Watson residents discuss incorporation

The people of Watson need to form a city in order to have a voice, proponents on incorporation told a gathering of almost 300 people Thursday night.

If the Watson area in Livingston Parish was included in a proposed loop around Baton Rouge, Watson residents wouldn’t have a voice because they aren’t incorporated, said Fran Bolen of Neighbors In Action, which called the meeting.

The area could be faced with other projects in which it would have no say if it doesn’t become a city, she said.

A group in Watson attempted to incorporate in 1999 and got enough signatures on the petition, but the vote failed, Bolen told the audience.

“Things have changed,” she said. “Attitudes have changed.”

In 1999, the area had 8,000 people, and now it has 22,000, she said, adding that the current population is expected to double by 2025.

“We have to all stand together and have a voice,” Bolen said.

Watson immediately would become a city of 22,000 people if 25 percent of voters sign a petition and then vote for incorporation, Bob Watts of the citizens group said.

The area the group is proposing to incorporate would be the same 35-square miles that encompass the Live Oak School District, he said.

“We want to get by with the smallest government we can,” Watts said, adding that the only legally required officials are a mayor, a police chief and five aldermen.

“We want just enough government to have somebody speak for us,” said Gene Baker, of the citizens’ group.

“Sales tax is maxed out” in the area, and the group doesn’t plan to seek a property tax, he said.

Baker said the group’s plan is to finance its government with utility company franchise fees that would produce about $686,000 a year.

The cost to an average family would be about $6.25 a month, and the estimated cost of salaries and operating expenses would be about $560,000 a year, he said.

Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard has promised to continue to provide law enforcement, Baker said.

He said that the citizen group wants to incorporate but also to maintain a “rural culture.’

The loop was first envisioned as a $4.5 billion, 85-mile roadway circling through East Baton Rouge, Livingston, West Baton Rouge, Iberville and Ascension parishes. It was touted as a means of reducing traffic on Interstates 10 and 12 in Baton Rouge as well as a spur to economic development in the capital region.

The project has run into opposition in some areas, but East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden has said the idea of a loop — or at least a northern bypass — is still alive. The project’s team has continued working on the environmental impact statement for the loop, which supporters envision would be built and operated under a public-private partnership arrangement.