Study: St. George would mean ‘devastating’ city-parish budget cuts up to 45%

    If voters approve the city of St. George incorporation this fall, the resulting revenue loss to the East Baton Rouge city-parish government would require budget cuts ranging from 18% to a drastic 45%, according to a new fiscal impact analysis commissioned by the city-parish.

    The St. George incorporation would have a “significant negative impact,” leaving the city-parish’s general fund $48 million short, according to the analysis. To balance the budget, the city-parish will be required to either raise revenue, via increased taxes or service charges, or cut certain areas of the budget.

    It remains unclear, however, what areas and how much of the budget may be cut. That will depend on which city-parish services St. George decides to keep, if approved. Organizers have indicated they would reimburse the city-parish for certain required services.

    The analysis shows the “devastating effect an incorporation would have on the remaining residents of the city-parish,” says Mayor Sharon Weston Broome in a statement.

    “Given that budgeted amounts for debt service and constitutional mandates cannot be reduced, these numbers reveal that every city-parish department and agency would need to be cut by a minimum of 18% across the board,” Broome adds. “If we protect public safety from the cuts—our police and firefighters—the budgets for all remaining city-parish departments and agencies would need to be reduced by a minimum of 45%.”

    The mayor is requiring all departments and agencies to submit a continuation budget request for 2020, as well as a budget at 80% of current funding levels. The departments will have to outline service impacts due to the potential funding reduction.

    The St. George petition lists several essential services the new city may provide, such as drainage and street maintenance, the mayor says, though that depends on the availability of funds.

    “In other words, there is no guarantee to the residents of the proposed St. George area that these services will be provided at all,” Broome adds.

    St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey dismisses the new analysis as nothing more than another effort to thwart the incorporation, which goes to a vote Oct. 12.

    The impact analysis, conducted by Richard CPAs, was included in a fiscal note report for Senate Bill 229, authored by Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor. If voters approve the incorporation, the bill allows the city-parish to continue collecting sales tax in 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 to ultimately collect its own sales taxes.

    The bill will be heard Thursday in the Senate Local and Municipal Affairs committee. That same committee will also consider Senate Bill 63, which would allow a parishwide vote on the St. George incorporation.

    Broome cites the new analysis as further reason to support SB 63, authored by Sen. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge.

    “Each and every resident of East Baton Rouge Parish would be negatively affected by the breakaway and deserve an opportunity to weigh in on the final decision,” said Broome. “A budget reduction of the magnitude described in the study would equate to cuts to city-parish services as well as sweeping cuts to all agencies that receive local government support.”

    Rainey says the city-parish continues “to do and say anything” to stop the incorporation from happening.

    “So color us shocked that they commissioned a new study to promote that agenda the day before they try to change the rules in a committee hearing,” Rainey says. “They’re desperate and predictable.”

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