City of St. George incorporation proponents had a successful day at the Legislature, as two bills heard in a Senate committee this afternoon both went their way.
Not only did a bill enabling a parishwide incorporation vote fail to move out of committee, but legislation that would create a St. George transition district, if incorporated, was amended and approved by the committee.
The amendment to SB 229, if approved, requires St. George, should it become a city, to be liable for its proportionate share of parish unfunded liabilities, including pension and retirement debt.
St. George organizers praised the decision to not allow a parishwide vote on the incorporation, criticizing it as a last-minute rule change to kill the effort. Current law calls for the vote to be held within the proposed city limits. Still, proponents acknowledge the fight is far from over.
“They said they have a lawsuit ready (in the committee hearing),” says St. George spokesman Andrew Murrell. “It’s sad that they plan to use parish tax dollars to sue parish citizens over their right to vote.”
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, who opposes St. George and supported the parishwide vote legislation—SB 63—at the hearing, wouldn’t comment on whether the city-parish would file a lawsuit, but says “we will continue to look at all options as we move forward.”
“I’m disappointed that all citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish will not have an opportunity to vote on an issue that significantly impacts them fiscally and otherwise,” Broome told Daily Report after the hearing. “I view that as taxation without representation. It won’t dictate the outcome. I’m just trying to promote a democratic process.”
As for the amendment to the transition district bill, both sides appear to agree on the change, though Broome says the legislation is premature.
“It could wait until after the vote,” she says. “But I’m glad measures amended to the bill now say (St. George) will have to be responsible for the unfunded liabilities and any other dollars associated with creating a city.”
Broome, citing a fiscal impact study released Wednesday, says such costs would total over $100 million for St. George.
St. George organizers say they have always intended to pay those unfunded liabilities, so they took no issue with the bill’s amendment.
The amendment also says that upon incorporation, the city-parish will no longer be responsible for providing municipal services to the city of St. George.
The main intent, however, of the legislation—authored by Baton Rouge state Sen. Dan Claitor—is to allow the city-parish to continue collecting sales tax for the proposed city to provide services for up to one year after the vote, while also creating a St. George transition district to assist the new city in ultimately collecting its own sales taxes.
But the measure hinges on an intergovernmental agreement between the city-parish and the proposed new city. The mayor declined to say whether she would enter into such an agreement, stating she’ll wait to say until the Oct. 12 vote happens.
If the city-parish does not work with St. George to collect its share of sales taxes while it is in transition, that money will not be collected. “Without (the agreement), that money just sits in limbo,” Murrell says. “We want the transition district because there has to be a mechanism in place from parish to city. It’s to create a negotiation period, just like Central did.”