St. George Q&A: Understanding  What’s Proposed

St. George Q&A: Understanding What’s Proposed

Based on interviews with Norman Browning and other leaders of the movement to incorporate the City of St. George, here are answers to some of the questions people are asking about St. George:

Q. Why incorporate the City of St. George?

A. First, it will assist the people of our area to start an independent school district.  Second, it will allow people in St. George to have greater control of their tax dollars and get far more for our money.

Q. How does this get us a school district?

A. Many legislators have told us they won’t support a constitutional amendment for a new school district unless we first incorporate as others have done.  Further, a careful reading of Louisiana Constitution Art. VIII, Section 13 makes it clear that cities themselves have the power to fund and operate their own school systems, without legislative approval.  Such systems are entitled to levy the same ad valorem taxes as other school systems and receive their share of the MFP funds.

Q. Will our taxes go up if we incorporate?

A. No, there is no reason for taxes to go up.  The existing taxes and fees will simply be transferred to the City of St. George or the new school district.  Large surpluses are projected.  So there is no thought of raising taxes.  The only way they would go up is if the voters of St. George voted to raise them.

The City of Central has not raised taxes in its nine years of existance, and it levies no property taxes at all.

The Central Community School System faced a situation where it inherited schools from East Baton Rouge which were filled with asbestos and some buildings had actually been condemned for more than 20 years.  So it had to build new schools.  Because the tax base in Central was so small, they had to go to voters and ask for a property tax increase.  The school board proposed a $100 million bond issue but the voters rejected it.  Then they proposed a $55 million bond and tax election to build a new school complex and make Life Safety Code improvements.  The voters approved this second proposal.

St. George will definitely need to build new school buildings.  However, the tax base in St. George is far greater than in Central, and it will be possible to build new schools from existing tax revenues without a tax increase.

Q. How many signatures do you have now and how many more do you need?

A. The Registrar of Voters says we need a little over 17,000 valid signatures to get the proposition to incorporate St. George on the ballot.  Right now, we have a little less than 18,000.  However, we feel it is prudent to gather 1,500 to 2,000 extra signatures, in order to make up for signatures that may be thrown out because of mistakes or duplication.  We want to give ourselves at least a 10 percent margin of error.

Q. If you don’t have enough school buildings, how will you hold school prior to the new schools being built?

A. We anticipate needing one new high school, one new middle school, and one or two new elementary schools.  It would take a year or two to build them. In the meanwhile, we will use T-buildings and leased space.  What Central did was rent a private school that had closed, Starkey Academy, and bring in T-buildings to the existing schools.  That worked out well.

Q. What will be the boundaries of the new St. George school system?

A. The legislature has already passed into law the Southeast Community School System.  The boundaries of that proposed system are I-10, I-12, the Amite River and Bayou Manchac.  Because that is already in the statutes, it can be amended by a simple majority vote.  We would like to extend the boundaries to all of St. George.  So the school district would include all of the City of St. George plus a small area of Baton Rouge that is in the Southeast Community School District.

Q. How many students do you anticipate for the new school system?

A. We believe the numbers will start around 10,000 students and grow from there.  Every year, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is seeing its enrollment drop.  We think that will continue.  Also, we anticipate people who moved to Livingston and Ascension because of the schools will begin to come back to EBR and settle in St. George.

Q. How were the boundaries of St. George decided?

A. We used the existing boundaries of the St. George Fire Protection District and the Eastside Fire Protection District.  But we eliminated areas that were landlocked such as Towne Center.

Q. Why did you use the name St. George?  What’s the significance of that?

A. People mistakenly think it was named after the St. George Fire Protection District but it wasn’t.  The name St. George was chosen for its historic significance.  When this was Spanish West Florida, the first church established was St. Joseph’s.  The second church was St. George’s.  St. Joseph’s parish was the downtown area.  St. George’s parish was the entire remainder of the civil parish.  For many decades in the 1800’s, the area in the proposed City of St. George was  known as St. George.  Using the name “City of St. George” is simply a return to the area’s historic name.

Q. Why are you considering privatization?

A. We would like the Sheriff to continue to provide law enforcement in the area and the two fire districts to continue to provide fire protection services. We would not need a police department or a fire department. Why duplicate services?  The new city would primarily be responsible for operating the Department of Public Works and Planning & Zoning.  These functions can readily be contracted out.  There is no reason to hire a lot of workers when the same services can be provided for less money and without incurring long-term obligations for retirement benefits.

Q. Together Baton Rouge says you are breaking away.  Why are you breaking away?

A. St. George is and will continue to be a vital part of East Baton Rouge Parish.  It’s not breaking away.  But it won’t be part of failed institutions.

Q. Why do you want to leave the East Baton Rouge school system?  Why don’t you get involved and make it better?

A. Implicit in that question is the idea that we haven’t been involved in trying to turn the East Baton Rouge public schools around.  But many of us have — some for decades.  It’s a failed institution.  We see what has been accomplished by Zachary and Central and we want that for our children and grandchildren.

Q. What’s your end game?  Where do you want St. George to be five or 10 years from now?

A. We want to have a top-rated school system, if not the top-rated school system in the state.  It will be a school system where anyone would be proud to send their children.  When you have a good school system, everything gets better — crime, property values, and the economy.

We want to have our own city, where the life of the average citizen is improved.  He will have a greater say in how the city operates.  His tax dollars will stay close to home and be carefully scrutinized.  It will be more convenient because permitting and all government activities will be closer to home.

We have included funds in the proposed budget to provide a supplement to the Sheriff’s office.  This should help him increase patrols in the St. George area and further reduce crime.

With low crime and good schools, people will move back to St. George and that will benefit the entire parish.  Property values will be climbing.  Business will be improving.  And life will be better.

Just as Zachary and Central have improved this parish, St. George will do so but on a much larger scale.

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