The Baton Rouge Area Chamber announced its opposition to the proposed city of St. George this morning, citing concerns over questionable financial projections by incorporation organizers, the impact the proposed city would have on the city-parish budget and government, and a lack of information about where thousands of children in the proposed city would go to school.
In a statement released this morning, BRAC says its board of directors voted to oppose the effort after evaluating the proposal “with an open mind. ”
In 2014, BRAC opposed the first attempt to carve an independent city out of a relatively affluent unincorporated portion of southeast East Baton Rouge Parish because of concerns over the financial toll incorporation would take on the parish as a whole and its school system.
Though the proposal this time around is somewhat different and the footprint of the proposed city is smaller, “BRAC has determined that all of the concerns spurred by the original proposal remain in the 2018 version of St. George, and the BRAC Board of Directors determined that the proposed city’s negatives outweigh any positives,” the statement reads.
BRAC executives decline additional comment.
A spokesman for St. George says BRAC’s statement comes as “no big surprise.”
“The status quo has always been against us,” spokesman Drew Murrell says. “It doesn’t matter one bit to us or our supporters.”
BRAC’s statement outlined several concerns. Specifically:
- The proponents’ projected sales tax revenue estimate of $53.4 million alone is overestimated by roughly $20 million, according to city-parish Finance Department data and the proposed city’s proponents. “This 37 percent error calls into question the reliability of the budget plan prepared for the incorporation,” BRAC says.
- The revenue error also calls into question expenditure estimates in the proposed city’s budget, sharpening BRAC’s concerns on the impact to services for the city-parish and St. George.
- In the prior incorporation effort, the city-parish agencies determined to be at the greatest risk of financial reductions were the police, fire and public works departments. Although no updated analysis is available on the new proposal, it’s expected to yield similar results.
- Additional negotiation with the city-parish and sheriff over expenses, legacy costs and finances would be necessary in order to follow the model from the City of Central’s incorporation. This negotiation has not occurred.
- The median household income for city-parish as a whole is $49,188, while the median household income of the proposed new city would be $88,061, or 79% higher.
- An incorporation of a large section of the unincorporated area would weaken and threaten the combined form of city-parish government.
- The newly-drawn boundaries of the proposed city would potentially capture public school facilities with enough capacity to educate only 4,700 students, or nearly 2,000 fewer students than currently live in the boundaries of the proposed city and currently attend public schools.
- There are currently almost 6,600 children who live in the boundary of the proposed city and attend city-parish public schools, including nearly 1,900 who attend public magnet or gifted and talented schools outside of the area. There has been no plan presented to address the displacement of these students.
- If property tax rates are maintained at current levels, a school district in the area would garner $36.3 million annually to fund education. This breaks down to $5,538 per pupil currently attending public schools and living within the proposed boundaries. By comparison, EBR Schools provides $7,371 per pupil through current property tax rates. Based on the proposed new city’s relatively higher wealth, it seems unlikely its level of MFP formula dollars would help make up the difference. Again, leaders of the proposed city not disclosed how or whether it will seek to provide an equal level of funding, nor have they explained the consequences of lower levels of per-pupil funding on the ability to provide high-quality public education.
St. George organizers need to collect some 13,000 signatures to bring the issue to a vote of the people. According to the group’s Facebook page, which has been its primary means of communication this time around, there have been multiple petition drives in recent weeks, though no word yet on how many signatures have been collected.