Colorado City, Ariz. » Jeff Shields, an attorney for the United Effort Plan was explaining why residents here have to pay $100 a month to live in their homes.
Tom Jessop interrupted with a question.
"Why are we having to pay for something that’s already ours in the first place?"
"What’s yours in the first place?" Shields asked in reply.
"The bloody land!"
"The land is in the name of the trust."
"Well, aren’t we the trust?"
The exchange, which happened during a community meeting here on Aug. 9, epitomized the conflict between the UEP, the trust that owns much of the land and homes here and in adjoining Hildale, Utah, and the occupants of those homes. The occupants are required to pay $100 a month per home, plus pay the property taxes. Nearly every American adult pays more to live in his or her home.
Yet about 80 percent of the people who are supposed to be paying the $100 a month are refusing to do so. The UEP was owed $4.18 million in back occupancy fees at the end of 2013, according to a trust report, and those debts have led to the first of what could be dozens of eviction notices served.
Interviews and documents show the resistance to the fees is rooted both in the religious tenets of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a sense of fairness and a classic American aversion to paying a fee they don’t like.
Communal living » First, at least half the people who are supposed to pay the fees are still loyal to FLDS President Warren Jeffs, and he has forbidden his followers from paying the fees or otherwise cooperating with UEP management. Even some of those who no longer follow Jeffs have an objection to the $100 that’s steeped in the FLDS’ religion.
Since they set up a colony on what’s now the Utah-Arizona line in the late 19th century, then broke with the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church because it decided to end the practice of polygamy, the FLDS followers have exercised a form of communal living. The FLDS’ church-run trust owned the land and homes in what became Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., collectively known as Short Creek.
Homes and property near Bountiful, British Columbia, were also placed in the trust.
The trust was incorporated as the United Effort Plan in 1942. An executive board of men in the communities made financial decisions and divvied up homes and properties. Beneficiaries, men and women in the FLDS, were expected to contribute labor to help build and repair homes, outbuildings and playgrounds.
People were asked to provide money, too. Isaac Wyler, a lifelong Short Creek resident who works for the UEP, has told stories of how when it was time to pay property taxes, wheelbarrows would be placed in front of the church. By the end of the service, Wyler says, the UEP would literally have a wheelbarrow full of cash.
The communal system could instill pride among the beneficiaries. To this day, some homes in Hildale and Colorado City still have the letters "UEP" inscribed in large letters above doors or in roof apexes. The UEP court-appointed fiduciary, Bruce Wisan, says the UEP has $124 million in assets.
A major change happened in 1998 when, according to court documents, terms of the UEP were rewritten by the trust’s board. The new rules gave the then-president of the FLDS, Rulon Jeffs, the power to appoint board members and gave the Jeffs family more authority over how to manage the trust. The amendments also essentially eliminated any concept of real estate ownership UEP beneficiaries previously enjoyed. The UEP now thoroughly owned all the property and the trustees decided how that property would be allocated.
With the Jeffs family in charge, boys, young men and older men with multiple wives and children were evicted from the community, and wives and homes were reassigned to other men and families.
When boys Warren Jeffs kicked out of Short Creek began filing lawsuits against the trust, neither Jeffs nor the UEP responded. There also was concern Jeffs was using UEP money for his own benefit, and that the mismanagement and silence could put all the beneficiaries at risk of losing their homes.
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