St. George proponent, opponent square off with three days til election

    An opponent of the proposed St. George incorporation effort presented data today intended to counter arguments by St. George supporters that the city-parish has increased taxes more than 20 times in recent years and that living in the city-parish is costly and inefficient.

    A spokesman for St. George, meanwhile, argued that a small city of 86,000 with a partially privatized government will be more nimble, flexible and responsive to the needs of its citizens.

    The two activists—Together Baton Rouge organizer Dianne Hanley on the anti St. George side and attorney Drew Murrell in the pro-St. George corner—took turns at the podium in a lunchtime forum at the downtown City Club hosted by the Republican Women of Baton Rouge.

    With just three days until voters go to the polls to decide the fate of the proposed new city, the debate was intended to clarify lingering questions many have about whether St. George will be able to operate as efficiently as promised and with a $20 million surplus.

    Hanley tried to dispel that notion, playing, first a video that anti-St. George groups have used then presenting data showing that living in the city of Baton Rouge is not more expensive than in the proposed St. George or nearby Central, which St. George organizers have looked to as a model for how to create a new municipality.

    Hanley’s figures show that residents of the city of Baton Rouge pay 121.1 mills in property tax and 9.95% sales tax, while residents in the proposed footprint of St. George pay 116 mills and 9.95% sales tax. Central residents, by comparison, pay 133.4 mills and nearly 10.5% sales tax.

    Hanley also showed that the list of 23 new taxes St. George organizers have said were imposed on city-parish residents in recent years, all were renewals or millage roll-forwards. Only three—MoveBR, the Bridge Center and the Council on Aging—were new taxes and all three were voted on parish-wide.

    Murrell did not directly dispute Hanley’s data. But he used broader arguments to point out that the city-parish government is inefficient and overleveraged, with some of the highest pension debt in the country.

    “A strong and successful St. George is going to benefit you because it will bring young families back to Baton Rouge,” Murrell said. “If this doesn’t pass, our businesses will continue migrating just as our people have been migrating.”

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