Polygamous sect leaders have paid nearly half of past-due property taxes owed on its state-controlled property trust, avoiding possible evictions and tax sales.
"I am encouraged by the partial payment of the property taxes, and hopeful the remaining outstanding balance will be paid as well," said court-appointed trust administrator Bruce Wisan.
With the past-due property tax bill totalling more than $2 million and tax sales slated to begin next year, Wisan got a judge's OK late last year to begin evictions of trust residents who had not made arrangements to pay their part by the end of January.
Wisan said he put those plans on hold after he got word that the Warren Jeffs-led Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leaders paid Arizona county treasurers about $930,000.
Some properties had been delinquent since 2008. The trust, which is divided by the Utah-Arizona border, still has an outstanding balance of $1.8 million on the Arizona side through 2011 and $881,000 on the Utah side, he said.
Some individual residents who are not active FLDS members made their own arrangements to pay back taxes and Wisan made an approximately $20,000 payment to Washington County last month. The FLDS church has not so far made any payments in Utah.
After announcing his eviction plan, Wisan got his first communication from FLDS leaders in six years: a two-sentence letter dated Jan. 20 stating the FLDS had established a fund to get the taxes current, but that they would be paid directly to the county assessors.
FLDS attorney Rod Parker said paying the county governments is fair, since in the past sect leaders have given Wisan money they meant for taxes but Wisan instead spent other trust expenses.
"I don't see anything wrong with" paying directly to counties, Parker said.
The approximately $110 million trust includes most of the homes and property Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah. It belonged to the FLDS until the state of Utah took it over in 2005 amid allegations of mismanagement by sect trustees. Most of the approximately 6,000 people living on trust property belong to the group.
Meanwhile, control of the trust itself is in flux. Almost a year ago, a federal judge ruled the state of Utah acted illegally when it took over the trust almost seven years ago, and it should go back to the FLDS. The Utah Attorney General is appealing that ruling, and a hearing in the case is scheduled for March 20 in Denver.
The appeals court barred Wisan from making major changes to the trust, but 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg decided the threat of eviction was necessary to prevent the trust from being broken up by tax sale. The appeals court hasn't issued any orders to the contrary.