The incorporation of St. George: What you need to know before election day

1 month ago The Advocate 0

Voters in the southeastern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish are considering whether to create a new city of St. George. A one-week early voting period opened Saturday, Sept. 28, and the final votes will be collected Saturday, Oct. 12.

If successful, St. George would become the parish’s fifth municipality, joining Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary and Central, and it would become one of the larger cities in the state. Below is some basic information regarding the history of St. George’s movement, how the creation of a new city could affect East Baton Rouge Parish and which issues voters have identified in the run-up to Election Day.

Can you vote on the incorporation of St. George? CLICK HERE for a link to a personalized sample ballot. 

How the City of St. George movement began: 

The St. George effort began as a push for a new school district but grew into a movement to turn the unincorporated southeastern area of East Baton Rouge Parish into a new city, similar to what Central did more than a decade ago. The new City of St. George would have its own local government independent of East Baton Rouge.

A St. George school district could start off with ample funding, but costs will grow if popular

The fight over the finances of a proposed City of St. George has been fierce, with proponents saying it will have ample money while opponents …

From 2013 to 2015, St. George created a petition and set out to collect signatures from 25% of all registered voters in the proposed St. George area, or a total of 17,859 names, in order to have the incorporation of St. George called into the next election.

Following the creation of anti-St. George campaign “Better Together,” a forgery scandal for St. George and multiple annexations away from the new city, the St. George effort fell 71 valid signatures short of going before voters. St. George was banned from trying again for 2 years.

One year after St. George petition drive fails, organizers look to mount another campaign in 2017

One year after the controversial campaign failed to create the city of St. George, the city’s most passionate proponents say they want to star…

St. George incorporation supporters completed work on another campaign in late 2018 that included a smaller area. The question was certified for this year’s ballot with a total of 14,585 signatures accepted and certified (1,589 signatures over the minimum). John Bel Edwards approved the question for the Oct. 12 general primary ballot.

What would happen:

  • The new city would include about 86,000 residents.
  • The annual cost of incorporating and operating St. George is a matter of great debate. St. George organizers propose that the new city would spend $34 million per year, leading to a $14.4 million surplus. According to a report by LSU professors Jim Richardson and Jared Llorens, however, St. George would spend roughly $51 million annually, creating a $3.3 million deficit. 
City of St. George still faces plenty of questions, if created, but source of funding isn't one

One in an occasional series of stories on the possible creation of a new City of St. George in the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish.

  • The governor will select a new mayor for the City of St. George along with five new council members. Following the first term, St. George citizens will vote for the new mayor and city council.
  • Four preexisting public schools would become part of the City of St. George, including Woodlawn High School. For now, the schools would remain in the East Baton Rouge Parish School District. If subsequent votes (statewide and local) establish a new district, up to 4,000 students could be displaced.

“Fire protection will be provided by the St. George Fire Department, which is already funded by 14 mills on its residents’ property tax bill, and by the East Side Fire Department, which already collects 22.5 mills from its citizens. Police protection will be provided by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, which is also already funded by property taxes that residents of the new city already pay.”

Basic utility costs would change little in new St. George; trash, drainage could vary

Monthly bills for basic utilities like water and electricity should stay the same in the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish if resid…

Who would be in the City of St. George?

  • As of Sept. 23, 54,683 of the 86,000 residents in the proposed St. George area are registered voters and can vote on the incorporation.
  • Some people were previously within the boundaries of the City of St. George, but after lines were redrawn in March 2018, about 21,000 people were carved out of the new city plan.
    • St. George opponents say this was to cut out a predominantly African-American population of apartments and condominiums, as the black population in the proposed new community decreased from 20% to 12%.
    • Proponents say this was to cut out strong opponents of the incorporation and to respect their opinion.
In or out? Adjusted St. George boundaries confuse some early voters

With early voting already underway, some confusion has arisen among voters in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish over whether they’ll get to vo…

What supporters say:

  • Many supporters are hopeful to send their children to better quality public schools, as St. George organizers hope to have a “future majority minority school district [that] will compete with Zachary & Central.” Organizers cite the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System’s 58th ranking out of 70 statewide school districts as reference.
  • “We represent more than two-thirds of the parish’s tax base, but only about one-third of its expenditures,” says Chairpersons for the City of St. George incorporation Norman Browning and Chris Rials. They say there are 23 new taxes created in Baton Rouge since 2003 with the zero taxes created in Central since its incorporation in 2005, though many items labeled as taxes are fees and not imposed universally across the parish.
  • St. George hopes to increase East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office’s surveillance within the city.
For families on both sides of St. George issue, vote is equally emotional: 'It's life or death'

After more than four years of debates, petition drives and town hall meetings, residents in the southeastern portion of East Baton Parish got …

What opponents say:

  • This will do the parish as a whole — particularly Baton Rouge — more harm than good, as the LSU professors’ study showed that the budgeted numbers are inaccurate and would create a deficit.
  • It creates legal lines of segregation between Baton Rouge and a predominantly white St. George, as African-American populations in the City of St. George have dwindled down to 12% as lines are redrawn.
  • Opponents say adding more government jobs funded by taxpayers, including a mayor, board of alderman or city council, a town clerk and chief of police, is unnecessary and wasteful of taxpayer resources.
  • They also fear the lack of specifics in certain parts of St. George’s plan, like transitioning procedures for transportation, elected officials, etc. and restructuring their budgeting and spending. 
Lanny Keller: Baton Rouge's St. George secession might be as messy as Brexit

Based on the votes cast in recent elections, you can make two political arguments about the boundaries of the proposed St. George “city” movement.

Elections 2019:

Oct. 12 election in Baton Rouge: Here's everything you need to know about races, candidates

The Oct. 12 primaries in the Baton Rouge area and across Louisiana are chock-full of major issues and races.

Click below to view The Advocate’s position on the incorporation of the City of St. George.

Our Views: We urge Baton Rouge voters to reject the separate city of St. George

Louisiana doesn’t enjoy a good reputation for forward-thinking public policy.