A Central businessman who led that city’s successful incorporation effort nearly two decades ago testified Friday at the St. George’s creation trial that Central didn’t skip a beat after become a parish municipality of East Baton Rouge.
Russell Starns, who chaired Central’s incorporation effort, recalled that the parish town told organizers that Central would not have the capacity to provide public services in this area.
Starns said Central proved the parish town wrong.
Central outsourced much of the city’s day-to-day functions to a private contractor, with a few services still run under the city-parish umbrella.
“There hasn’t been a decline in services or in the quality of services in the city of Central,” Starns said during questioning by Sheri Morris, one of St. George’s attorneys.
He also testified that Central’s development improved “significantly” after its incorporation.
St. George’s organizers used Central as a model to develop preliminary plans for the operation of the city. Central was the last municipality to incorporate independently into East Baton Rouge. He did it in 2005.
East Baton Rouge mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome and Metro Council leader LaMont Cole are trying to block St. George’s incorporation, arguing in a lawsuit that the parish town could lose more than $48 million in annual revenue if St. George’s incorporation goes through, causing layoffs and service cuts.
Starns, like St. George’s organizers, said he was motivated to incorporate Central in order to create a new school district that would provide better schools for Central’s youth.
Called as a witness by St. George organizers, Starns noted that Central was modeled after Zachary. Both municipalities have two of the best school systems in the state, he said.
Starns said Central’s original budget was $3.5 million, prompting John Murrill, one of Broome and Cole’s lawyers, to point out to Starns that St. George’s proposed budget for his 86 000 population was about 48 million.
St. George has a population three times that of Central and would become the fifth largest city in the state if created.
Morris told retired District Judge Martin Coady that the defense would call its remaining witnesses next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The plaintiffs closed their case on Thursday.
Coady is not expected to rule from the bench once testimony is over. His eventual decision will be appealed and ultimately it is expected to land in the Louisiana Supreme Court.
St. George’s incorporation was approved by 54% of participating voters within its boundaries in an October 2019 election. The lawsuit put the case on hold.
In addition to creating a school district, St. George’s supporters also want more control over how some of their tax dollars are spent. The proposed city budget would be built on sales tax revenues generated within its boundaries.
St. George organizers said they want the parish town to provide garbage collection and recycling, sewage and sewage treatment, emergency medical services and 911, animal control , parks and recreation. A private contractor will handle many administrative functions and municipal services, such as public works, maintenance of street signs and signals on municipal streets, drainage, planning and zoning, financial accounting, inspections construction, procurement, public relations, emergency response and flood plain management. .
Law enforcement and fire protection would remain as is. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office currently provides policing services in the unincorporated portions of the parish. The St. George Fire Department already provides service in the St. George area.