Organizers of the city of St. George effort have filed a lawsuit in 19th Judicial District Court challenging the recent annexation of several properties from within the prospective boundaries of St. George into the city of Baton Rouge.
The recently annexed properties are primarily large office buildings in the United Plaza office park off Essen Lane, which is the boundary between the city of Baton Rouge and what will be St. George, if and when it is legally certified.
In a suit filed Feb. 7 against the city of Baton Rouge and the Metro Council, organizers for St. George say the annexations are essentially a money grab—“an attempt to deprive the city of St. George of revenues to be derived from activities upon the immovable properties and to impact the outcome of the lawsuit. Such actions … abridge the voting rights of St. George electors.”
They also argue that the annexations are invalid because the city-parish was not properly noticed about the annexation of a public road that connects the United Plaza properties to the Baton Rouge city limits.
Though opponents of St. George have yet to file an answer to the suit in court, attorney Charles Landry, who represents the property owners that filed for annexation, says the arguments are ridiculous and the suit is without merit.
On the issue of a money grab, Landry notes that the office buildings do not pay sales taxes, so they won’t have any impact on the proposed St. George budget.
What’s more, the property taxes the buildings’ owners pay are dedicated to parishwide funds. Only if St. George raised its property taxes in the future to fund, say, new schools—something St. George organizers have said they won’t do—would the loss of the office building represent a potential financial hit for St. George.
“They have continuously, clearly and religiously said they have no intention of raising any additional taxes,” Landry says. “None of these properties pay sales taxes, so how does this deprive them of taxes when they have said they’re not going to raise property taxes?” Landry says.
St. George spokesman Drew Murrell declined to comment, saying the lawsuit speaks for itself.
Landry also disputes the argument that he didn’t give proper notice to the city-parish about annexing the public road.
“They are saying we did not provide certified notice from the city-parish to the city-parish, which makes no sense,” he says. “They are overlooking the fact that we have a consolidated form of government.”
Above all, Landry says the underlying petition is faulty, namely that the organizers of St. George have the right to block the annexations as if the prospective city has already been incorporated and exists.
“They allege the city of St. George is in place,” he says. “That is patently incorrect. The city of St. George doesn’t exist. The state legislation is clear that it does not come into place until litigation is complete.”
A separate suit in 19th Judicial District Court, filed by Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and opponents of St. George, is challenging the legality of the incorporation.