On Sept. 5, The Advocate front-page story reporting on a meeting that we chaired claimed that “confusion abounds.” The reporter missed the real story of the meeting. In fact, civil discourse abounded. The crowd of over 150 residents gathered at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church were treated to a rare calm and reasoned conversation. At this gathering, proponents — along with people who were undecided or opposed to the new city — sat together and had a very civil and respectful conversation.
The values put forth by the proponents were considered in light of information provided by a study by professors James Richardson and Jared Llorens. The Richardson/Llorens study highlighted the revenues needed to sustain the proposed city and the expenditures that would be required. These findings were contrasted with estimates given by proponents. During the course of the discussions, the sustainability needs of the new city came into sharper focus. And the vague assertions of the proponents came into question.
For example, the city planners estimated annual expenditures would be $33.91 million. The study determined the estimate should be closer to $51.61 million. And based on similarly populated cities, the estimate is closer to $52.61 million. Based on a city of similar landmass, the estimate rises to $65.22 million.
The city planners estimated that revenue would be $58.39 million. However, East Baton Rouge Finance Department projections suggest $45.78 million is a more accurate estimate — a difference of $12.61 million. No matter how you look at it, St. George would be starting off in the hole.
In brief, revenue estimates were too high and expenditure estimates were too low.
To cover the shortfall, taxes for St. George residents would have to be raised and services would have to be deferred or eliminated. Then there is the question of public safety. The plan for hiring a city police force of one does not match cities of comparable sizes. Ramping up a more robust police force will, of course, require a drastic refiguring of the city budget. Where will these funds come from?
Asking for the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office to subsidize the new city’s police force is projected to cost over $30 million and would need to be negotiated. If the courts rule that the Sheriff's Office is not allowed to subsidize St. George for public safety, then St. George residents would have to foot the bill of over $30 million each year. The proposed city budget does not account for such a huge expenditure.
Again, St. George would be starting off in the hole. Inevitably, taxes would have to be raised or services reduced.
It is essential that each eligible voter continues to engage in civil discourse, makes decisions based on the most accurate information and then gets out and votes. Our finances, our security and our quality of life depend on it.
The Rev. LEE WESLEY
executive director, Spirit and Justice