BR annexation explored

An East Baton Rouge Parish Metro councilwoman has her eye on expanding the city limits of Baton Rouge to include more of the parish.

East Baton Rouge Parish is made up of four municipalities — Baton Rouge, Zachary, Baker and Central. Areas within the parish that are not contained within those city limits are considered unincorporated.

At a Metro Council meeting last week, Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle announced that she is working with the Parish Attorney’s Office to find out what is required to annex additional areas into the city limits.

Asked for details, Marcelle called it a work in progress, but said she’s interested in incorporating areas such as the Towne Center at Cedar Lodge shopping center and the Gardere area. In the Gardere area, Marcelle said she was not necessarily seeking to include the new L’auberge Casino.

“I think it’s really crazy that Towne Center is not in the city limits,” she said, noting that the shopping center is an island of unincorporated land surrounded by other property within the city limits.

Marcelle said areas outside of the city could provide a valuable benefit in the form of tax revenue for many city services. As a growing parish, it makes sense to extend the borders of the city limits, she said.

Marcelle also said expanding Baton Rouge city limits gives more parish residents a voice in city elections.

For example, she noted, only residents in the city limits of Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary were allowed to vote in last year’s tax election for the Capital Area Transit System.

Marcelle has also supported changing the Plan of Government to let Baton Rouge city voters elect their police chief, rather than letting the mayor-president appoint the chief. She said this measure would give more people a chance to have a voice if that election came to fruition.

Brian Mayers, council administrator, said previous annexations have always been initiated by a petition of the landowners.

The Baton Rouge Plan of Government provides that annexation of unincorporated areas into the city of Baton Rouge must be initiated by the landowners in the area.

But Joseph Scott, legislative section chief for the parish attorney, said state law provides a “variety of mechanisms for annexing property into a municipality, which include passing of an ordinance to annex property after petition by the land owners, or by election, called by the municipality or after petition of the landowners, depending on the circumstances.”

In the case of an election, only the people in the proposed area for annexation get to vote, Scott said.

Metro Councilman Ryan Heck, whose district encompasses Towne Center, said he does not support Marcelle’s proposal.

“But I am for addressing the issue and working towards getting them into the city,” Heck said. “Perhaps the millage rates can be adjusted for all to make it revenue neutral and everyone wins.”

He added, “We don’t need additional city revenue for the sake of revenue.”

Unincorporated areas are not subject to municipal taxes such as the CATS tax, a Baton Rouge city property tax and Baton Rouge police and fire property taxes, but they also don’t receive protections from the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Baton Rouge Fire Department.

The unincorporated areas are covered instead by the Sheriff’s Office and by other tax-assessing fire districts, such as the St. George Fire Protection District.

Towne Center officials did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment on the annexation issue.

Brian Wilson, parish assessor, said if Towne Center were annexed into Baton Rouge, it would generate $42,554 for the Baton Rouge city millages including police and fire and $34,381 for the CATS millage. The loss of revenue to the St. George Fire District would be $45,408, Wilson said, meaning the net property tax increase for the development would be $31,527.

One benefit Towne Center and other areas in the parish would receive if they were annexed is lower insurance costs. The Baton Rouge Fire Department has a top rating of 1, so Baton Rouge city residents enjoy lower rates.

Towne Center is technically covered by St. George Fire Department, but Heck said the shopping development has an agreement so that Baton Rouge Fire Department and city police can serve the area.

No other fire department in the parish has a 1 rating. St. George Fire District has a rating of 2.

Although Councilman John Delgado’s district is almost entirely within the city limits, he has isolated parcels of land that lie just outside the city limits, despite being entirely surrounded by property within the city limits. He said it would make sense to annex those pockets.

“For areas like that, it’s a no-brainer,” Delgado said. “There could be a conflict as to what policing unit goes there or routing of calls for EMS may be impacted.”

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, whose district includes Gardere, said he’s never heard a desire from any of his constituents to be included within the city limits of Baton Rouge and was opposed to annexing that area.

However, Loupe said, he increasingly gets calls from constituents who want to form their own separately incorporated municipality. He said his district does not have a public library or a public school, and would be more likely to support a fifth municipality which would encompass much of the St. George area in the southwest part of the parish.