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Historic Georgia islanders fight 600 percent property tax hike

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2013

Sapelo Island residents — descendants of slaves who've lived in their historic Georgia homes for generations — are fuming, saying the government has hiked their property taxes to ungodly levels in recent months, in some cases by as much as 600 percent.

One property was just reassessed from $176,075 in 2011 to $910,333 a year later — bringing on a 500 percent tax hike, CNN reported.

Only about 50 people live on the island, located off Georgia's coast near Savannah. But all are descendants of slaves and they're among the last of their kind, the Gullah-Geechee people, and they're now in a massive legal brouhaha to stay in their homes, CNN reported.

"Sapelo [is] the only intact Gullah-Geechee community in the country that's left, that is a part of history," said Charles Hall, 79, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who has lived in his Sapelo Island home since birth, CNN reported. "It will be a shame not to preserve it."

McIntosh County just recently reappraised the homes on the island — leaving some with triple-digit tax hikes that may force them to sell, CNN said. County attorney Adam Poppell said the properties have been undervalued for years, and the recent appraisal is only bringing the homes in line with current market value.

"We have to follow the law and assess at fair market value," he said, in CNN.

But residents said their hikes have reached ungodly levels — and on top of that, they don't even get government services in return for their taxes.

The island has no schools, no post offices, no police officers, no firefighters, doctor or hospitals. And most of the roads are unpaved. The island doesn't have grocery stores, either. The island only has one garbage facility — and people have to bring their trash there themselves. The island's one gas station is only open two days a week.

So, residents, want to know: What are they getting for their tax dollars? Moreover, 97 percent of the island is already owned by the state.

"All these years of getting nothing, then all of a sudden, they want to lay this tax on your back and still not give you nothing," said Cornelia Bailey, a ninth-generation islander, in the CNN report.

Her taxes have gone from $600 a year to $2,300, for her 1-acre property. On top of that, she pays $128 a year for garbage collection — even though nobody comes to collect.

The residents have banded together to fight their reassessments in court.

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