Utah town sets risky dissolution vote

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 12:23 PM

Paul Foy

SALT LAKE CITY — For tiny, picturesque Apple Valley, a vote to dissolve town government could bring an unwanted suitor: the neighboring polygamous town.

Officials in Apple Valley, tucked under the red rock mountains of Zion National Park, fear a disincorporation effort fanned by internal strife and anti-government sentiment could backfire and lead to annexation by Hildale, a neighboring town largely comprised of members of the polygamous sect run by its jailed leader leader Warren Jeffs.

“I would say the majority of Apple Valley residents don’t want to have anything to do with that,” Mayor Richard Moser told The Associated Press. “There’s a lot of — how do you put it nicely — stigma.”

Still, a town vote for disincorporation is set for June 19, a date authorized by a state judge last week based on petitions signed by 111 of 701 residents, enough to force the issue.

Apple Valley was first incorporated in 2004 “because of fear” that polygamists would seize an opportunity to widen their municipal borders and “swallow us up,” said longtime resident Marie McGowan.

“We were scared the fundamentalists were going to incorporate Apple Valley,” she said.

Jeff’s Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has amassed lands in the southern part of Apple Valley and in theory could petition to be annexed by Hildale, she said. Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges, but is said to still maintain control of the FLDS communities in Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., just across the border.

Apple Valley is a collection of 295 dispersed houses set well off rural Utah Route 59. An earlier effort by town insurgents to dissolve the community six years ago was turned back by a vote of 185 to 79.

The supposed rap against Apple Valley is that it has failed to provide basic services, is ruled by an oligarchy and should cease to exist.

Critics say Apple Valley has an unreliable water system, septic tanks instead of sewers, a volunteer fire department that doesn’t make house calls — it fights wildfires only — and a fussy code-enforcement officer who is too eager to crack down on junk cars, weeds and “for sale” signs.

“They’ve just gone too far,” Lanie Groves, a leader in the effort to cut Apple Valley’s cord and a muffler-shop owner in nearby Hurricane, told The Spectrum of St. George.

“It’s corruption,” said Groves, who has leveled a number of unconfirmed allegations against town leaders that have been dismissed by the Utah Attorney General’s Office. “Corruption and personal agendas.”

At a town board meeting in February, another critic accused Mayor Moser of standing to make millions of dollars from the sale of a private water company. Moser said he has no interest in the water company or stake in the $2.8 million sale set for Wednesday to a town service district intent on making improvements.

Moser said the water system is so bad it sometimes sucks water out of houses — it drained his water heater once and left the appliance to burn out.

The mayor says his only financial interest in Apple Valley is a self-storage complex, one of the town’s two businesses — the other is a gas station. “My life’s an open book,” he said.

Town defenders say the dissolution campaign is being pushed by a tiny minority of fiercely independent residents who chafe under any rules, even for dog licensing.

“They never wanted a town from the beginning,” Jan Quintanilla, manager of the Chevron Little Creek Station, told The Spectrum.

Apple Valley rushed to incorporate itself in 2004 shortly after Utah required all established towns to declare lands they might want to annex in the future, McGowan said.

That left Hurricane claiming the northern portion of Apple Valley and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints amassing lands in the southern portion for a rumored annexation play of its own, she said.

Most Apple Valley residents would put up a fight, but McGowan said the polygamist sect still owns enough land in the southern part of town to possibly force a partial annexation.

“None of us want to be incorporated by Hildale,” she said.

If Apple Valley dissolves, it would first revert to the jurisdiction of Washington County, which provides few municipal services. Its residents would feel pressure to contract for services or form more special service districts — or incorporate their town all over again, said Washington County Administrator Dean Cox.

Moser said that if the vote “goes anything like the last one, I doubt very seriously we’ll be disincorporated.”

Sign up for e-mail news updates.