The Baton Rouge Area Chamber board has voted to formally oppose the incorporation of the proposed city of St. George.
BRAC and East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome had previously gone over St. George’s budgets but expressed doubts about the organizers’ projections for revenues and expenses.
The Chamber also said St. George leaders have not explained how they will handle important issues like redirecting local students who attend parish schools and setting up financial arrangements with the city-parish and the Sheriff’s Office.
"BRAC evaluated the newly proposed city of St. George with an open mind, as the proposal is for a smaller area and differs somewhat from the previous effort," BRAC wrote in a news release Tuesday. "However, BRAC has determined that all of the concerns spurred by the original proposal remain in the 2018 version of St. George, and the BRAC Board of Directors determined that the proposed city’s negatives outweigh any positives."
Broome welcomed BRAC's "independent analysis," saying it confirms a number of her administration's concerns and highlights several others.
"In the absence of a robust financial analysis, it is premature for organizers to suggest that there will be no financial implications to the residents of the proposed city," Broome said in a prepared statement about BRAC's decision. "I will continue to provide data to ensure residents are able to make an informed decision."
St. George organizers did not return a request for comment.
The Chamber has previously questioned whether St. George’s numbers are reliable. However, in the explanation of its opposition, BRAC also tried to evoke the human cost, particularly to children, as St. George began years ago as an effort to form a new school district.
“There are currently almost 6,600 children who live in the boundary for the new city of St. George that attend EBR public schools. More than 1,300 students from the proposed city attend public magnet schools outside of the area, and 568 more are in gifted and talented schools. Some 357 students from the area attend Baton Rouge Magnet High School alone. There has been no plan presented to address the displacement of these students from their schools,” BRAC wrote.
The business group also warned that public services in Baton Rouge — the police, fire and public works departments — are all likely to see their budgets cut if the St. George incorporation effort succeeds.
BRAC said it views issues like the proposed incorporation of St. George in terms of their impact on economic development and the region’s and parish’s business climate.
During the first St. George incorporation effort, BRAC voiced concerns about the financial implications for East Baton Rouge Parish, the likelihood for tax increases in the proposed city and the area’s proposed school district.
BRAC said it does not believe St. George organizers are correctly estimating their new government’s costs and revenues. The St. George budget projects $53.4 million in sales tax revenue, but BRAC believes that number has been greatly inflated. Using city-parish finance data, it believes the new city would raise $20 million less than advertised.
Accounting for other sources of income, the city-parish has estimated that St. George’s total annual revenue would total $45.4 million. As St. George backers have pointed out, that still would mean they’d operate on a surplus, because they only project to spend $33.9 million each year. BRAC wrote that while it hasn't yet examined St. George’s expenditures, the discrepancy in the sales tax numbers gives it reason to suspect other numbers are wrong.
“This 37 percent (sales tax revenue) error calls into question the reliability of the budget plan prepared for the incorporation,” including whether its projected expenditure costs could be trusted BRAC wrote.