Elected Officials Speak on Possible St. George Incorporation
“We believe that we can set a model, not only for the state of Louisiana [but also] a model of governance for the United States of America that many other cities can follow.
Lionel Rainey, a spokesman for the St. George effort – The Times-Picayune
By: Leslie D. Rose – The Drum Reporter
BATON ROUGE-This month Baton Rouge made national and world news as a headliner in various media outlets regarding the possible incorporation of St. George. And while a story about the potential creation of a new city within the capital city may spark national hyperbole, local reports and representatives say the buzz is not totally inaccurate.
The boundaries for the proposed city of St. George would cover about 85 square miles, including all of the unincorporated part of the parish south of Baton Rouge. But with such a pushback from surrounding communities, one has to question how what Rainey has spoken on would create a solid model for the country or state, no less the city. Based on responses from local politicians, the facts are only in the favor of the proposed St. George City.
Here we will explore the various headlines regarding the potential incorporation infused with facts and thoughts from respected state, city and school board leaders.
Headline: St. George incorporation petitions hit East Baton Rouge Parish – WBRZ.com
Fact: Supporters of the proposal say they have half the 18,000 signatures needed to get their scheme on the next ballot
The campaign to create the city of St. George began in September. Organizers, frustrated by the struggling schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, had tried twice to get approval from the legislature to create their own school district and break away from EBRPSS. When they were blocked both times—and after opponents said they shouldn’t get their own school district because they weren’t their own city—they decided to incorporate. They see it as an opportunity to create both a city and a school district that will be smaller, more efficient, and more responsive to residents’ needs.
- “I am not in favor of the proposed city. I honestly believe that because of the revenue issue, it will definitely impact the city of Baton Rouge and the services provided. There are so many questions to be answered such as: the sewer project, the green light projects, law enforcement services that if the ‘City of St. George’ contracts with the sheriff ‘s dept. there is a strong possibility of taxes going up in that area. But proponents believe that isn’t the case. And this is not just predicated on law enforcement, it’s all services a city needs.
This has all come about over the school system not passing and the fact that the group refused to factually deal with the legacy costs they would burden EBR with. There is no guarantee that if a city is formed that the school system is approved. It still will require 70 votes to pass.
It is quite interesting in how the lines were drawn as well. Questions should be on many citizens’ minds on the reasons certain areas were not pulled in. One has but to go back to the videos of the bill being vetted in education committee and hear the comments of some of the citizens who testified that they did not want certain children in their schools.” said State Rep.Patricia Haynes Smith, District 67.
Headline: Fiscal issues grim if BR loses St. George – The Advocate
Fact: St. George would take with it two malls that provide Baton Rouge with 40 % of its sales tax revenue which would create a $53 million budget shortfall for Baton Rouge.
The proposed city of St. George would cost the city-parish government $85 million, or 30 %, of its annual general fund revenue according to a Dec. 1 report conducted by LSU economist – commissioned by BRAC and BRAF. Even if the city-parish government reduced its per-capita spending to account for the drop in population, it would still face a budget shortfall of $53 million each year. Since 29 % of the general fund goes to the Baton Rouge Police Department, the report findings conclude that the city-parish government would be forced to reduce police services within the Baton Rouge city limits and remaining unincorporated areas.
“Due to the disproportion of concentration placed on increased economic development in the southern part of the city-parish and not in the northern part, there are unfair constraints with respect to business, housing, education and recreational activities. The proposed City of St. George places an unfavorable or disadvantageous impact of law enforcement and other public services. This action would actively be harmful for my constituent’s quality of life. My concerns about this proposal [are] that it will result in higher taxes and fewer services for low-and moderate-income people,” said Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel (District 2).
I am against the St. George breakaway measure because of the numerous negative consequences it would have on Baton Rouge. Leaders of the “Incorporate St. George” movement indicate that one of the main purposes of the St. George breakaway is to “keep some of the tax dollars that are in this area, in this area.” However, this notion is based on the flawed presumption that those within the immediate vicinity only support all of the businesses in the proposed St. George area and that’s not true. To this point, the Mall of Louisiana and Perkins Rowe are supported by the entirety of Baton Rouge not just local individuals. Ironically, the infrastructure for this retail center was built with tax dollars from the entirety of Baton Rouge. I’m against for the following reasons: Because of the fiscal impact it will have on the city of Baton Rouge as currently constituted. The sales tax dollars that currently support the local parish government would be greatly diminished because of a reduced tax base; Because of the negative impact it will have on the remaining city because of the drawing of the boundary lines, if its going to be inclusive of South Baton Rouge than it should include all of South Baton Rouge. The proposed city is gerrymandered. It excludes Gardere but stretches up to encompass Towne Center. Because this is regressive, with all the steps made to make BR the next great city, this move will take the city back 20-30 years. I believe it certainly will make it more difficult to draw more companies and businesses to our city/ If this were to happen, immediately it would cause a huge budget deficit in the city’s current budget forcing cuts in parish-wide services and programs, like police protection and road construction. A study by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber found that the effects of the partition would be economically devastating for the remainder of Baton Rouge, immediately creating a $53 million budget shortfall. Obviously, this would have a negative impact on future economic development projects. Additionally, this would reduce diversity in the East Baton Rouge Parish School system as well as remove much needed funding from a school system already in need. What many people fail to realize is when companies’ look to invest in and move into an area they consider many factors and one factor is the climate of the communities – if the community is closed minded and regressive than they view that as impacted future growth. The concept of One Baton Rouge was formed to foster community and unite growth. Certainly when you look at how the lines are drawn the issue of race and class must come up. The lines are drawn to exclude a segment of the community that is comprised of mostly minorities and families that are economically distressed. Then it gerrymanders up to incorporate a part of the city that is central of the city to harness that income and tax base. At the end of the day this become a lose-lose for us all! Certainly there must be a better way to address some of their concerns without slicing and dicing the community,” said State Rep. Regina Ashford Barrow (District 29)
Headline: Baton Rouge’s Magnet Schools Threatened by St. George Incorporation – Nola.com
Fact: East Baton Rouge is able to offer its magnet schools because it is a large district with about 43,000 students, and has the resources and student population to support specialized programs.
