If you’re sick of hearing about St. George, you may want to sit 2020 out.
Though it’s too soon to predict how the effort to incorporate the independent city in southeast East Rouge Parish will play out, a few things are fairly certain for the year ahead.
• The issue will be tied up in litigation all year—and likely through 2021 and 2022 as well. Lawyers on both sides of the issue, as well as those who litigated the incorporation of Central in the early 2000s predict this will be a two- to three-year battle, with challenges that will ultimately be decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court.
• More immediately, the first hearing will likely be set for March. The 19th Judicial District Court, where the battle will play out, is currently booking cases into the spring. The first issue Judge William Morvant will have to decide in this case deals with the exceptions St. George attorneys filed challenging Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s right to sue them in the first place.
• Property owners in the footprint of the prospective St. George will continue to seek annexation into the city of Baton Rouge, requests the Metro Council will likely approve. But don’t expect a groundswell of annexations. Some property owners will wait until all the court challenges have been exhausted before deciding which way to go, largely because they don’t want to pay the higher millages that are levied on property owners inside the limits of the city of Baton Rouge. The rates are only marginally higher, mind you, but why bother if the entire St. George incorporation is ultimately nullified by SCOLA anyway?
• The governor won’t name an interim mayor or city council to St. George before the court challenges are settled. Legally he doesn’t have to because the city of St. George doesn’t technically exist, even though voters approved it in last October’s election.
• The issue of better schools—the ostensible reason behind the incorporation effort in the first place—will remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future. Only after St. George is formally incorporated, which, remember, is two to three years away at best, can the new city attempt to create its own school district—an effort that will require a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature and winning a statewide election, including a majority of voters in East Baton Rouge Parish.
• The resentment that fueled last fall’s successful election outcome will continue to fester, much to the detriment of residents throughout the parish. Baton Rouge is increasingly polarized, as is the state, nation and much of the world. Whether that ill will hampers business and economic development remains to be seen. But the angst and frustration won’t be going away anytime soon.