FLDS: Polygamists Pay Back Taxes

SALT LAKE CITY — A past-due tax bill on property and homes in the polygamist community of Hildale was paid off Tuesday – partially ending a monthslong standoff between many residents and the court-appointed accountant who was forced to resort to eviction threats to get some of the taxes paid.

A mostly cash payment of more than $10,000 was delivered to the Washington County treasurer’s office about 11:30 a.m., accounting specialist Michelle Jacobson said.

That money, coupled with a payment made late Friday, cleared the outstanding balance of $17,950.50. The overall tax bill for 2005 was about $295,000.

“They paid every bit of it,” she said. “There is even a $301.59 credit on one of the accounts.”

For months the property taxes in Hildale and its sister community Colorado City, Ariz., had gone unpaid. Home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the two communities had reportedly been ordered by exiled church leader Warren Jeffs not to cooperate with government officials or a court-ordered accountant appointed to oversee the church’s United Effort Plan Trust.

About 10,000 people live in Hildale and Colorado City.

Jeffs, 50, is wanted in Arizona and Utah on felony sexual assault charges, accused of arranging marriages between teenage girls and older men. Recently named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives list, Jeffs has avoided capture and prosecution for two years.

The trust holds virtually all the property in the twin communities, including homes and businesses. Church leaders formerly collected and paid the taxes, simply telling individuals the amount they owed.

But in June 2005, a Utah judge ruled that six church leaders, including Jeffs, had mismanaged the trust. Guardianship was given to Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan.

He initially said surveys of both communities needed to be completed to ensure individuals were paying the correct amounts. Wisan later changed his position and, in April, began sending out demand letters, threatening to evict those who failed to pay taxes.

Forty-three church and community leaders got the notices first, followed by individual homes and business. The last five notices were delivered Tuesday morning about the same time the tax bill was settled, Wisan said.

“It’s no victory for me or anything,” he said. “They are making a valid and good economic decision.”

Still, Wisan said, it’s nice to feel as if progress is being made, even if the work is only half done. By late this week, the process of distributing tax notices – by mail and hand-delivery – will begin in Colorado City, Wisan said.

Residents and businesses there owed more than $1.1 million in 2005. Of that, about $720,000 had been paid as of June 15, Mohave County Deputy Treasurer Dave Chevalier said.

The most recent payment included the homes of Colorado City Councilman William Shapley and James Zitting, a prominent church leader. Both men had received eviction notices from Wisan on June 15.

It’s unclear if the payment of taxes indicates a change of philosophy or attitude on the part of the normally reclusive and uncooperative church leaders. But Wisan said he believes the decision is likely based only on practical financial realities and nothing else.

“I don’t see any more increased communication,” he said.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday June 21, 2006.
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