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Lenders must notify Cochise County about properties in bankruptcy

BISBEE — Mortgage lenders who hold deeds to properties in bankruptcy in Cochise County will now have to register such properties.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, Development Services Department Director Daniel Coxworth received approval for an amendment to the zoning regulations establishing a bankruptcy registration program.

There will be a registration application fee of $150 and the lender will owe the county taxes, fines or liens. There is no fee for delisting properties.

Coxworth explained it protects residential neighborhood property values from the deterioration of vacant properties due to the lack of adequate maintenance and security because of a default on a mortgage.

“Any lender, beneficiary or trustee who holds an interest in a deed of trust and who issues a Notice of Default on a residential property in the unincorporated areas of Cochise County are required to register the property with Cochise County,” Coxworth said.

Currently, there are over 500 homes in bankruptcy across the county and those homes can be a drag on surrounding property values when maintenance and upkeep cease, as well as illegal dumping and vandalism causing deterioration, he continued. Such foreclosed properties lead to new problems.

“It’s common to find damaged windows and doors and or large amounts of trash and debris on the property after the home has been vacated,” he said. “It protects the area from blight and nuisances resulting from foreclosed properties. This lets the county know the property is vacant and triggers active code enforcement.”

The new registration also provides a point of contact for the county and holds lenders responsible for securing and maintaining a property and keeping it free of trash and waste.

Supervisors Peggy Judd, Ann English and Tom Borer also approved a state-mandated plan to deal with the burden of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PRPRS). The county’s unfunded liability sits at over $33 million.

The county will pay the minimum Annual Required Contribution (ARC) as determined by the state in July. During the annual budget development process, the ARC rate shall be determined as 50 percent or the rate published in the system’s annual actuarial report, whichever is greater.

Next June, at the end of the fiscal year, the county will make a supplemental contribution payment utilizing 100 percent of the projected current fiscal year savings in the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office General Fund budget.

The Board of Supervisors, through the County Supervisors Association, will actively lobby the Arizona State Legislature to reform PSPRS and provide funding relief.

Further, the board will review the assets, liabilities and current funding ratio of the county’s PSPRS trust fund as reported by the plan administrator in the annual report.

The board will then vote to accept the system’s actuarial report in an open meeting, contract for an independent actuarial analysis every five years to ensure the county is meeting funding goals, and post the county policy and summary of assets and liabilities on the county’s public website annually.

Planting the seed: Sonoran elementary school uses garden as learning tool

NACO, SONORA — Twenty-nine sixth graders received their diplomas Tuesday afternoon.

The certificate they were given wasn’t for their completion of primary school — they get that on Wednesday. Rather, the recognition was for their participation in the creation and maintenance of the school’s new garden.

In December, the group of sixth graders began work on a garden for Escuela Primaria Prof. Gabriel Valdez Villa. The schoolyard garden spans roughly half an acre and was brought to life with the help of the Naco Wellness Initiative in order to teach the students the entire process of how fresh produce makes its way to the dinner table.

Naco Wellness Initiative’s Niño Garden Projects has allowed hundreds of students across Naco, Sonora, Mexico to learn about all phases of gardening: soil preparation, planting, seeding, maintenance, harvesting and preserving.

Lupita Sanchez, director of Casa Saludables from Naco Wellness Initiative, said the goal of the Niño Garden Projects is to teach and show why people, including themselves, receive more nutrition from fresh produce.

Lilian Corella, a sixth grade teacher at Gabriel Valdez Villa Primary School, served as the leader of the gardening club. She said the students built the now flourishing vegetable garden from scratch, as the plot of land was previously filled with rocks and unsuitable for a garden.

“It’s important (for them to know how to garden) because of the region,” Corella said. “Here, there’s not a lot of supermarkets, but there’s good weather and sun. Also, some of the families can’t really afford to buy the fresh produce.”

Luis Angel and his peers first started preparing the land for the garden last November by removing rocks, making the rows for the plants, learning how to properly take care of the plants and watering them with a drip irrigation system.

Angel, 12, and Leylani Gonzalez, 11, agree that cleaning the land was the best part of their experience.

“I liked cleaning the ground because I like working outside and fixing everything,” Angel said.

Learning how the watering system works intrigued him most, as it was something new for him. Gonzalez liked the outside work for a different reason.

“I like that I can get dirty while working because it’s fun,” she said.

The gardening didn’t just happen outside. Corella said the students planted the seeds in egg cartons and when they grew a little and the ground was ready, they moved their plants from the egg carton to their new home.

The plot contains a wide rage of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, onions, beets, green beans, corn, spinach, zucchini, squash, radish, watermelon, cantaloupe, cilantro, tomatillos and many others.

Some of the produce harvested was used in the school’s kitchen for lunches and other occasions. Other times, students will take home what they harvested to share with their families.

“They enjoy a lot of the work,” Sanchez said. “They enjoy seeing the plant grow from the seed.”

In fact that’s what Gonzalez said she’ll remember most from participating in garden club.

“If you make an effort to do the small things, you can turn them into big things,” she said.