HILDALE – A court-appointed fiduciary plans to tick through a list of 75 names in his effort to get residents of this polygamous community to pay property taxes – and it appears his plan of targeting high-ranking sect leaders is working.
Someone paid almost $14,000 in past-due property taxes on behalf of Lyle Jeffs, acting bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, within five days of receiving a demand notice, special fiduciary Bruce R. Wisan said Wednesday night during a town meeting here.
“Does this mean there is a change in thinking of FLDS leadership in regard to property taxes? I don’t know,” Wisan said.
In his second public meeting with residents of Hildale and the adjoining town of Colorado City, Ariz., home to the FLDS sect, Wisan called the delinquent property taxes the most important issue facing the community.
And for good reason. The tax shortfall is impacting city and public school finances. It also has turned into a standoff in authority between the FLDS and Wisan, appointed nearly a year ago to oversee a land trust once controlled by the FLDS church. The trust holds virtually all land and buildings in the two cities.
About 45 people – all ex-FLDS members or residents of nearby communities such
as Centennial Park and Cane Beds – attended the meeting, held at the Hildale City Office. As he did previously, Wisan had the meeting videotaped in hopes copies will make their way throughout the community.
Hildale Mayor David Zitting listened to most of the discussion while standing in a hallway just outside the council chambers.
Wisan gave a 50-minute overview of his work to date, ranging from sorting out disputes over homes to opening public parks and cemeteries and having the community surveyed for taxing purposes. Next to taxes, he listed economic development as a priority and said a high-tech company wants to locate in the area, potentially bringing 100 jobs.
But based on questions asked by audience members, it is clear many residents are confused about actions related to the UEP trust, and some are critical of his actions.
Lenore Holm peppered Wisan and his attorney, Jeff Shields, with questions about why they had not used $1.5 million cleared in a property sale to pay the overdue taxes.
Shields’ answer: “We believe the fairest way is to have people living on the land pay property taxes.”
Former trustees had attempted to sell off the land before Wisan intervened; proceeds of the sale are being used to cover legal fees and surveying costs.
LeGrande Hammon, who in 1986 was among 21 men who fought for and won the right to stay in their homes as “tenants at-will,” said he resented the way “you keep lumping us all in one big ball of wax.”
“What’s the talk of me having a privilege of living here?” Hammon asked, pointing out he was a lifelong resident of the community, had built his own home and won the right to stay.
Shields said the new court action is not intended to undo the life estates set up for several dozen ex-FLDS members.
Wisan tried to end the meeting on an upbeat note, saying several young men who left the community now want to come back and build homes here.
And others say Wisan is setting the right course.
“He’s doing more than he can do,” said one man, a resident of Cane Beds and former FLDS member who declined to give his name. “He’s got my approval. He’s trying to change 100 years of living in the dark.”
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