Judge to Decide if the Geechees Can Sue the State Over Taxes

On Sapelo Island, descendants of slaves will soon learn if their lawsuit alleging they are effectively being forced to leave their longtime home will be able to move forward. From the Athens Banner Herald:

Residents and landowners from the tiny Hogg Hummock community on remote Sapelo Island filed a suit against the state and McIntosh County last December in U.S. District Court. The suit says the enclave of about 50 black residents is shrinking rapidly as landowners are pressured to sell because they pay high property taxes yet receive few basic services. Reachable only by boat from the mainland, Sapelo Island has no schools, police, fire department or trash collection.

Attorneys for the state have asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They argue the Department of Natural Resources, which manages most of Sapelo Island, and other agencies are immune under the 11th Amendment, which grants states broad protection from lawsuits in federal court.

The dispute between the Geechees and McIntosh County goes back several years. As this New Your Times story from 2012 explains, the county’s tax digest wasn’t updated between 2004 and 2012. The delay caused a massive property tax hike, including a jump ini one case from $362 to $2,312. While county officials blamed inflation and new county services, the Geechees pointed out that many of those services hadn’t reached their remote section of the island.

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