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Property Taxes Increase Up to 600% Overnight....Do These People Deserve To Keep Their Low Taxes?

Posted by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:12 PM
  • 11 Replies

This is near where I live and the culture of these people is very unique. Our downtown includes a Gulla dinner cruise out to the island with Gullah-Geechee food, song and dance entertainment for the tourists. I am now wondering who is performing, if they can't catch the ferry back home after the show...Maybe the riverboat drops them off...IDK.

The video is enlightening more than the article. What do you think?

Property tax avalanche threatens homeowners on historic coastal island

Link to original article with video

By Rich Phillips, CNN
updated 11:59 AM EDT, Sat October 26, 2013
Source: CNN


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fewer than 50 of the Gullah-Geechee people remain on Georgia's coastal Sapelo Island
  • After property taxes were increased by as much as 600%, many fear they will have to sell
  • The community "is a part of history. It will be a shame not to preserve" it, a resident says
  • "We have to follow the law, and assess at fair market value," the county attorney says

Sapelo Island, Georgia (CNN) -- It's a culture struggling to survive. Fewer than 50 people -- all descendants of slaves -- fear they may soon be taxed out of the property their families have owned since the days of slavery.

They are the Gullah-Geechee people of Sapelo Island off Georgia's coast, near Savannah. This small, simple community is finding itself embroiled in a feud with local officials over a sudden, huge increase in property assessments that are raising property taxes as much as 600% for some.

Many say the increase could force them to sell their ancestral properties.

"That's part of the American history. That's part of what built this country," said Charles Hall, 79, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who was born under a midwife's care in the same home he lives in today.

"Sapelo being the only intact Gullah-Geechee community in the country that's left, that is a part of history. It will be a shame not to preserve" it, he told CNN.

McIntosh County's decision to reappraise homes on the island sparked the problem.

County Attorney Adam Poppell told CNN that the Gullah-Geechee culture is invaluable, but the properties had been historically undervalued due to errors in previous property appraisals.

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

To fix the problem, he said, "the state has to create a special exemption for cultural communities."

Sapelo Island, about the size of Manhattan, is a short 20-minute boat ride from Georgia's coast. But in some ways, it seems much farther.

The bumpy, unpaved dirt roads are a constant reminder that this is an island with few services. There are no police officers, fire rescue personnel, doctors or hospitals. There is no school or post office. People drive their garbage to a single garbage compactor. There are no grocery stores. The gas station is open only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Ninety-seven percent of the island is owned by the state of Georgia. Residents live on a small section known as Hog Hammock.

A ferry makes three round trips each day, with the last departure from the mainland at 5:30 p.m.

Residents can't miss that ferry if they want to work or go to school on the mainland. They complain this limits their employment opportunities and prohibits their children from participating in after-school activities.

Many have fled the island over the years because opportunity just doesn't exist there.

Cornelia Bailey has been one of the loudest defenders of the island where she was born and raised.

She's the ninth generation of her family to live on the island, whose slave roots are traced back to Angola. She said the taxes on her one acre property have gone from $600 a year to about $2,300.

"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," she said.

"For the last three years, we've been paying $128 a year for garbage collection. I don't even have my green garbage can. Where's my can?"

She added, with a hint of anger in her voice, "You can call 911, but nobody gonna squeal up to your front door, so forget it."

Homeowners are hiring lawyers now to have their displeasure heard in state and federal court.

Reed Colfax -- a partner at Relman, Dane & Colfax, one of the leading housing discrimination litigation firms in the country -- is heading full speed into court to have the tax bills struck down for at least half the residents of the island.

"The solution is that we freeze the tax assessments, we get the services to this island, so the people can live here," he said. "Families can move back in, have children here, have jobs on the mainland, or even develop their own economy here on the island."

Tax Assessors Board Chairman James Larkin suggests the Sapelo residents brought this issue on themselves, as some began to sell their property to developers and non-islanders who built bigger, upscale vacation homes, causing valuations to increase, and along with them their property taxes.

"If they hadn't started selling their property, there wouldn't be a problem," he told CNN.

But Reginald Hall isn't buying that argument. He and his family own three properties on more than seven acres of property on the island.

The assessed "fair market value" of their property went from $176,075 in 2011 to $910,333 in 2012. That brought on increase of more than 500% in property taxes. He is refusing to pay the taxes and he refuses to sell his family land, which he says is worth over $3 million.

"Once you leave, you are separated from more family members ... which is a real interruption in the generational teachings on this island of the culture," he said.

"We leave, and we're gone. Can't come back, because if we try to come back after we sell, you can't afford to buy," he told CNN.

Cornelia Bailey said her land may be worth about $384,000, but in reality it is priceless.

"I told one guy it was priceless, and he said everything has a price, and I said, you don't know me, this is priceless. You don't have enough money to buy it, so forget it," she said.

"We have a legacy that most people would die to have. We're fighting to keep it even for the unborn."

National Woman's Party


by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:12 PM
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Replies (1-10):
Ms.KitKat
by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:22 PM
2 moms liked this

 How sad. if there are no public services provided on this island, then how can the town/county justify such high taxes. My guess is some people are just pissed off that the islanders taxes are so much lower and made some noise and got the tax hike in at the last twon hall meeting. Which most likely none of the islanders could attend because there is no ferry service after 5:30pm.

This really is just sickening. I hope this community wins their fight in court!

