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Historic north Kona church bought at tax auction

KALAOA » A historic north Kona church that has been put up for auction following a decadeslong dispute over ownership has been purchased by the Free Church of Tonga, one of several groups that worships at the facility.

Mauna Ziona Church was one of about 100 properties sold for back taxes on Tuesday. Free Church of Tonga Pastor Fine Teutau outbid two other bidders for the property, which was listed at $46,641 in back taxes and costs, West Hawaii Today reported.

The property includes the 10-acre church plot and a 60-acre adjoining parcel, which sold for a winning bid of $422,000. The bidder, who declined to give his name after auction, said he was buying the property for someone else.

Teutau said he does not plan to make any changes at the church and that his congregation will continue to worship there. He said the church decided to buy the property after learning about the problems the church faced.

Taxes have not been paid on the building since the Hawaii Conference United Church of Christ, which was started by missionaries in 1820, turned it over to Norman Keanaaina in 2009 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.

Two families claim ownership of the property. The county’s title search documents show the nonprofit Mauna Ziona Church as fee owner, along with Jean Keka on the larger parcel. Keanaaina is listed as president of the nonprofit corporation in reports filed with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Keanaaina has claimed Hawaii County does not have the right to collect taxes on the building.

Jessica Keka, answering calls placed to family member Jean Keka, said the county’s actions will not stand up in court.

“It’s going to be litigated,” Keka said. “It’s just a total scam.”

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