Wednesday, February 17, 2016

State requests dismissal of property tax discrimination case

The State of Georgia and McIntosh County are requesting that a lawsuit brought by the Geechee residents of Sapelo Island be dismissed.  The federal discrimination suit alleges that McIntosh County unduly taxes Sapelo property owners but provides them with no services.  The State asserts that there is nothing definitive in the suit that is within their jurisdiction to respond to.  The Florida Times-Union ran an article on the subject on Feb. 9:
McIntosh County, state of Georgia ask federal court to dismiss suit that says it discriminates against Gullah Geechee on Sapelo Island
McIntosh County says white and black residents of barrier island are subject to same services, however poor
By Terry Dickson Tue, Feb 9, 2016 @ 10:26 am | updated Tue, Feb 9, 2016 @ 7:08 pm
McIntosh County and the state of Georgia have asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit that claims both have systematically discriminated against Gullah Geechee residents of Sapelo Island in hopes of driving them off the island.
Georgia and McIntosh County also want the case moved from Atlanta, where it was filed last year, to Brunswick, which is just one county away from the island and far more convenient for all local witnesses.
In a motion filed on behalf of County Manager Brett Cook and other defendants, McIntosh County said the suit failed to show that the county had treated white residents of the island any more favorably that African American residents.
It also asserts that only five of the more than 50 plaintiffs actually live on Sapelo Island. “The vast majority [of the plaintiffs] merely allege they own property’’ on the island, the response says.
McIntosh County does not deny that it does not provide the same ambulance, police, fire, garbage collection and other services for the island as it does mainland residents, but it has an explanation.
The obvious reason for the disparity in services is that Sapelo is a barrier island accessible by boat, the suit says, and black residents there are subject to the same level of services as whites, the county says in its motion to dismiss.
The suit filed last year against McIntosh County and the state of Georgia, which owns 97 percent of the island, asserts that more than 50 residents of the Hog Hammock community on the island pay high property taxes and get no services in return. The island has no school, no ambulance service and no trash pickup, all services available on the mainland.
In its response filed Tuesday, the state says the Department of Natural Resources, the agency that oversees the island, provides emergency services and provides a trash compactor, although it does not charge a garbage collection fee.
The state also evokes sovereign immunity, which forbids federal suits against the state unless the state first agrees to be sued in that court. The state’s answer says the federal courts have long upheld sovereign immunity.
The state-run ferry is not accessible to the disabled and has a schedule that makes it nearly impossible for someone to live on the island and hold a job on the mainland, the suit said.
The plaintiffs assert that there is a plan to systematically tax them out of their homes so rich, white people can build expensive vacation homes there...

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