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File photo of Mayor Sharon Weston Broome advocating against St. George.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome presented a $1 billion budget to the Metro Council on Tuesday, accounting for road projects and a mental health program voters approved last December but not addressing potential revenue losses East Baton Rouge could see if St. George is incorporated as a new city in the parish's southeastern corner.

Broome didn't outline a formal contingency plan for the Council but said one is ready to address St. George's creation, should it occur. Councilman Dwight Hudson, whose district largely encompasses the proposed city, has asked to see them so city-parish leaders can have conversations about possible budget cuts that might be needed if a legal battle over the incorporation is settled in St. George's favor.

"Everyone expects the litigation to go on for years, but there’s really no guarantee for that," Hudson said in a interview Tuesday after a special meeting of the Metro Council. "I don’t need to see them as apart of this budget because we don’t know when exactly the incorporation date will be. But I want to know what they are in advance and I want to have some conversations about them."

Broome presented her proposed spending plan a day after she, along with two private citizens, filed a lawsuit challenging the incorporation of St. George, which voters within the proposed city approved during last month's primary election.

If St. George ultimately is created, it would have 86,000 residents across currently unincorporated areas of southeastern East Baton Rouge Parish. Broome and other plaintiffs issued a statement Monday saying the incorporation will have a "significant adverse impact" on the other 364,000 residents in the parish.

Since 2014, the city-parish and several opposition groups had tried to stop the incorporation from even reaching vote. The city-parish grounded its opposition to the incorporation effort on financial studies that forecast St. George would yank somewhere between $48 million to $60 million in sales tax revenue from the city-parish's general fund. 

Broome's administration has said such a large reduction in revenue would lead to across-the-board cuts of at least 18% from the departmental budgets.

Convinced her legal challenge against St. George will likely take years, Broome saw no need to incorporate adjustments to the 2020 proposed budget, she said. 

"Should the proposed city of St. George become a reality we will make necessary adjustments to our budget then," she said in an interview following Tuesday's meeting. "The mayor has the ability to make cuts at any time."

"We will be prepared if that is necessary," she added.  

Hudson said he expects the administration to send him the draft of those budget adjustments before the Metro Council starts holding budget hearings next week. 

Those hearings will prelude the council's vote on Broome's budget proposal during a special meeting to take place Dec. 10. 

The budget is 8.45% larger than the current year's, or $78.2 million. The jump is largely attributed to the rollout of Broome's voter-approved $1 billion MovEBR roads improvement plan and the operation of the Bridge Center for Hope, the city-parish's mental health and substance abuse center set to open early next year.

In her budget message to the council, Broome touted public safety, drainage, transportation, economic development, efficient service delivery and quality of life for all city-parish residents as the continued focus of her administration. 

Spending was allocated for training academies for both the police and fire departments and equipment upgrades for crime prevention, the comprehensive study of the city-parish drainage systems and flood control projects and a slew of infrastructure improvements designed to ease daily traffic gridlocks.

Broome also highlighted a $4.8 million spending reduction in the city-parish's $317.8 million general fund next year, which she attributed to the attrition of approximately 150 allotted positions and the implementation of cost-cutting measures that were recommended to Broome's office in a independent efficiency study earlier this year. 

The city-parish's public safety agencies were excluded from those reductions.

Other highlights from the general fund: 

  • A 1% growth rate, or $903,540, in sales tax revenue in 2020 compared to projected collections in 2019,
  • An estimated property tax growth of about $553,860,
  • A $500,000 bump in revenue from additional on-street parking,
  • Revenue from gross receipts taxes expected to be down 4.17%, leading to a revenue reduction of $974,860,
  • A projected $1.1 million, or 12.45%, reduction in gaming revenues.

Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com