There are about 6,200 East Baton Rouge Parish public school students who live in the St. George area but attend school outside those city limits, according to the group One Community, One School District, which opposes the St. George effort. That includes magnet students and others who would be displaced if a new district is established in St. George.
“[As] a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, I am against the city of St. George. I know that the System’s retirement liability exceeds $300 Million. I think taking newly built schools while leaving retirement liability creates the potential for disaster for education in the Parish. We are a system that saw 42% of schools improve a letter grade; we cut expenses and increased revenue; we produce the overwhelming portion of national merit and national achievement scholars in the parish; and we have only one failing comprehensive school in the system (less than A-rated systems nearby). Anyone that thinks they should leave the System to create a better system within the parish should spend time in our fantastic schools,” said Craig M. Freeman, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board representative for District 6.
“I am totally against the division of our city. The racial division will not bring our parish forward and the erosion of tax revenue would affect services for the city. The people behind this movement are blinded by their need to devastate our schools,” said State Representative Edward “Ted” James II (District 101)
“I am against the current proposal to create the City of St. George, because it will affect the quality of education that all of our children are receiving.
“My opposition primarily stems from the fact that this proposal, just like the proposal to create a new school system in the Southeast portion of the parish, unnecessarily divides the residents of the city/parish along the all too familiar lines of race, and class. This is morally wrong!!
“The impact on the City of Baton Rouge will be decidedly negative. Not only will this impact the city’s functions and operations, it will impact our local school system, children, and quality of life,” said District 7 East Baton Rouge Parish School Board Representative Vereta Lee.
Headline: Richer white people in Greater Baton Rouge seek to secede from poor Black neighbors – Huffington Post
Fact: After Hurricane Katrina more than 200,000 New Orleans residents – mainly Black – moved to the northern, urban parts of the city. The new city would be 70 % white, compared to Baton Rouge which is 55 % Black.
The Dec. 1 report also points out the significant income gap between the two populations, concluding that a new city of St. George would be one of the wealthiest in Louisiana:
Perhaps the most notable difference between the two cities is found in the household income characteristics. The proposed city has a mean household income $30,000 higher than the City of Baton Rouge. More than 60 % of the households in Baton Rouge have incomes below $50,000, while more than 60 % of the households in the new city have incomes above $50,000 … [M]ore than 14,000 households in the City of Baton Rouge receiv[e] SNAP benefits compared to fewer than 3,000 in the proposed new city. One quarter of the households in Baton Rouge receive some kind of Social Security income, while in the proposed city that ratio is one in ﬁve.
“If their only reason for incorporation is for the independent school district, this seems to be a drastic step in getting there by any means necessary. In my opinion, the incorporation would only serve to further racially divide the city/parish. Our city already has a great divide north of Florida Blvd. which will only be further exasperated by the incorporation of St. George. The impact will be negative for District 6 and the entire city/parish of Baton Rouge with a huge loss of our current tax base. There is still much to be learned on the negative impact this effort will have on public safety, the overall structure of city parish government and the overall continued economic growth of our city. This is one to be watched closely,” said Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins Lewis (District 6).
Headline: A Tale of Two Cities from the dailymail.co.uk (The United Kingdom)
Fact: Leaders of the St. George secession claim they are creating an ‘open city’ and deny it will have any negative impact.
Leaders of the St. George secession effort deny that racial segregation is the reason behind their plans. They claim the new city will be ‘wide open’ and downplay warnings of fiscal disaster for the rest of the city. But opponents note that city funds were used to develop the retail areas that would end up sucking in sales taxes from residents of the poorer part of the city.
“I am not in favor of any effort by any group that divides Baton Rouge or East Baton Rouge Parish. The effort to create a new city within the parish divides us on many levels. Rarely do we solve our problems through isolation. Divided we fall…we fail. I’ve worked and continue to work to bring people together to find common ground and solutions to improve the quality of life for everyone in the parish,” said Sharon Weston-Broome State Senator and President Pro Tempore, District 15.
Fact: Breakaway town would have higher income, lower unemployment, less people on benefits… and a white majority population.
Here is an estimated comparison of racial makeup between Baton Rouge and St. George, according to figures compiled by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, if the incorporation is successful.
Black: 55 %
White: 40 %
Asian: 3 %
Hispanic/Latino: 3 %
Average income: $58k
Unemployment rate: 9.2 per cent
Receive food stamps: 17 per cent
White: 70 %
Black: 23 %
Hispanic/Latino: 6 %
Asian: 4 %
Average income: $88k
Unemployment rate: 4.8 %
Receive food stamps: 7 %
“At the end of the day, this issue reminds me of “The Hunger Games” movie as it relates to a few people demanding power, money and control at the expense of the majority who happen to be less fortunate. This started being an education issue and has quickly evolved into a much more complicated set of issues that historically has not produced a good or a godly result. It is showing all of the ugly sides of humanity and what people are willing to destroy to get their way at the expense of everyone else,” said Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards (District 5)
Editors’s Note: All elected officials who represent The Drum newspaper’s readers in this area were invited to provide comment for this story. Those officials not included did not respond to email request for comment.