Development Partnership (WEDP) giving that organization until Friday to return the Forepaugh Property free and clear of all encumbrances, or face legal action.
Meanwhile, WEDP officials maintain they need more time.
According to Maricopa County and Town of Wickenburg records, the property carries approximately $179,000 in now-due and overdue taxes, as well as $168,851 in deeds of trust (liens) against the property.
In 2016, the Town and WEDP 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, to which 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.
In the notice served to WEDP President Alan Abare on May 28, 2019, Town Attorney Susan Goodwin states that the escrow account was never opened and the sale of the property did not take place by the Jan. 13, 2018, agreed-upon deadline.
Goodwin further states the WEDP breached the contract by failing to pay property taxes for three years. The Town of Wickenburg recently paid $59,769.77 for the overdue 2017 taxes in order to protect itself from a future foreclosure on the property, Goodwin’s letter stated. Meanwhile, the taxes for 2018 and 2019 are also due, for a total of approximately $179,000 for the three years.
In addition to the taxes now owed on the property, WEDP filed seven liens totalling $168,851.61 against the property in January 2019, without the Town’s knowledge or authorization. Goodwin’s letter to WEDP states, “WEDP appears to have borrowed funds from its board members and other parties without Wickenburg’s knowledge or consent... WEDP recorded the deeds of trust in order to encumber the property and prevent Wickenburg from re-acquiring the property.”
Goodwin’s letter also points out that one of the deeds of trust filed against the property involves a partially executed purchase agreement between WEDP and Yavapai Bottle Gas, whose owner apparently paid WEDP $39,204 as a deposit for purchase of part of the property. “WEDP recorded a deed of trust in favor of the individual owner of Yavapai Bottle Gas in that amount instead of depositing the funds into the required escrow account... entering into the purchase contract with Yavapai Bottle Gas prior to creation of the escrow account and not depositing the funds into the account is a violation, (of the agreement between the Town and WEDP),” Goodwin wrote.
She further stated the Town never agreed to encumbrances on the property nor sale of any portion of the property without opening an escrow account and paying fair market value as agreed upon in 2017. Goodwin’s letter demands WEDP must comply with the agreement within 10 days of the letter by conveying the property back to the Town free and clear of all encumbrances, or opening an escrow account and immediately paying full market value for the property. The letter further demands WEDP reimburse the Town for the 2017 property taxes it paid in January and pay the county for the 2018 and 2019 property taxes. Goodwin warns “Wickenburg ... is preparing to take legal action to protect Wickenburg’s interests in the property.”
In a phone interview with the Sun on Tuesday morning, WEDP President Abare acknowledged receipt of the notice from the Town and said the board had met to review it. He said he is confident that several of the liens against the property have been or will be lifted in the near future. Four of the liens were held in the names of WEDP board members, whom Abare said had agreed to release the deeds of trust.
“Everybody that we have been able to talk to about the liens that were filed have done releases of those liens, so we are not in the situation we were in before, but we still have a couple people to talk to. We are in the process of trying to reach out to them so hopefully we’ll find out a little more,” Abare said.
Meanwhile, Abare maintains that WEDP still simply needs more time. “The main thing that I’m trying to do it get the property sold. If we could find somebody who understood the value of what we’ve been trying to do, wanted to give us another year or so to get it done, and get the town out of it so that we didn’t have these time lines in front of us so that we would be able to get the ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) clean up finished and find another developer or sell the property to the person who loans us the money for the amount of the loan. That would be a good buy on the person who did it, and it would also be beneficial for the town and for everybody. So that’s what I’m looking at. I’m calling a bunch of people, trying to find somebody who would be interested in doing that,” Abare said.
Abare was referring to environmental concerns on the property which are being studied by ADEQ this year, in anticipation of a clean up project next year which would be paid for by government grants.
Abare said the WEDP would need to retain ownership in order for the ADEQ process to be completed. He is hopeful the town will give the organization time to see the process through. He said WEDP board members have met with town staff to discuss options. “We’re still working to try and find solutions to all this. We have committed to working with the town to try to find resolutions to everything and the town says they want to work with us,” Abare said. As for Goodwin’s letter, he said, “That’s an attorney letter. That’s the way those things are written...That’s not, that does not mean that the Town, the people in the town, the board, the council and town manager, still would like to see us be able to resolve this for everybody’s benefit,” Abare said.
Leave room for Vince’s remarks.
A story detailing the history of the relationship between WEDP and the Town of Wickenburg on the Forepaugh Property was printed in the May 22 edition of the Sun. To read the story, stop by the Sun for a copy of that edition or visit WickenburgSun.com.