Voters in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish decided Saturday to create the city of St. George, with 54% of the voters within the St. George boundaries agreeing to the incorporation.
Saturday's win means East Baton Rouge Parish is on the verge of having five municipalities, with St. George to become one of the biggest cities in the state, boasting a population of more than 86,000 people.
Supporters of the incorporation effort were gathered Saturday night at City Café. The private room they rented for the night exploded with applause and cheers as the election was being called. One woman screaming loudly, “Welcome to the City of St. George!”
Drew Murrell, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George campaign, looked at Saturday’s win as validation of their promise to create a “better city” that will ultimately improve the parish as well.
“We’re going to try new things and keep our tax dollars at home,” Murrell said shortly after the results were announced. “We promised better government and more local control, and now we’re going to deliver it.”
Murrell also said they look forward to working with the city-parish on the transition.
Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome in a prepared statement called the incorporation election a “significant statement” about the future of the parish.
“I will continue to represent everyone is East Baton Rouge Parish as the mayor-president,” she said. “Whether it be issues like drainage, or transportation or our economy, we will have the highest level of success the more we stay united."
In a statement from the leader of Better Together/Residents Against the Breakaway, the opposition group said it will respect Saturday’s decision from voters and is hopeful the new city’s leaders will be open to working with the city-parish.
“Now it will be time for the city of St. George to produce a plan to operate and a budget to fulfill,” M.E. Cormier said in a prepared statement Saturday night. “The St. George organizers have very big promises to fulfill.”
Voters' support was predicted by one local pollster who saw the dramatic spike in early voting within the St. George area as a sign it would likely pass.
The election is the culmination of a six-year effort by proponents who were challenged by state legislators to create the city of St. George first in order to gain their support for also creating a breakaway school district, which the St. George movement has been rooted in.
Once the polls close in Louisiana on Saturday night, results will begin to come in for statewide and Baton Rouge-area races in one of the busi…
Creating that school system is an entirely different process that St. George organizers have said would take another two to three years before they would start pursuing.
Proponents have been trying since 2013 to jump that first hurdle, failing in their first attempt to incorporate by coming up 71 signatures short of the number required to put the item on the ballot after a two-year petition drive.
They returned in 2018 with a more concentrated effort that carved out a smaller chunk of southeast East Baton Rouge Parish, leaving out a large portion of black residents from the earlier effort, and successfully collecting well over 1,500 more signatures than the 12,951 that were required to get the governor to call an election on the new proposal.
St. George proponents have spent the past year building the narrative around their pursuit of becoming a city by berating Broome and her administration. The organizers asserted St. George would offer better government and improved municipal services, all through public-private partnerships that would result in annual budget surpluses.
Broome had significant backing in her quest to block the measure, drawing support from grassroots opposition groups, conservative-leaning political action committees, prominent business leaders as well as well-respected coaches from LSU and Southern University.
A lot of the details regarding how, and if, St. George organizers can effectively run the new city on the projected $48 million to $58 million in sales tax revenue collected annually in the area will remain unclear until after the city's inaugural leaders sit down with city-parish officials to iron out specifics.
The governor is tasked with appointing a mayor and five-member city council for St. George, but state law doesn't stipulate when that has to happen.
However, there will be a 30-day window from the time the election results have been certified and published before the incorporation legally takes effect — barring any legal challenges contesting the election.
City-parish officials as well as opposition groups have previously stated they're prepared to challenge the incorporation on multiple fronts.
The city-parish released a report in May claiming the loss of more than $40 million in sales tax revenue from its general fund would likely result in across-the-board cuts of at least 18% from departmental budgets and possibly lead to tax increases for the rest of the parish.
“It is truly unfortunate that only a portion of our community was able to participate in a decision that will ultimately affect everyone,” Broome wrote in her statement. “The most important thing is, we are still neighbors who will continue to work and live among each other.”
Broome said the parish will continue being a diverse and inclusive community that will grow and prosper.
As Saturday’s victory party wound down, supporters shouted, “Let the people vote, and they did!”
Murrell said, “When we create a better St. George, we’re creating a better parish.”