Friday, December 6, 2013

Georgia community taxed out of existence?

In coastal Georgia, the Geechee residents of Sapelo Island were notified last year and again this year of property assessments that increased by 500 or 600 percent. Residents who were used to paying a few hundred dollars in property taxes now have to pay thousands.

The tax bills may cause the mostly low-income residents of Hog Hammock in Sapelo to sell their homes and eventually dissolve the African-American community that's lived on the island since the 1700s.

The McIntosh County tax assessor's hands are tied.  State law requires assessments to be based on what a willing buyer and seller would agree to in an arm's length sale.  Recent property sales in Sapelo to mainland buyers have led to the skyrocketing assessments. Sales data is an essential component of modern assessment techniques.

Therefore, in my opinion, if Hog Hammock is to be preserved, the most logical route may be through special legislation, such as preferential tax treatment of Hog Hammock as a historic district, or targeted homestead exemptions or freezes that would reduce the tax bills.

However, proposals for a Sapelo Island study committee haven't gone anywhere during previous sessions of the Georgia General Assembly.

Residents are mounting a legal challenge to their assessments which, based on my understanding of Georgia's tax code, will be an uphill climb. 

A more effective approach than hiring a lawyer may be to hire a lobbyist to help them build a broader coalition of support at the state capitol in 2014.

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