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Historic north Kona church heading to tax auction

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KALAOA >> A north Kona church that was established by the early missionaries who came to Hawaii more than a century before statehood is set to go to auction following a decades-long dispute over ownership.

The auction for Mauna Ziona Church is scheduled for tax sale Tuesday in Hilo, West Hawaii Today reported.

Two different families claim ownership of the church that owes $167,562 on two adjacent properties totaling 70 acres. The 10-acre parcel that includes the church building on the mauka side of Mamalahoa Highway accounts for $46,641 of the debt.

Taxes have not been paid on the building since it was released by Hawaii Conference United Church of Christ in 2009. The conference turned the church over to the pastor, Norman Keanaaina, as settlement in a lawsuit.

The conference had sued Keanaaina in 2007 after he filed a deed and affidavit with the state Bureau of Conveyances purporting ownership of the church.

Conference minister Charles Buck said Keanaaina’s filing of the deed was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“In the end, we decided this was going to take forever to litigate,” Buck said.

Keanaaina said he plans to pay the taxes before the auction. He also said he might file a lawsuit against the county and state for denying him ownership of the church.

“Hawaii County is going to get served,” Keanaaina said. “We have the documents showing how they schemed.”

Keanaaina claims the county can’t collect property taxes on the church property because it is held by an allodial title. That would be like the county collecting taxes on government land, he said.

Property Tax Division Administrator Stan Sitko said a title search found that Jean Keka was the fee owner of the church and Keanaaina was a claimant claiming an interest. Keka could not be reached for comment Friday.

Sitko said tax notices were sent to all parties uncovered in the title search.

“You claim it, I have to serve notice on you,” he said.

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