SIERRA VISTA — Seven tax delinquent properties in the Fry Townsite within Sierra Vista are expected to be auctioned off to the highest bidder later this year after a deal was struck between the property owner and Cochise County.
The agreement was made last week, ahead of a scheduled hearing in federal bankruptcy court in Tucson originally set for Tuesday, April 26, and marks some of the most substantial progress in the ongoing effort by the county and city of Sierra Vista to clean up dilapidated properties within the enclave.
Saddled by hundreds of thousands of dollars of inherited debt, property owner Lane Balmer said he has been both physically and financially unable to conduct badly needed repairs on the more than one dozen trailer homes in Fry Townsite. The mostly empty properties are often the targets of squatters or others who damage the properties as quickly as he can repair them.
Last year, Sierra Vista and Cochise County officials began coordinating efforts to clean up the properties by having the properties that were delinquent in taxes owed to the county deeded over to the state. That would then allow the county to auction off the properties. The county and city have set aside nearly $200,000 for cleaning up the properties.
These efforts were stalled last year when Balmer filed for bankruptcy, resulting in a stay being imposed on any of the properties being deeded to the state. The county had hoped the judge would lift the stay at this week’s hearing, but the deal with Balmer created a new path forward, said Britt Hanson, chief civil deputy attorney for the Cochise County Attorney’s Office.
“We’ve gotten relief from stay for seven parcels in Fry Townsite that were delinquent in taxes for more than five years,” Hanson said, “meaning that we can then go about deeding the properties to the state, clean them up and auction them off.”
That left eight other properties still on hold, less one that Balmer has since sold. The bankruptcy judge will hear the county’s request in July to lift the stay on those remaining properties.
“Seven gives us a good number to start with. Getting these cleaned up is going to be no easy task,” Hanson said.
The county treasurer is currently conducting the process of deeding the first seven properties to the state, after which time the county is looking to auction them off sometime this summer.
While the city and county would like to see the properties be sold to some person or organization that would see them cleaned up, the law would require the county to sell to the highest bidder, whoever that may be.
“We will make clear to anyone purchasing these properties that we do have an arrow in our quivver, which is to take enforcement action if they’re not cleaned up in a reasonable amount of town. So they’re not going to buy them and keep them as trash,” Hanson said.