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Back taxes put some polygamous sect homes at risk

Back taxes put some polygamous sect homes at risk

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Some 150 homes and other land in an Arizona polygamous community could be lost to foreclosure because $124,000 in 2007 property taxes went unpaid.

The Mohave County treasurer's office auctioned off investment interests in 35 large communal properties in Colorado City, Ariz., as part of a February tax lien sale. The properties are part of the United Effort Plan Trust, the communal holdings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mohave County officials said lien purchasers can foreclose on the Colorado City properties in three years if back taxes and interest payments remain unpaid. As of August, the amount due had surpassed $148,900. The affected properties include homes, undeveloped land, commercial and school buildings, and a park that once housed a zoo.

The total Colorado City tax bill for 2007 was $1.2 million.

The UEP trust also has land holdings in Hildale, Utah, and Bountiful, British Columbia. The trust has been under the control of the Utah courts since 2005 after allegations of mismanagement by church leaders.

Land in the twin towns in not subdivided. Historically, church leaders calculated tax payments for individuals and the money was paid to the bishop, who then paid the county tax bill. Shortfalls were covered by wealthier residents or businesses.

Also in the past, non-FLDs who lived in trust homes were given tax notices and sent payments to a post office box. Any shortfalls in those payments were made up by the church.

Taxes were always paid promptly, according to tax collectors in Utah and Arizona.

But the trust is now managed by court-appointed Salt Lake City accountant, Bruce Wisan.

Wisan said both FLDS members and nonmembers who live in trust homes failed to pay the 2007 taxes. He said there had been confusion about which property taxes had been paid because the FLDS refuse to acknowledge his authority and refuse to cooperate with him.

Rod Parker, an attorney for the FLDS, however, said sect members paid their 2007 taxes and that payment problems instead stem from non-FLDS members Wisan has allowed to occupy homes and farmland. He also said Wisan failed to seek property tax exemptions that had previously been granted to the church, adding to the overall tax burden.

But Wisan said he spoke to Mohave County's assessor about the loss of exemptions and got a 25 percent reduction in the community's overall tax bill.

The situation appears to be worsening. As of August, about $428,721 in 2008 property taxes was past due, according to Mohave County. That could put other properties at risk. Another tax lien sale is set for February 2010.

Some property taxes on homes in Hildale, Utah, also have gone unpaid for both 2007 and 2008.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who pushed for the court takeover to prevent loss of homes, said he is now "very concerned" about the tax problem.

"My feeling at this point is that the responsibility is Bruce Wisan's as the fiduciary, and he needs to do whatever he can to ensure that the trust doesn't lose that property," Shurtleff said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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