Efforts to block the movement to create a new city of St. George ramped up Monday night as leaders of the opposition hosted a town hall meeting to disseminate what they call more fact-based analyses of how the proposed city would negatively impact East Baton Rouge Parish and the city of Baton Rouge.
Taking some credit for helping stop the effort from moving forward more than two years ago, the leader behind Better Together/Residents Against the Breakaway said the organization is prepared to take the same measures that were successful last time, which included making withdrawal forms available to anyone who wants to remove their name from the petition seeking to place the St. George breakaway on the ballot.
"The main difference this time, of course, is the time clock. We're in a hurry up and wait phase," M.E. Cormier said in an interview after the meeting. "We're in the last 60 days of the outstanding petition and we wanted to do everything we possibly can to disseminate as much information to the public as possible."
The opponents of the St. George drive spoke about how much property taxes would increase if the proposed city becomes a reality.
"… it would 100 percent result in a tax increase for both sides of this imaginary line — a significant tax increase," Cormier said.
She told the crowd of a few dozen people that residents within the proposed St. George city limits would also face major cuts to public services like police and fire protection, the proposed city would displace 3,800 students from their current schools and create immediate school capacity issues in portions of the southeast part of the parish.
A motto for the new city of St. George, should it come into being, would be appropriate from a historian of Britain's Conservative Party, the …
Monday meeting was the first public gathering the opposition has hosted since the resurgence of the effort to create the proposed city in the parish's southeast region.
Outside the Jones Creek Branch Library where the meeting was being held, St. George proponents were waving signs in their effort to draw more signatures on their petition to create the new city. Those proponents declined to talk to The Advocate, instead saying only the official spokesman should be quoted.
Andrew Murell, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George proponents, could not be reached late Monday night for comment.
Cormier's group came out hard in 2015 against the St. George campaign, which fell 71 signatures short of the number necessary to place the issue before voters.
St. George organizers said in June they had collected more than 10,000 signatures on the new petition, of about 13,000 needed. Monday night, Cormier projected that more than 12,500 signatures have been collected.
The petition needs valid signatures from 25 percent of the registered voters within St. George's proposed boundary. East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters Steve Raborn said previously the number needed will be determined when the petition drive concludes Nov. 27.
The area that would be the city of St. George had 51,804 active registered voters when the petition drive began.
This time around, Cormier's group is collaborating with the new One Baton Rouge nonprofit, spearheaded by political consultant Michael Beychok, who helped run parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's mayoral campaign.
This summer, the St. George creation effort released a proposed budget saying the city would spend $34 million a year and have a surplus of $24 million, based on annual tax revenue of $58 million.
Those figures were disputed by two LSU professors who said in July the organizers overestimated revenues and underestimated expenses, which would result in a deficit for the proposed city. They claimed St. George would receive only $45.8 million a year in revenue from taxes and spend around $51 million annually on expenditures associated with the daily operations of the new city.
Targeted ads are popping up on Instagram feeds. Yard signs are spicing up lawns. Accountants and academics are volleying reports back and forth.
Cormier stressed the only way the projected deficit could be elevated is through increased taxes for those living in the imaginary lines of St. George.
As they did last time, Cormier's group is circulating withdrawal forms and using social media to get their arguments heard.
The St. George proponents "are paying canvassers to go out and collect signatures," she said. "The amount of money they're spending is significant."
The opposition has spent money as well. One Baton Rouge paid $17,500 for the study from the LSU professors. According to previous reports that money came from private donors.