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:25 PM

If you watch the video, it interviews some of the descendants who still live a simple life on the island...They have few job opportunities, so many of the kids leave. When some of the kids who have left and made a life for themselves off the island inherit the land from their parents, they have been selling it off to people who build expensive vacation estates and that is driving the property values up for the Gullah remaining on the island. The city says its the Gullah's fault for selling their land.

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 How sad. if there are no public services provided on this island, then how can the town/county justify such high taxes. My guess is some people are just pissed off that the islanders taxes are so much lower and made some noise and got the tax hike in at the last twon hall meeting. Which most likely none of the islanders could attend because there is no ferry service after 5:30pm.

This really is just sickening. I hope this community wins their fight in court!


National Woman's Party


Ms.KitKat
by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:34 PM
2 moms liked this

 And the people of the island say that is hog-wash. But lets say it is true; then the county planners could grandfather in those peoples to be exempt from the higher taxes. All new home owners must abide by current tax law; all others are grand-fathered in (and such grand-fathering can be passed from generation to genration). It can only be exempt if the property is sold. This seems like a very reasonable solution.

For example, in most towns, the elderly that live in those 55+ communites are billed at a lower tax rate than the other property owners in the same town; presumably because they do not have chidlren that go to school which is the largest burden for municipalities.   

Quoting NWP:

If you watch the video, it interviews some of the descendants who still live a simple life on the island...They have few job opportunities, so many of the kids leave. When some of the kids who have left and made a life for themselves off the island inherit the land from their parents, they have been selling it off to people who build expensive vacation estates and that is driving the property values up for the Gullah remaining on the island. The city says its the Gullah's fault for selling their land.

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 How sad. if there are no public services provided on this island, then how can the town/county justify such high taxes. My guess is some people are just pissed off that the islanders taxes are so much lower and made some noise and got the tax hike in at the last twon hall meeting. Which most likely none of the islanders could attend because there is no ferry service after 5:30pm.

This really is just sickening. I hope this community wins their fight in court!


 

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:40 PM

I agree that this should be the right thing to do. It seems like a greedy land grab to me...especially since the city/county provides few, if any, services to the island.

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 And the people of the island say that is hog-wash. But lets say it is true; then the county planners could grandfather in those peoples to be exempt from the higher taxes. All new home owners must abide by current tax law; all others are grand-fathered in (and such grand-fathering can be passed from generation to genration). It can only be exempt if the property is sold. This seems like a very reasonable solution.

For example, in most towns, the elderly that live in those 55+ communites are billed at a lower tax rate than the other property owners in the same town; presumably because they do not have chidlren that go to school which is the largest burden for municipalities.   

Quoting NWP:

If you watch the video, it interviews some of the descendants who still live a simple life on the island...They have few job opportunities, so many of the kids leave. When some of the kids who have left and made a life for themselves off the island inherit the land from their parents, they have been selling it off to people who build expensive vacation estates and that is driving the property values up for the Gullah remaining on the island. The city says its the Gullah's fault for selling their land.

Quoting Ms.KitKat:

 How sad. if there are no public services provided on this island, then how can the town/county justify such high taxes. My guess is some people are just pissed off that the islanders taxes are so much lower and made some noise and got the tax hike in at the last twon hall meeting. Which most likely none of the islanders could attend because there is no ferry service after 5:30pm.

This really is just sickening. I hope this community wins their fight in court!


 


National Woman's Party


katy_kay08
by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:44 PM

I'm not a fan of the word "deserve".  Ultimately they deserve to be treated like the rest of the citizens in the city/state.  If everyone else's taxes are assessed at fair market value then that is the standard the state needs to apply to all.  

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:48 PM
1 mom liked this

I'm not sure I agree if the people being taxed are not getting anywhere near the same services those in other areas do for their tax dollars, like  schools, police and fire, sanitation services and paved roads to mention a few.

Quoting katy_kay08:

I'm not a fan of the word "deserve".  Ultimately they deserve to be treated like the rest of the citizens in the city/state.  If everyone else's taxes are assessed at fair market value then that is the standard the state needs to apply to all.  


National Woman's Party


Woodbabe
by Woodie on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Dang that's sad. All I can say is suck it up, sell it off and live off the fortune...

katy_kay08
by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 4:53 PM

I'm all for these people pushing to obtain services their property taxes pay for, but it seems this problem was created by the very people living on the island. 

Quoting NWP:

I'm not sure I agree if the people being taxed are not getting anywhere near the same services those in other areas do for their tax dollars, like  schools, police and fire, sanitation services and paved roads to mention a few.

Quoting katy_kay08:

I'm not a fan of the word "deserve".  Ultimately they deserve to be treated like the rest of the citizens in the city/state.  If everyone else's taxes are assessed at fair market value then that is the standard the state needs to apply to all.  



krysstizzle
by on Oct. 26, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Smells like some kind of gentrification. 

AdrianneHill
by Ruby Member on Oct. 26, 2013 at 6:09 PM
Honestly surprised they lasted this long. There are a couple of gullah islands still on the coast here but most of the people have long since been pushed out by high taxes and unscrupulous real estate investors. The way people have been shoved off of land they'd lived on since they were freed is shameful and often ignored. There's a place called Sandy island where the kids have to ride a school bus boat to get to the mainland to get on the regular bids. These were the same people who were living without electricity nine months after hurricane Hugo came through.
Up here, just a warning. Do NOT call them geechies. Down in Savannah, that isn't an insult at all but once you get above Charleston county, they are called gullahs and geechie is seen as worse than the n word. Don't know why but they are definite about it
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