Jim Richardson, Jared Llorens at Press Club

LSU Economist Jim Richardson and Public Administration Institute Director Jared Llorens speak July 9, 2018 to the Baton Rouge Press Club about the proposed city of St. George.

A motto for the new city of St. George, should it come into being, would be appropriate from a historian of Britain's Conservative Party, the late Lord Blake: "It is the tendency of government expenditures to increase."

Boy, do they ever.

And sticker shock for St. George residents might well be worse if the organizers of the petition drive lowball their estimates for how much the new "city" would cost to run.

With some time for the petition drive to collect enough signatures for a secession vote in the southeastern part of the parish, the discussion about the financial realities of St. George is fully on.

The organizers have one number, for current taxes collected and services now being delivered in the parish, but the Baton Rouge Area Chamber had a different, higher, number for the costs of services.

Two LSU professors were commissioned by a group called One Baton Rouge to do their own estimate, based on actual tax collections in the sprawling set of subdivisions and shopping centers within the petition drive's target area.

Professors Jim Richardson and Jared Llorens, directors of the Public Administration Institution at LSU's Ourso College of Business, based their income number on some estimates of smaller revenue sources, but most of their findings are based on actual tax collections verified by the city-parish Finance Department.

At best, the professors said that their estimate of nearly $46 million in (mostly) sales taxes in the St. George district would be short of current services' costs by at least several million dollars a year. The St. George estimate was more than $58 million in current tax collections.

The gap doesn't count the continuing tax burden on homeowners to pay for parishwide services like sheriff's deputies, libraries and the already existing St. George fire department. But it would include an estimated $8 million to $9 million a year for more than a decade to pay the long-term debt in the city-parish's retirement system. St. George organizers also want to pay the sheriff's office an extra $4 million a year for police protection.

The professors' report was delivered to the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday.

"Those are discrepancies we have to be concerned about," Richardson said of the gap between revenues and costs.

While it may be difficult to compare cities in other states, similarly sized cities in Louisiana and in other states pay more for services than the St. George projections anticipate, Llorens said.

One critical difference: property taxes. Those are much more heavily levied in other states than in Louisiana cities.

Still, one of the goals of the St. George movement is a suburban school system. That was beyond the scope of the professors' study, but it is hardly gambling at the public finance casino to expect that significant new revenues, probably from property taxes, would be required to pay for a separated school system. Sales taxes are probably a hard sell given the existing state and local burdens at the cash register, so the realistic alternative is new, probably multiple, property tax millages.

Sooner rather than later, St. George residents might want to ponder Lord Blake's dictum.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.