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Coming off a vote for the creation of the city of St. George, the owners of several office buildings and businesses are requesting to be annexed back into the city of Baton Rouge.

Supporters of the new city of St. George say the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council is wasting its time approving annexations because they will be voided if a judge approves St. George's incorporation.

The council has already begun approving requests from property owners who want out of St. George and into Baton Rouge. But St. George supporters say the council doesn't have authority to grant those requests.

They argue that, if a judge upholds the vote to create St. George, the courts will set the new city's incorporation date retroactively, as they did with Central 15 years ago. That would put the birth date of the new city at 30 days after the results of last year's election were published. So property owners would have to de-annex out of St. George before they could apply for annexation into Baton Rouge.

But annexation supporters argue the lawsuit Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and others filed against St. George organizers suspended the incorporation process until the courts make their final ruling. And that means everything within the proposed boundaries of the new city is fair game for the city's taking, as long as requests meet all the requirements for annexation.

That's the argument the Parish Attorney's Office made during a passionate debate at Metro Council's Jan. 8 meeting, when members unanimously approved the first batch of annexation requests. St. George supporters fiercely denounced that argument at the meeting.

"This litigation is designed to prolong the time period folks can apply for annexations," said Drew Murrell, an attorney and spokesman for the St. George movement. "It's all the same rich elite who are opposed to St. George trying to annex into Baton Rouge."  

The only thing both sides seem to agree on is how long they expect the lawsuit to move through the court system: between two to three years.

The lawsuit, filed against lead St. George organizers Chris Rials and Norman Browning, asks state District Court Judge William Morvant to deny the incorporation based on the negative financial impact the proposed city would have on the city-parish.

It also asserts St. George proponents intentionally diluted minority voting power within the proposed city when, after failing to get enough signatures during their first petition drive, they re-drew the boundaries and carved out nearly all the areas where large concentrations of minorities lived.

In the Oct. 12 election 17,422 people in southeast East Baton Rouge voted to create St. George — 54% of votes cast.

St. George opponents say there has been a groundswell of interest in annexing out of the new city and into Baton Rouge after the Oct. 12 election. If true, that could mean mean the boundaries of St. George would look much different than what voters approved.

And if enough commercial businesses hop inside the Baton Rouge city limits before the incorporation occurs, it would lower sales tax revenue St. George would receive.

Sales taxes are the primary funding source for the nearly $60 million spending plan for the proposed city. 

Murrell finds it odd that, in a city-parish that spends millions of dollars to study every little thing it does, officials haven't looked into how the projected wave of annexations would affect Baton Rouge — notably the police department's ability to patrol more areas.

"It would be nice for the Metro Council to do some homework ahead of time instead of approving these without seeing what ramifications they might have," Murrell said. "That's why I say this is all about them trying to show us they can chip away at our boundaries." 

Although there was overwhelming support for St. George's incorporation in the southeastern corner and middle precincts of the proposed city, many of the "no" votes were concentrated in areas on the outskirts of its boundaries. Those areas qualify for annexation into Baton Rouge because they share boundaries with the existing city limits. 

Portions of highly commercial retail corridors like Siegen Lane, Perkins Road and Bluebonnet Drive are included in these outlying areas where opposition was strongest.      

So far, there have only been three annexation requests filed with the city-parish.

The first two were approved by Metro Council Jan 8. They included several businesses located along United Plaza Boulevard off Essen Lane, none of which were included in St. George's sales tax projections.

A third annexation petition filed by an affiliate of Lipsey's, a wholesale firearm distributor, was set for a public hearing this week but does not appear on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting. 

M.E. Cormier, a leader with the anti-St. George group Better Together/Residents Against the Breakaway, has been helping residential subdivisions with their annexation petitions, which she says will get filed sometime this year. 

"We remain committed to helping this community stay better together, and we do that via annexations into the long-established and well-respected Baton Rouge city limits," said Cormier, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against St. George. 

Attorney Charles Landry, who has been involved in annexation efforts during both the first and second St. George votes, said it's impractical for proponents to think the city-parish is supposed to just stop doing business while St. George fights for creation. 

"The state Legislation is very clear that the incorporation is suspended in all respects until litigation is resolved," Landry said. "People are free in the interim to annex."

Landry said there's a practical reason why suspension occurs. The city-parish doesn't get into the weeds of trying to reimburse St. George for all the sales tax revenue it collects while the lawsuit plays out — and the proposed city of St. George, in turn, wouldn't have to go through the trouble of calculating what payments to the city-parish for the municipal services it used.

There is a 30-day window someone can appeal or legally challenge the recent annexations Metro Council approved. As of Friday, city-parish officials said no appeals were filed.  


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com