Lawmakers advance framework for St. George government over mayor-president’s objection

Updated: May. 26, 2020 at 4:42 PM CDT
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EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, La. (WAFB) - Lawmakers advanced Tuesday, May 26 the temporary governmental framework that would allow services to continue for St. George residents while the municipality transitions from an unincorporated area to a bona fide city.

Without the transitional taxing district, incorporated St. George would have no formal government structure and no way to collect sales taxes until residents call their own election to determine how their city should operate, a process that could take months.

“You wouldn’t have the money for the city to operate and you have 85,000 people there with no way to provide services,” said Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge.

The plan provides the city will run under a five-member board of directors, including the chairman and vice chairman of the incorporation effort. The East Baton Rouge mayor-president, the House representative from District 66, and the senator from District 6 will each appoint another member.

Sales tax collections would continue at a 2% rate until voters decide how to tax themselves. It would not be a tax increase or decrease, though the money would be collected by the transition district instead of the parish.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome opposes the plan, calling it “premature.” Her attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, noted her lawsuit contesting the incorporation may not be settled for years.

“I agree that, at some point in time, once they become a city, we’re going to have to transition a lot of things, but now is not the time to do it,” Pierson said. “Their city is not a city until the [state] Supreme Court says it’s a city.”

The plan would only take place if the St. George organizers win the lawsuit, prompting lawmakers to question why the mayor indicated it’d be inappropriate to set up the transitional district ahead of time.

“This doesn’t hurt y’all. It doesn’t hurt y’all’s efforts,” Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, told Broome. “There’s no harm anywhere by passing this. The only harm that can occur is to the residents of St. George, who voted to create the City of St. George, if we don’t pass this bill.”

“What’s wrong with them being prepared?” Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, asked. “They have an instrument here that wants to put them in a posture to where they can move as quickly as possible.”

Pierson acknowledged the bill would do “nothing” if it passed, except contribute to “optics” that St. George is already a city.

“It continues to promulgate the narrative that a City of St. George exists, because tools like this are used to say, ‘Look what we have here! We’re on our way,'" Broome said. “The issue is we’re not on our way, anywhere, until we hear from the judiciary.”

The Senate-approved bill advanced, 12 to 2, to the House floor for full debate.

Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed a similar plan in 2019 because lawmakers approved the idea before the St. George incorporation election took place.

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