Councilman supports St. George property annexation

A Baton Rouge Metro Councilman concerned the proposed city of St. George would result in higher taxes and diminished services, said he will sponsor an ordinance to annex into the city of Baton Rouge the property of anyone in unincorporated areas who requests it.

Only properties in the parish that are directly adjacent to the city of Baton Rouge are eligible for annexation under Metro Council ordinances.

Councilman John Delgado said Thursday he is convinced the new city would have to raise taxes to sustain government functions and services if efforts to incorporate St. George are successful,

“As it happened in Baker, Zachary and Central, property taxes and sales taxes will be increased,” Delgado said. “It’s the only way that the new city’s government will be able to perform the same services.”

But St. George leader Norman Browning said Delgado is making “poor assumptions without taking the time to do research.”

Browning said the city of Central did not raise taxes for government services.

However, Central, which has a population about a third of the size of the proposed St. George, does pay extra taxes for its school system.

Browning also said property owners within the city of Baton Rouge pay additional property taxes, such as the bus tax and additional franchise fees on utilities that do not apply to people living in unincorporated areas of the parish.

Delgado countered that leaders of St. George have never met with Baton Rouge officials to discuss finances and said they likely will encounter hidden, unexpected costs.

He said residents in the proposed city might be interested in protecting themselves from the uncertainty and unknown financial impacts of incorporation.

“St. George will have to create everything from scratch,” Delgado said. “To me there’s a huge risk there, so if for no other reason than to manage your risk it is worthwhile to property owners and individuals.”

Business owners, especially retailers, whose properties are adjacent to Baton Rouge, might be interested in annexation to ensure their customers eventually won’t be subjected to potentially higher sales taxes in St. George, Delgado said.

For example, he said, Matherne’s Supermarket on Bluebonnet Boulevard is eligible for annexation because it’s currently in the proposed boundaries of the city of St. George but abuts the city of Baton Rouge.

“One thing they may want to keep in mind is that if I have the option of shopping in that shopping center or going down the street to Albertsons where I’ll save a penny of sales taxes, then maybe I’ll go down the street,” Delgado said.

The sales tax in Baton Rouge and Zachary is 9 percent. Central and Baker both have 9.5 percent sales taxes after levying additional taxes to fund their school district and police and fire departments, respectively.

St. George officials have said they do not believe they would have to raise taxes, maintaining they could adequately fund government services on about $60 million in sales taxes generated by the area.

A financial impact study conducted by three LSU economists predicted St. George would peel away $53 million in sales taxes from the parish budget.

Delgado said individual homeowners in St. George might choose to petition for their property to be annexed if they have a child attending a Baton Rouge school they like.

“Your kid can’t go to Baton Rouge High School if St. George is created,” Delgado said. “They have to go to a St. George school.”

Property taxes vary across the parish because of school districts, municipal taxes and fire protection coverage.

Annexation would mean that property owners would have to start paying the 10.6-mill Capital Area Transit System property tax passed last year in the cities of Baton Rouge and Baker.

Delgado said the costs of being in the city-parish would even out, noting that Baton Rouge residents pay lower property insurance rates because they are served by the Baton Rouge Fire Department, which is the only Class 1 fire department in the parish.

Property owners whose property borders the city of Baton Rouge can be annexed through an ordinance with a majority vote of the Metro Council.

Delgado said all petitions asking to become part of the city of Baton Rouge that he receives by the end of the year will be placed on the Jan. 8 council meeting agenda.

After that, he said, petitions will be presented to the council for consideration on an ongoing basis.