FLDS compound pays overdue property taxes, starts road improvements

Rapid City Journal, South Dakota/June 7, 2011

A reclusive religious sect near Pringle paid its overdue property tax bill at the end of May and, as a result, has been granted two new building permits by Custer County after also showing a "good faith" effort to begin improving the public road to its 140-acre compound.

The United Order of South Dakota, which is the legal name of a group that belongs to Warren Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, paid $181,272 in delinquent 2008 and 2009 property taxes on May 25. The compound owed $88,982.53 in 2008 taxes and $92,289.89 in 2009 taxes and paid its tax bill in full by check, according to the Custer County Treasurer's Office.

While the compound has not paid its 2010 taxes, due in 2011, those taxes are not considered delinquent. Many county taxpayers wait until an October deadline to pay property taxes, according to a spokesman in the treasurer's office.

Custer County Planning Director David Green said the UOSD met two county-imposed requirements for the issuance of more building permits: it paid all taxes currently in arrears, removing the property from the tax certification list, and residents of the compound began the process of improving Farmer Road and part of 20 Mile Road at their expense.

As a result, Green issued building permits for two agricultural buildings on the property last week - a dairy barn and an agricultural equipment storage barn.

Last week, the compound cleared trees that needed to be removed in order to widen the unimproved county road to the required 24 feet. Road widening and culvert installation has not yet begun.

The Custer County Commission said last year that new building permits were tied to the road improvements being completed in five pre-determined sections of the about three-mile length of road.

"They've shown good faith in mobilizing and preparing to do the road and in becoming compliant with the tax issue," Green said. "The threat of withholding building permits is significant to them."

There have already been discussions between Green and compound leadership about additional building permits, he said.

Actual road construction has not occurred yet on the first half-mile section of 20 Mile Road but will include increasing the road base, widening it, creating ditches to improve drainage and installing culverts to divert water.

"They're dealing with some very difficult terrain, especially in that first stretch," Green said.

The FLDS community in southwest Custer County has perhaps 75 residents and an assessed property value of nearly $6 million, including a new $1.3 million chapel building that was completed this year. The compound has not yet applied for a property-tax exemption on that building as a structure that is used for religious purposes.

Green said the actions of the UOSD were not related to recent news reports about neighbors' complaints over the condition of Farmer Road but were a result of the original understanding with the county.

"The process works; it just takes time," he said. "In the end, there will be road improvements, new structures erected by the United Order of South Dakota, adjacent land owners who will be able to take advantage of the improved road conditions that will allow them to subdivide land without suffering the cost of road construction and others that will still be unhappy with their neighbors."

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