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File photo of a woman holding a St. George sign.

Voters in the southeastern portion of East Baton Rouge Parish are considering whether to create a new city of St. George. The final votes will be collected Saturday, after a one-week early voting period concluded last Saturday.

If successful, St. George would become the parish's fifth municipality, joining Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary and Central, and it would become one of the larger cities in the state. Below is some basic information regarding the history of St. George's movement, how the creation of a new city could affect East Baton Rouge Parish and which issues voters have identified in the run-up to Election Day.

Can you vote on the incorporation of St. George? CLICK HERE for a link to a personalized sample ballot. 

How the City of St. George movement began: 

The St. George effort began as a push for a new school district but grew into a movement to turn the unincorporated southeastern area of East Baton Rouge Parish into a new city, similar to what Central did more than a decade ago. The new City of St. George would have its own local government independent of East Baton Rouge.

From 2013 to 2015, St. George created a petition and set out to collect signatures from 25% of all registered voters in the proposed St. George area, or a total of 17,859 names, in order to have the incorporation of St. George called into the next election.

Following the creation of anti-St. George campaign "Better Together," a forgery scandal for St. George and multiple annexations away from the new city, the St. George effort fell 71 valid signatures short of going before voters. St. George was banned from trying again for 2 years.

St. George incorporation supporters completed work on another campaign in late 2018 that included a smaller area. The question was certified for this year's ballot with a total of 14,585 signatures accepted and certified (1,589 signatures over the minimum). John Bel Edwards approved the question for the Oct. 12 general primary ballot.

What would happen:

  • The new city would include about 86,000 residents.
  • The annual cost of incorporating and operating St. George is a matter of great debate. St. George organizers propose that the new city would spend $34 million per year, leading to a $14.4 million surplus. According to a report by LSU professors Jim Richardson and Jared Llorens, however, St. George would spend roughly $51 million annually, creating a $3.3 million deficit. 
  • The governor will select a new mayor for the City of St. George along with five new council members. Following the first term, St. George citizens will vote for the new mayor and city council.
  • Four preexisting public schools would become part of the City of St. George, including Woodlawn High School. For now, the schools would remain in the East Baton Rouge Parish School District. If subsequent votes (statewide and local) establish a new district, up to 4,000 students could be displaced.

"Fire protection will be provided by the St. George Fire Department, which is already funded by 14 mills on its residents’ property tax bill, and by the East Side Fire Department, which already collects 22.5 mills from its citizens. Police protection will be provided by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office, which is also already funded by property taxes that residents of the new city already pay."

Who would be in the City of St. George?

  • As of Sept. 23, 54,683 of the 86,000 residents in the proposed St. George area are registered voters and can vote on the incorporation.
  • Some people were previously within the boundaries of the City of St. George, but after lines were redrawn in March 2018, about 21,000 people were carved out of the new city plan.
    • St. George opponents say this was to cut out a predominantly African-American population of apartments and condominiums, as the black population in the proposed new community decreased from 20% to 12%.
    • Proponents say this was to cut out strong opponents of the incorporation and to respect their opinion.

What supporters say:

  • Many supporters are hopeful to send their children to better quality public schools, as St. George organizers hope to have a "future majority minority school district [that] will compete with Zachary & Central." Organizers cite the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School System's 58th ranking out of 70 statewide school districts as reference.
  • "We represent more than two-thirds of the parish's tax base, but only about one-third of its expenditures," says Chairpersons for the City of St. George incorporation Norman Browning and Chris Rials. They say there are 23 new taxes created in Baton Rouge since 2003 with the zero taxes created in Central since its incorporation in 2005, though many items labeled as taxes are fees and not imposed universally across the parish.
  • St. George hopes to increase East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office's surveillance within the city.

What opponents say:

  • It creates legal lines of segregation between Baton Rouge and a predominantly white St. George, as African-American populations in the City of St. George have dwindled down to 12% as lines are redrawn.
  • Opponents say adding more government jobs funded by taxpayers, including a mayor, board of alderman or city council, a town clerk and chief of police, is unnecessary and wasteful of taxpayer resources.
  • They also fear the lack of specifics in certain parts of St. George's plan, like transitioning procedures for transportation, elected officials, etc. and restructuring their budgeting and spending. 

Elections 2019:

Click below to view The Advocate's position on the incorporation of the City of St. George.

Email Lara Nicholson at LNicholson@theadvocate.com.