Backers of new city for EBR downplay taxes as issue

A leader of a budding effort to incorporate a fifth city in East Baton Rouge Parish said he feels strongly that a new city will not require tax hikes, and could potentially have lower taxes than the rest of the parish.

But he said preliminary budget estimates hinge on the city-parish remitting the 2 percent sales tax it receives back to the new city — as it does in Central, Baker and Zachary.

“The question everyone is asking is ‘Are you going to raise my taxes?’” said Norman Browning, leader of Local Schools for Local Children, an effort to create a separate school district in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish. The effort failed in the Louisiana Legislature two years in a row, and this month has morphed into a conversation about incorporating a new city.

“Right now, looking at the numbers, I see no reason to raise taxes,” Browning said.

He said he believes the tax base of the more than 100,000 residents in the unincorporated areas of the southern part of the parish could adequately sustain a healthy city budget.

But city-parish officials say it’s a complicated issue and that there’s no guarantee that a new city would receive its sales taxes.

Joseph Scott, an assistant parish attorney, said that issue is still being researched.

“The two-cent sales tax is tied to bonded debt of the parish as a whole,” Scott said in an email Tuesday. “The issues and variables have changed regarding collection of these taxes since the incorporation of Central, Baker and Zachary, and will have to be evaluated on their own merits as the operative facts are made clear.”

Browning spoke emphatically about Southeast Baton Rouge’s right to better schools at a meeting Tuesday of the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish.

He said supporters initially hoped to form the school district without incorporating. But he said it became apparent the district was being politicized.

“It wasn’t up to us. It was up to the legislators with no horse in the race,” he said. “It’s time for us to take control.”

The process for incorporation requires a petition of 25 percent of registered voters in the proposed boundaries.

The boundaries have yet to be set, but Browning has suggested the St. George Fire Protection District and the East Side Fire Protection District, which encompass more than 100,000 residents.

The petition would require the signatures of about 18,000 registered voters.

“If I could get (18,000) signatures, the state capital can’t touch it,” Browning said.

Browning said supporters are hosting another information session at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Bluebonnet Branch Library to gauge interest and answer questions about possible incorporation.

East Baton Rouge Parish is a consolidated government, where Holden serves as both the parish president and mayor of Baton Rouge. The members of Metro Council represent parish districts.

There are four municipalities within the parish: the cities of Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary and Central. Each municipality has its own mayor, city council and school system. Central was incorporated in 2005, and like the southeast part of the parish, was seeking a path to create a new school system.