Act Creating St. George Transition District Will Solve Many Problems, Spokesman Says

 On June 12, 2020, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation authorizing the creation of the St. George Transition District.

St. George movement spokesman Drew Murrell said the law, Act 361 of the 2020 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, will solve several problems involved in transferring governmental control of the area from the City-Parish to the new City of St. George.

The transition district is modeled after the Central Transition District, which bridged the gap between the time of incorporation of the City of Central back in 2005 to the time when the new city began receiving its own tax revenues in early 2008.

The new five-member body will begin functioning at such time as the courts finally rule that the City of St. George was created in accordance 

with law. The members will be 

•The Mayor-President or her designee;

•The chairman and vice chairman of the petition for incorporation of St. George or their designee;

•An appointee by the state senator representing Senate District No. 6, and

•An appointee by the state representative representing House District 66

The Mayor-President is Sharon Weston Broome. The chairman of the petition drive is Norman Browning.  The vice chairman is Chris Ryals. The senator from Senate District No. 6 is Bodi White, and the representative from House District No. 66 is Rick Edmonds.

The district will have broad powers similar to the Mayor and City Council of a city.  This was designed to allow the new municipality to function even if the governor appointed an interim Mayor and Council hostile to the new city, Murrell said.

Because of opposition to St. George by the Mayor-President and the Governor, St. George leaders wanted to make sure that the interim Mayor and City Council appointed by the Governor would not be able to prevent the city from moving forward.

Perhaps the most important power of the transition district is the power to continue to levy the two-cent parish tax for up to a year after the new city is recognized by the courts. This will prevent there from being a gap in city services, Murrell said.

The transition district will then have the power to expend funds on behalf the city and transfer funds to the interim Mayor and city council. Since the district can expend funds on its own, it can decide how much to spend directly and how much to transfer to the new city’s coffers. 

The district will have the power to call an election to give voters a chance to decide whether to continue the sales tax in effect and permanently dedicate it to the new City of St. George.

Shortly after voters decided to incorporate the City of St. George in 2019, Mayor-President Broome filed suit to enjoin the city’s operations. That suit is still in the courts. The validity of the incorporation vote is not question in the court proceeding. The main issues in that case are whether the City of St. George is economically viable and to what degree if any it may adversely affect the City of Baton Rouge financially.

Murrell said the Mayor-President and her attorney, Mary Olive Pierson, have refused to sit down and negotiate issues involved in the transition.  However, the passage of this legislation lessens the need for their cooperation, he said.

The St. George Transition District will be involved in providing city services and negotiating for the transfer of assets and liabilities.

One of the outstanding issues is to what extent the City of St. George will assume any of the liabilities of the City of Baton Rouge. 

Murrell said St. George leaders met with leaders of the Employees’ Retirement System of the City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge (CPERS) regarding assumption of liabilities related to City-Parish retirees.  

CPERS said they would like the City of St. George to assume $55 million in labilities.  Murrell said the City of St. George will assume its fair share of liabilities for City-Parish employees who were involved in providing service in St. George. However, he said St. George leaders were not willing to assume liabilities related to the Baton Rouge Police Department or the Baton Rouge Fire Department, because those agencies have never served residents of the St George area. They are served by the Sheriff’s office and their own fire department, the St. George Fire Department.

Murrell said members of the St. George Transition District will have to look at not only assuming certain liabilities of the City-Parish government but also certain assets.

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