The proposed city of St. George sustained another hit Wednesday, when LSU submitted a request to annex its south campus properties into Baton Rouge city limits.
The petition was submitted less than 24 hours after L’Auberge Casino and Hotel, a high-profile revenue generator in the parish, also made known its intentions to join Baton Rouge.
Annexing properties is a tool the city of Baton Rouge has been employing to chip away at both the revenue streams and footprint of the proposed city of St. George, which if successful in its incorporation could divert millions of tax dollars from Baton Rouge coffers into the St. George municipal budget.
LSU’s main campus is in the city of Baton Rouge. The most recent annexation proposal — signed off on by LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander — covers 2,400 acres of mostly farmland that includes the Ben Hur Research Station and the LSU Carrol L. Herring Fire & Emergency Training Institute. The parcel is located in the southern-most part of the parish, west of Nicholson Drive and stretching south to the Mississippi River. The land is adjacent to the parcels of land that include the L’Auberge casino annexation.
“LSU and the city of Baton Rouge have a mutually beneficial relationship,” Alexander said in a prepared statement. “We prefer to remain part of this city, where we have been since 1869. We find no justification to merit having our land divided between two jurisdictions, and have concerns that such divisions could adversely impact services critical to our students.”
He declined comment about his position on the proposed city of St. George.
St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey said Baton Rouge officials are trying to wage a public perception war. He noted that LSU has no financial value to the city of Baton Rouge, because the campus doesn’t generate tax revenue, so the annexation is just another indication that Baton Rouge officials are trying to undercut the St. George effort.
“If they’re celebrating this as a win and that the city of St. George is dead, they have gravely underestimated the resolve of the people who live out here,” he said.
Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who is assisting city officials on annexation issues, said the annexation is significant because LSU is a vital and highly recognizable Baton Rouge institution.
“Whether they pay taxes or not is irrelevant, because they provide a lot of indirect revenues,” Pierson said. “So for us it was very symbolic and very important that they be in the city of Baton Rouge.”
The petition follows the annexation request submitted Tuesday by L’Auberge Casino and Hotel, which will secure for the city of Baton Rouge about $7 million that St. George organizers had built into their budget.
Both the LSU and casino annexations are subject to approval by the Metro Council in a vote expected later this month.
Rainey said while he supports property owners’ rights to annex, he questions whether Baton Rouge officials are too aggressively expanding the size of the city at the expense of public safety.
“Can city police effectively extend law enforcement now to the casino and to the additional land to River Road that’s been annexed?” Rainey said. “Does the fire department have the capability of responding to large-scale events at the casino?”
The Baton Rouge Police Department and Fire Department have jurisdiction over areas in the city of Baton Rouge. The areas being proposed for annexation are in an unincorporated part of the parish and are covered by the Sheriff’s Department and the St. George Fire Department.
Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, whose district includes the proposed annexations, said he supports the property owners’ right to join the city of Baton Rouge because that’s their choice.
But he said Baton Rouge Fire Department is not equipped to serve the casino.
“They don’t have a ladder truck to handle the hotel,” he said. “The response time from the closest fire station to L’Auberge would take 10 minutes.”
He said the mayor’s office has the responsibility to fund and staff the police and fire departments to meet the growing needs.
“I just hope they wouldn’t put public safety in front of an economic issue,” Loupe said.
William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden, said much of the annexed land is vacant. But he said there will likely be a new police academy next year to help support some of the additional coverage areas.
There is a sheriff’s substation near the casino that provides law enforcement protection to the casino.
“We realize there is a much larger tract of land available nearby and the chief is examining that for the additional manpower he may need,” Daniel said. “That land is prime for future development which could generate future tax revenues, which would in turn support more police for that area.”
This past year the city of Baton Rouge also annexed portions of the Mall of Louisiana, Celtic Studios, Costco, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and a handful of vacant parcels of land in the southwest part of the parish.
Pierson said Siegen Lane Marketplace is another site the city hopes to secure.
Advocate staff writer Andrea Gallo contributed to this report. Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/.