Special to the Enterprise
Residents of one of the few remaining Gullah-Geechee communities on the Southeast coast opened new appeals Monday against soaring property values that brought them big tax hikes, fearful they could be forced off lands their families have owned since their ancestors were freed from slavery.
The African-American residents of the tiny Hog Hammock community on Georgia’s Sapelo Island got sticker shock last year when steep increases in their property values saddled them with whopping tax bills.
Skyrocketing appraisals and tax bills come amid pressure from affluent mainland buyers driving up land values while seeking property along or near the Atlantic coast. But critics say the increasing tax burden violates protections enacted to help preserve the island’s indigenous inhabitants.
Made up of slave descendants long isolated from the U.S. mainland, the Gullah-Geechee culture has clung to its African roots and traditions more than any other in America. Hog Hammock – with fewer than 50 residents – is one of the last such communities from North Carolina to Florida.
Julius and Cornelia Bailey saw the appraised value of the single acre on which they have a home, a convenience store and a small inn shoot from $220,285 in 2011 to $327,063 last year. Appraisers in Georgia’s McIntosh County held firm on the new value after being ordered to take a second look in January by local authorities.
The Baileys and more than 40 of their neighbors appealed anew Monday after seeing little relief from the new appraisals.