EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, La. (WAFB) - There are more questions than answers when it comes to the future of St. George, but officials on either side of the newly drawn lines say all the answers will come in time.
Voters approved the incorporation of St. George during an Oct. 12 election. The approved measure is currently undergoing a certification process with a completion date of Nov. 20, 2020.
St. George will be the fifth-largest city in the state and the largest incorporation in the state’s history.
During a press conference Monday, Oct. 14, St. George spokesperson, Andrew Murrell, said the area will start its transition into “building our city.”
By Jan. 1, 2020, St. George organizers expect to have their interim mayor, city council, and city government. The future city will elect its first mayor the following spring.
In the coming weeks, organizers say they will meet with area leaders, including East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, to begin to establish citizen committees.
Mayor Broome released a statement Monday morning stating she received many concerns following the election about the city’s future.
“At this point, I want to reassure you that nothing will change in the immediate future," Broome said. "We will meet with advisers this week followed by a formal announcement of our plans. I will keep you informed as the process unfolds and how you can play a role in keeping our community united. Guard your hearts and minds against negative and misinformed narratives about this issue. We will address our future together and I will always have your best interests in mind.”
The chief administrative officer with Broome’s office, Darryl Gissel, also spoke Monday about how the St. George incorporation will affect Baton Rouge’s budget.
“Financially, there is going to have to be a change in the overall budget. The existing budget will go to the council on November 5, which will be the same budget we prepared. The council has until December 12 to approve it. And after that, if they have any changes during the year, they would take place during the year, any budget changes,” said Gissel.
Gissel also noted Baton Rouge will be losing about $43 million from its general fund, which is funded by a 2% sales tax. The general fund has about $322 million in it, Gissel said, with an overall budget of about $1 billion, which includes dedicated revenue for things like BREC, the city’s libraries, the sheriff’s office, etc.
Governor John Bel Edwards’ office also released a statement about the St. George incorporation:
"As he does with all of his appointments, the Governor will give thoughtful consideration to potential appointments for key positions in St. George as well as work with stakeholders. Our office will sit down and meet with the St. George organizers as soon as possible to discuss the next steps.
Here are the relevant sections of La R.S. 33:3 concerning the timeline: If a majority of electors voting in the special election vote for incorporation, a chairperson for the petition shall publish the results of the election once in the official journal of the parish in which the area is located… The notice of the results of the election shall also state the name of the municipality, that the municipality will be legally incorporated thirty days from the date of the publication unless a legal action contesting the incorporation is filed within the thirty-day period, and that notice of such action must be served on the chairperson within the thirty-day period. If a chairperson has not received notice within the prescribed period, the area proposed to be incorporated shall become a municipal corporation at the expiration of the prescribed period and shall have the municipal name set forth in the petition.
Here is the link to La R. S. 33:3: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Law.aspx?p=y&d=90107″
Murrell also announced that anyone interested in annexing into St. George will soon have that option.
“In the coming week or two, we will be posting information in a concise manner so your neighborhoods and your businesses begin the process of annexation,” said Murrell. “We have received overwhelming responses inquiring about the annexation process and we will post that information and it will be available.”
“If [residents] want to be apart of Baton Rouge, then we encourage them by all means [to] apply for annexation for Baton Rouge. And you have the option to apply for annexation for St. George, and you have an option to remain in those areas unincorporated,” said Murrell.
However, if there is litigation, it could delay the incorporation process. Murrel called the potential litigation “frivolous.”
“We feel like litigation will further that divide and further fracture our community as opposed to coming to the table, sitting down together, and realizing our common goals, and coming up with solutions to become a 21st Century City of St. George at a 21st Century East Baton Rouge Parish,” Murrell said.
As for services for the new city, there could be more answers in the coming weeks.
“[St. George organizers] would want the City-Parish to provide certain services if they like them. Otherwise, they would contract out for those services,” said Gissel.
There will be negotiation on taking over certain roadways. Drainage will also be the same. Part of that’s going to stay with the parish, and part of that’s going to be transferred to St. George. Animal control will still be parish-wide. Garbage is subject to a contract, so it will remain parish-wide.