Baton Rouge just got bigger.
The Metro Council agreed Wednesday to annex more land into the city, in defiance of St. George firefighters worried about losing property taxes. The land that just joined the city is in and around Siegen Lane Marketplace and within the limits of the once-proposed city of St. George.
However, the fire district in the southeast portion of the parish may continue to collect property taxes in the annexed area, city-parish staff said.
During the Metro Council meeting, politicians grilled their legal staff over the tax issue raised by the fire department last week.
As Baton Rouge considers expanding its city limits to envelop more businesses in the southea…
City-parish attorney Ashley Beck told the Metro Council that the suburban fire department that covers the area may continue to collect their property tax millage. Furthermore, she and the parish's finance director said that while firefighters have complained they've lost revenue due to the previous annexations of areas including L'Auberge Casino and the Mall of Louisiana, they should have access to those funds. The parish attorney's office, tax assessor, and fire department need to convene to ensure money is going to the correct place, they said.
Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso, who has opposed piecemeal annexations, asked whether the council could call for an election to just welcome everyone in the southeast portion of the parish into the city limits.
That is within their right, legal staff said. That's not currently part of Mayor Sharon Weston-Broome's plan, but it isn't out of the question either, said Jim Llorens, the administration's acting chief administrative officer.
"The mayor's open to discussions," he said.
While lawyers and politicians sought to address firefighters' concerns Wednesday, there are other public safety considerations. Namely, as the city incorporates more and more land, the police department remains understaffed. BRPD is several dozen officers short of its allotment, Chief Carl Dabadie told the council.
"We are stretched thin right now," the chief said.
Some council members sought to postpone a vote on the annexation to give time to address the various public safety concerns.
"All the questions aren't answered," said Dwight Hudson, who represents the area.
As Baton Rouge expands, police officers will be pulled into the new parts of the city, drawing them away from other council districts, Hudson warned his colleagues. And if the city-parish ignores the public safety concerns of the people of St. George, it will only stoke their desire to form a new city, he said.
Other council members, however, worried that a delay on the vote might give St. George organizers a chance to petition to create a new city, which would prevent Baton Rouge from incorporating land within the proposed new city.
"It's time to vote. … Let's just do this and get it over with," councilwoman Chauna Banks said.
Ultimately, the council accepted the incorporation, with Amoroso, Hudson, Trae Welch and Scott Wilson voting against the measure.
Even opponents said they did not oppose the rights of individual property owners to seek incorporation; they just wanted to make sure that every contingency was taken into account.
Councilman Chandler Loupe originally proposed postponing a roll call until August but decided against it after Beck, the lawyer, told him firefighters wouldn't be impacted by the incorporation.
"I'm ready to go tonight, chief," Loupe warned the head of the St. George Fire Department before casting his vote for incorporation.