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FLDS towns to get occupancy deals

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Occupancy agreements to live on land in the polygamous border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are being distributed to every home — with the hope that people will sign them.

If not, they face the possibility of eviction.

"Some of those people will be receiving letters as well, saying they have 15 days in which to sign those occupancy agreements," said Bruce Wisan, the court-appointed special fiduciary of the United Effort Plan Trust. "We'll ask them to leave if they're not willing to sign those occupancy agreements."

Wisan said he has to force the issue to know who's living where, to get taxes paid and collect assessments. The fiduciary is trying to implement court-ordered reforms including subdividing the communal UEP Trust, eventually paving the way for private property ownership.

In 2005, a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court took control of the trust, which controls homes and property, over claims that FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and other trustees of the UEP had mismanaged it. Since being appointed by the judge to manage the UEP Trust, Wisan has had to battle people in the community to collect property taxes or subdivide the property.

Lately, his attempts to collect a $100-a-month fee for infrastructure improvements in the towns has yielded only 35 payments. Another letter has gone out warning that failure to pay could result in evictions.

The perception among some is that Wisan is being heavy-handed.

"I feel like they're painting us into a box," said Ross Chatwin, a former FLDS member who lives in Colorado City.

Chatwin expressed reservations about signing the occupancy agreement and said FLDS faithful would begin an exodus from town.

"They're already making preparations to turn it into a Nauvoo experience. Then Warren's this martyred prophet," he said Thursday.

FLDS faithful have resisted reform efforts, mostly because of an edict from leaders urging them not to cooperate. In a notice sent with the occupancy agreement, the UEP Trust said signing on does not constitute support of the courts or Wisan.

At a court hearing last month in Salt Lake City, several residents complained about the assessments and the agreements. But for all the complaints that rumble through the towns, Wisan said no one is talking to him directly.

"I have a hard time believing the law would not allow the landlord to know who's living in their units, or a giant homeowner's association that some kind of assessment would be inappropriate," he said.

When Wisan needed property taxes collected, he threatened eviction before. He hopes it works this time, too.

"When push came to shove on the property taxes, they paid the property taxes," he said.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com