United Effort Plan approved to sell Hildale properties

The Spectrum, Utah/October 15, 2014

By Kevin Jenkins

St. George -- A Salt Lake City judge has approved the sale of Hildale properties owned by the United Effort Plan, clearing the way for the privatization of homes owned by the polygamous trust that was once a communal mainstay of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Judge Denise Lindberg filed the signed order Saturday in 3rd District Court.

The UEP trust previously served notice that it intended to sell 28 Hildale properties among its holdings to 24 residents who have occupied the specified properties for "many years" without anyone else contesting their right to residency at the listed addresses or seeking a competing opportunity to gain ownership of the properties.

UEP trust officials have said similar sales by warranty deed may take place in the future, but the transfer of UEP property to private owners and requirements that current residents pay $100 per month "occupancy fees" to the trust as a form of rent have been met with opposition within the state-line Hildale and Colorado City communities, known collectively as Short Creek.

The UEP owns nearly all of the Short Creek lands, and many of its residents are polygamists who built the homes they live in or who improved the buildings and property over the course of years, then endowed it to the trust as a show of religious loyalty.

Nearly a decade ago, the state of Utah took control of the trust after residents began refusing to pay property taxes, which potentially subjected trust lands to forced tax sales by their respective counties, and then the UEP's FLDS management failed to present a legal defense in court lawsuits that contested the conditions of property residency, which also created a threat that the trust's beneficiaries would lose their investments.

But many residents, particularly those still loyal to the insular FLDS church, oppose the idea that they should have to pay any outstanding "rent" to the trust for property they built and already live on, or pay a fee of 15 cents per square foot ($6,534 per acre) to transfer the ownership deed.

In September, dozens of Hildale residents filed letters of complaint with the 5th District Court following its approval of eviction notices for 14 of the most recalcitrant properties that refused to pay occupancy fees or even discuss the matter with the trust's state management.

According to a motion filed by the UEP's Special Fiduciary Bruce Wisan and attorney Jeffrey Shields, "Members of the Trust's Advisory Board … believe that the distribution of property may have a positive effect upon other members of the beneficiary class who, to date, have been unwilling to communicate or cooperate with the Fiduciary.

They have characterized the distribution of property as a 'carrot' which may entice beneficiaries to come to the table and work with the Fiduciary, as opposed to the 'stick' of legal evictions."

Colorado City resident Ross Chatwin said last week that he doesn't believe the "carrot" approach will work, however.

"The reason why they're not paying the fees is because they don't want to cooperate with the state, because there's something bigger than that. They're determined to be a martyr," said Chatwin, an exiled member of the FLDS church who still lives in the community near relatives who remain loyal to the church.

"They have to be like the Prophet Joseph (Smith). They (believe they) have to be kicked out and persecuted and chased away, and if they're not being persecuted, then God doesn't love them and God is disappointed in them," Chatwin said.

Most of the polygamists in the Short Creek community trace their religious roots to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founded by Smith, but separated from the LDS church after it renounced its 19th century polygamous practices.

"We want to say … you can (be a martyr) if you want, but you don't have to," Shields said Tuesday, acknowledging rumors that many of the residents have abandoned their homes and have begun moving into a walled "tent city" in a Hildale park.

Although Chatwin is no longer part of the FLDS church, he said he doesn't like to see the UEP trust sell off the lands FLDS members donated to the trust.

"I wish it could have been dealt with differently. … I'm not very happy about what's happening," he said.

"The church says don't pay (the occupancy fees). … (Prophet Warren Jeffs' followers) are not allowed to, or else they'll be kicked out," Chatwin said. "It's chasing out more of the economy. … It hurts FLDS people. I don't want to hurt them. They're just going to leave town."

UEP employee Jethro Barlow, who is one of the people that have filed to obtain a special warranty deed for the 'for sale' Hildale properties, said the trust has tried to work with residents and avoid the evictions, but the time has come to stop allowing people to occupy land based only on a verbal agreement.

A number of Hildale and Colorado City businesses were also served with eviction notices the last week of September, he said, based on commercial lease agreements that differ from the residential occupancy issues.

Among the businesses ordered to pay the lease and property taxes or vacate within five days — or to call the fiduciary and work out an arrangement — was a substation of the Colorado City Fire District, but the fire district is still operating off city-owned land, he said.

"They were parking their trucks on UEP land, and they have no right to do it," Shields said.

The FLDS church's dairy, the Dezereta gas station, construction company Jessoco, and the FLDS Bishop's Storehouse that distributes food to the church's faithful "United Order" inner core, are also among businesses that were served notices.

Chatwin said FLDS members are not supposed to receive food from other outlets operated by nonmembers. The storehouse and Dezereta are still functioning, he said, but most of the businesses have abandoned the properties they occupied.

Barlow said some action notices to Colorado City private residences were also being edited for distribution last week because their taxes are approaching five years of delinquency, meaning the properties may be put up for forced sale by Mohave County.

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