Polygamous properties spared from auction after tax debt paid
A flood of recent tax payments has spared more than three dozen polygamist-controlled properties in southern Utah from an auction later this month.
According to Washington County Treasurer David Whitehead, payments totally more than $1.1 million were completed Wednesday. The money went toward five years of unpaid property taxes on 38 parcels in Washington County. The parcels are part of the United Effort Plan, a now state-run polygamous trust created by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The money was due May 23. Failure to pay the delinquent taxes would have sent the properties to a county auction.
Whitehead added that the list of delinquent properties typically shrinks significantly as the auction nears and people finally pay up.
"I would say it's pretty typical of properties that are up for tax sale," Whitehead said.
In late April, about half of the tax debt had been paid. At that time, Whitehead said an atypical number of payments had been made in cash. He added Thursday that cash payments continued to come in through May, though he didn't know what percentage of the total those payments comprised.
Whitehead also did not have information about the people who paid the debt, saying it could have been anyone with or without an interest in the properties. Tax records show that people paid the money incrementally in amounts ranging from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars.
Washington County clerk and auditor Kim Hafen said getting the debt paid is a good thing for the community and the county. When some people don't pay their property taxes, Hafen explained, the tax rates must increase to make up the difference.
"If everybody paid 100 percent everybody's rate would go down a little bit," Hafen said.
He added that other factors also figure into tax rates, which authorities determine via mathematical formula. Hafen also said authorities are anxious to collect property taxes but do not like selling people's land.
While the UEP properties made up only a small portion of the overall delinquent list, they posed a unique challenge because many included multiple houses on the same parcel. That meant that even if occupants of one home paid some of the taxes everyone using the parcel could still ultimately be evicted if the entire amount wasn't paid. Hafen said county authorities are prepared to subdivide the land so each home has its own parcel and property taxes but that process has been stalled by court proceedings.
However, during a hearing in April authorities involved in the UEP case said they also looked forward to finally subdividing the land.
Properties in neighboring Colorado City, Ariz., also are delinquent but won't be eligible for auction until next year. However, different tax policies in Arizona also offer alternatives to selling the properties.
Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan, who was appointed to oversee the UEP, said he was "very pleased" that the taxes were paid in Washington County and said his focus will now shift.
"We still have serious problems in Mohave County but those will not occur until 2014," Wisan wrote in an email. "Hopefully we will use that time to correct the deficiency in Mohave County."
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