Petition Could Begin for Southeast Baton Rouge
New City for EBR
SOUTHEAST — After one win and one loss in the recently complete session of the Louisiana Legislature, supporters of the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School District have a new mission — they are actively considering the process of incorporating a new city in the southeast part of the parish
A community meeting at Woodlawn Baptist Church last Thursday drew more than 200 residents. Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), the author of the legislation to create the new school district, and Norman Browning, president of Local Schools for Local Children, spoke and answered questions.
Browning explained the process of starting a new city and described the success of the City of Central. He said the creation of a new city could facilitate the creation school system, allow citizens to have a voice in planning and growth in the area, and fight crime.
Browning said the best way to get to a new school system may be indirect. “All through the legislative session, the opponents said we’re not a city, not even a community. Some legislators told us they would support us if we incorporated.”
“My question is, what is more difficult — getting 20,000 signatures on a petition to incorporate or getting 70 votes in the House for a constitutional amendment?” Browning left the strong impression that getting 70 votes would be more difficult.
The legislature passed and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed SB199 to create the Southeast Baton Rouge Community School System, but it failed to pass SB73, the constitutional amendment to authorize the statute. Browning said it was more of a victory than has been reported. “We will not have to go back and fight that battle again. The statute is on the books to create the new school system. We just have to focus on passage of the constitutional amendment, if we decide to go that route again,” he said.
In an address to the Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Tuesday at Café Américain, Browning made an impassioned plea for the school children of East Baton Rouge Parish. He said the parish school system has utterly failed the students and the parents.
He said opponents of the Southeast school district criticized the proposed district time and again but never once offered any suggestions to improve public education in the parish.
Browning said incorporation could be a way to bypass the need for 70 votes in the state House. Browning said the Louisiana Constitution authorizes municipalities to operate school system without the necessity of a constitutional amendment.
It’s also a way to bypass the politicians and let the voters decide the direction of things, he said.
On Monday, William Daniel, chief administrative aide to Mayor-President Kip Holden, said a new City of Southeast Baton Rouge could not count on getting the two percent sales taxes now levied by the Parish of East Baton Rouge. In the case of Central, that tax was transferred from the parish to the City of Central. This put Central in line with the cities of Baker and Zachary.
Browning disputed Daniel’s statement and said there is no way the City-Parish could withhold sales taxes from the new city.
When Central incorporated in April 2005, Sen. Bodi White, then a state representative, passed legislation creating a state agency called the Central Transition District, which oversaw the transfer of the two percent tax from the Parish to the City of Central. The Metro Council apparently never had the opportunity to vote on whether to transfer the tax. The voters of Central did have to vote on whether to impose a municipal sales tax of two percent. This was not a tax increase.
Sen. White, who said he supports creating a new city in Southeast Baton Rouge if the voters want it, said the tax issues would be somewhat more complicated than in the case of Central.
“We’re talking about considerably more money,” he said. “So there will be more controversy. I don’t think it would stop the incorporation but we need to sit down and work out the details, if possible. It’s easier to do that than to spend three years in court.”
The new City of Central spent three years fighting a legal challenge to its legality before the state Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the city was created lawfully. During the period of the challenge, the City-Parish continued to collect the parish sales tax and continued to provide parish services. However, it did this in accordance with an agreement between the City Parish and the City of Central. Central got to keep 10 percent of the revenue during the 2005-2008 period.
Browning said his organization will conduct a poll of citizens to determine how they feel about incorporation. That poll will influence not only whether to go forward with a petition drive for incorporation but what areas to include in the proposed city. Polling would allow the incorporators to include only those areas that support incorporation. Browning said they are looking at all unincorporated areas of the southern part of the parish but that it is unlikely that all of those areas would be included.