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Sapelo Island Slave Kin Fight Tax Hikes Likely to Force Them Out

Image: Sapelo Island Slave Kin Fight Tax Hikes Likely to Force Them Out

By Ken Mandel   |   Wednesday, 02 Oct 2013 12:21 PM

Residents of one of the earliest emancipated-slave communities may be forced to sell their Hog Hammock homes amid increasing property taxes, though they aren't going to leave without a fight, according to multiple reports.

The small Georgia community, located on Sapelo Island, lists a population of fewer then 50. Many of the homes are still owned by descendants of Gullah-Geechee people of Africa, who were brought to the United States to work as slaves.

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The town's citizens opened a second wave of appeals earlier this week with the McIntosh County Board of Equalization, which in January ordered assessors to reassess the island's land values, according to the Daily Mail.

The higher land appraisals are a likely result of increased pressure from wealthy mainland buyers seeking property near the Atlantic coast. Critics say the heavier tax burden is a violation of protections meant to preserve the island's original inhabitants.

Sapelo Island is 30 square miles and is reachable only by boat or airplane. The state of Georgia has owned most of the island since 1976, and manages it through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Most of the land is undeveloped wilderness,

The Hog Hammock community lives on less than a square mile of modest homes amid dirt roads, and residents say they receive no county funding.

A small group of Hog Hammock landowners have sold their property since 2010 for as much as $165,500 per half-acre to mainland buyers who plan to build houses near the water.

"The values that we placed on their properties, we feel they still hold," property appraiser Blair McLinn told the Associated Press. "Nothing, we felt, has changed."

Julius and Cornelia Bailey own a home, a convenience store and an inn shoot, and their property taxes have risen to $327,063 last year from $220,285 in 2011. The Baileys are among the dozens of residents who appealed Monday's second round of land appraisals.

Cornelia Bailey said her tax bill rose from $800 to $3,000, despite the fact that the island residents have no schools, no trash pickup, no police station and only one paved road.

"So what are we paying taxes for?" Bailey told the AP. "We're just paying for privilege of living on Sapelo Island. We don't want to be crybabies, but it seems like we're being treated unfairly."

Lawyer Reed Colfax represents 28 Hog Hammock landowners who have filed separate housing discrimination charges against McIntosh County with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Colfax argues that the higher appraisals violate a 1994 county ordinance that gives Hog Hammock a distinction meant to prevent "land value increases which could force removal of the indigenous population."

"They can't afford it," Colfax said. "They're going to be forced off the island in direct contradiction to the ordinance."

The Hog Hammock community consists mostly of descendents from the roughly 385 slaves who worked on the rice plantation of Thomas Spalding, a U.S. Represetative from Georgia, in the 1850s. After they were freed, many stayed and bought land on Sapelo Island. 

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