Baton Rouge leaders cry foul over St. George bill amendment

    City-parish leaders are crying foul over an amendment—approved on the floor of the Senate late Wednesday—to a bill dealing with the proposed city of St. George.

    Republican Sen. Bodi White’s amendment to SB 229, which establishes the parameters for a transition district if the St. George incorporation effort is ultimately successful, would limit the amount of money the new city would have to pay towards covering parish pension debt and also restrict how the parish spends the money it does collects from St. George to cover legacy costs.

    While the bill, debated in committee May 8, calls for St. George to contribute to East Baton Rouge Parish’s huge unfunded accrued liability, White’s amendment says that obligation will “not apply to unfunded liabilities associated with employees and retirees who did not provide services to the area of the parish included in the municipality.”

    White says it only makes sense that St. George citizens shouldn’t have to pay for pension debt for employees who never provided services to that part of the parish.

    But Mary Olive Pierson, a private attorney representing the city-parish in its opposition to the incorporation, points out that Baton Rouge’s consolidated city-parish form of government makes it almost impossible to say which areas of the parish have benefited from services like sewer or sanitation provided by parishwide departments.

    “How do you untangle spaghetti?” Pierson says. “I don’t know, but you don’t do it on the Senate floor. You don’t ambush everybody when people don’t have time to think about it and consider it.”

    Pierson questions why White or other supporters of SB 229, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor,  didn’t bring up such issues during last week’s lengthy, contentious committee hearing when it could have been thoroughly vetted.

    “It’s maddening,” she says.

    White can’t say why it didn’t come up in committee, but he says his intention Wednesday was to establish what the new city will and won’t have to pay for. He adds that St. George would pay a pro rata share of legacy costs for a department like sewer or sanitation, but only based off of services its citizens had consumed. The amendment, however, doesn’t say anything about dividing up costs on a pro rata basis or what that formula might look like.

    The amendment does, however, stipulate that the portion of the legacy costs St. George does pay can only be used to pay down bond debt or the unfunded liability.

    “People need to understand they still want to live here but they don’t want to pay for the unfunded accrued liability and then the city takes it and uses it for pay raises.”

    Pierson says the city-parish will challenge the effort in court once the session is over.

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