Hildale councilmen hike tax; accused of not paying own taxes

ABC News 4, Salt Lake City/August 24, 2010

Hildale, Utah - In a town where half of the people are already behind on their property taxes, the town council voted unanimously to more than triple property taxes.

The enormity of the tax hike was apparently lost on all but a handful of town residents. Only about a dozen people showed up for the council meeting where the tax hike was discussed and ultimately approved. What's more, only three spoke in opposition to it in this town dominated by the FLDS polygamous group.

Hildale is the Utah half of the FLDS community that straddles the border with Arizona. Jeremiah Barlow, the town manager, said property taxes in the town have been stable for more than a decade. But no more. Under the new rules set down by the state's "Truth in Taxation" law, Hildale's new property tax rate is 237% higher.

It is far and away the largest property tax hike in the state.

The town also has one of the highest delinquency rates in the state: 53%. A big reason for the big tax hike is that most people in the town are behind on their taxes.

Among the few who spoke out against the tax increase was Val Oveson. Oveson is a former state auditor, tax commission chairman and lieutenant governor who now helps manage the UEP Trust. The trust owns just about all the land in Hildale and its twin town of Colorado City, Arizona. In 2005, a Utah judge took control of the trust declaring that Warren Jeffs (at the time the sole UEP trustee) had "abandoned" it. The court appointed Bruce Wisan as special fiduciary to the trust and Oveson signed on to help Wisan.

In explaining why the council should not hike taxes, Oveson mentioned the unusually high delinquency rate. He said, "Nearly half of them (residents) are not paying the property tax and that includes several of you in this room who have not paid your property tax." Oveson was referring to the mayor and town council. Oveson later explained, "For several of them there are no payments made on the parcel ... We know that they didn't (pay)."

Oveson said the trust would soon release a detailed list of all the people who have not paid their property taxes.

No one answered Oveson's charge during the meeting. Afterwards, council members declined a request for comment from ABC 4. But Mayor David Ziting admitted, "This year I had a little bit of a delay. But I talked to Val about that and the taxes will be paid."

As a way of explaining the high delinquency rate in the town, Mayor Ziting also said, "A lot of people where offended when the courts took over the property."

The council promised that 100% of the approved tax increase will go to restoring cuts to the fire department and the town marshal's office.

To the few who opposed the tax hike, that is an additional insult. It's not that they oppose police and fire protection, but they point out the fire department is under investigation for misappropriation of public funds and the town marshals are being investigated for violating the civil rights of the non-FLDS minority.

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