Gullah-Geechee, Sapelo Island: Historic Slave Community Faces Tax Woes

    October 1, 2013

The tiny community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island in Georgia is one of the earliest freed slave settlements, and it is still home to descendants of the original owners. That may change though, as the Gullah-Geechee people in the Hog Hammock community are being forced to sell because of soaring property taxes. The owners aren’t giving up without a fight, though, and are making their story known.

Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island has a population of less than 50, and according to resident Cornelia Bailey, the people there receive no county services. This makes it difficult for the home and business owners in the community to understand why their property appraisals (and tax bills) are soaring. The community has no school, no police station and only one paved road to maintain.

Bailey’s tax bill went from around $800 in 2011 to nearly $3,000 last year. The appraisal on Bailey’s acre of land, which she and her husband have a home, a convenience store and a small inn on, went from $220,285 to $327,063.

“So what are we paying taxes for?” Bailey asked after the county denied her appeal on Monday. “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.”

Do you think the people of Hog Hammock should be protected from increasing property taxes because of their history? Add your comments below.

According to Reed Colfax, the attorney for more than two dozen Hog Hammock landowners who have a housing discrimination complaint against McIntosh County, the appraisals violate a 1994 county ordinance that classifies Hog Hammock as a special zoning district.

This special zoning is supposed to prevent “land value increases which could force removal of the indigenous population,” Colfax said. Colfax also said, “They can’t afford it. They’re going to be forced off the island in direct contradiction to the ordinance.”

McIntosh County’s defense against the tax appraisal hike is that some of the Hog Hammock residents were selling. According to ABC6, several owners have sold their properties up to $165,500 for a half-acre. County appraisers say that the appraisals have increased because of market demands. “The values that we placed on their properties, we feel they still hold,” said property appraiser Blair McLinn. “Nothing, we felt, has changed.”

Other Sapelo Island residents are still waiting for their appeals to be heard, but it is likely that they won’t seek any relief on their tax bills. Robert Hudley, chairman of McIntosh County’s Board of Equalization that hears appeals, has told the people of Hog Hammock to appeal to the Superior Court. “This doesn’t need to stop here. It needs to go further,” Hudley said.

A Facebook has been started to raise awareness for the Hog Hammock reisdents, plus a petition has been started on to stop the soaring tax bills.

Image via YouTube