St. George is already at work organizing a new city

    City of St. George organizers say work is underway to construct the government and move the city forward following Friday’s Louisiana Supreme Court decision.

    “We’ve celebrated,” St. George spokesperson Andrew Murrell said at Monday’s press conference. “Today is the end of that celebration. We’re ready to work.”

    The new city’s population will be around 86,000 residents, making it one of Louisiana’s largest cities. 

    Chris Rials, St. George Transition District vice chairman, says the legal fees to reach this point exceeded $1.1 million. “Those contributions have come from over 800 families and businesses, representing 1,700 individual contributions to this effort,” Rials says. “It’s been more than four and a half years of legal battles, and we’ve lost over $250 million in revenue to create our city, but the future is bright.”

    Gov. Jeff Landry will appoint a mayor and council for the city, but the group could not provide a timeline for that at Monday’s media event.

    Some residents have raised concerns about how the new city could affect them, mainly where their children would attend school. Organizers say the school district is something that will happen eventually.

    “A school district is on our radar, but we’re talking years from zero to accomplishment,” Murrell says.

    Meanwhile, a 150-page plan for the new government is complete. Murrell says the plan will not be available until the transition team and the new city government approve it.

    The St. George Transition District, responsible for transferring the sales tax that is the city’s primary funding source to the new government, meets on the second Monday of each month at 4:30 p.m. at the St. George Fire Department headquarters.

    Organizers say a two-cent sales tax will generate general fund revenue of $48.3 million for St. George. That number, added to the property taxes paid by St. George residents, is the total budget available to the city for services it intends to provide.

    “In 2002, $106 million of property taxes were paid by residents and it went to the parish. The parish then provides that service to everyone in the parish, such as EMS,” Rials says. “We pay more money in the parish than we receive in service, and we’re fine with that. When you’re comparing us to other cities, take that $48.3 million, add $106 million.”

    Fire protection will be provided by the St. George Fire Department, which is already funded by 14 mills residents’ pay in property taxes, and by the East Side Fire Department, which collects 22.5 mills from its citizens. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office will provide law enforcement; those services are funded by existing property taxes. A parishwide half-cent sales tax already funds sewer, streets and garbage pick-up. The new city will maintain roads, bridges, medians, ditches, canals, and other public grounds and facilities.

    Efforts to reach this point were initiated over a decade ago following two failed attempts by the community to form its own breakaway school district in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish. In 2019, 54% of voters approved the incorporation. 

    The effort was blocked in the courts after Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Mayor Pro Tem Lamont Cole sued, arguing that the new city would slash revenue for Baton Rouge and that organizers did not have a detailed enough plan for operating it.

    The district and appeals courts sided with Baton Rouge leaders, but Friday’s Supreme Court decision overturned the lower courts.