Yesterday the Baton Rouge Metro Council tabled a vote on a piece of legislation which would institutionalize in law an ongoing practice whereby the East Baton Rouge city-parish government takes sales tax dollars generated in the unincorporated areas of the parish and spends them in the city of Baton Rouge.
Despite being a consolidated form of government, the city-parish budget has for years contained “local service agreements” between Baton Rouge and the unincorporated parts of the parish to jointly fund the local government.
The measure before the council Wednesday was to codify the agreement into an ordinance.
The unincorporated areas of the parish will provide $52.5 million to fund city services in the 2014 budget, according to the local service agreement.
The city-parish’s general fund budget is just less than $300 million.
William Daniel, chief administrative officer for the mayor-president, said there has been “a lot of misunderstanding about what this does and doesn’t do,” and maintained that the item would have no impact on St. George. The item was deferred for two weeks, after a vote to approve the item failed to garner a majority.
But here’s a money quote from Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe…
Loupe said after the meeting that he doesn’t believe Daniel, and feels the measure is entirely geared toward St. George.
“I think it’s all St. George-related,” he said. “My interpretation is that somebody went back and looked at it and said, ‘We need to make this law before St. George happens.’ ”
There are seven Republicans on the 12-person Metro Council. One of them, Joel Boe’, was absent at yesterday’s meeting. There were six votes in favor of codifying the local service agreement into law to cement that $52.5 million as EBR revenue – the five Democrats and John Delgado. That wasn’t enough to move it – you need seven votes for something like that to pass, and right now there’s no way it will. If you want to interpret that as a snapshot of Delgado’s influence with his six GOP colleagues on the Metro Council, you’re free to do so.
And while this might seem like a bit of procedural/ministerial minutiae, it isn’t. Because in advance of yesterday’s meeting, Woody Jenkins dug up the following research – which he published in the Capital City News this week…
WHERE DOES THE $80 MILLION GO THAT IS CURRENTLY COLLECTED IN LOCAL TAXES IN ST. GEORGE? $52 million goes directly to the City of Baton Rouge! — In the current fiscal year, more than $80 million will be collected in local taxes from the area within the boundaries of the proposed City of St. George. What happens to those dollars after they are received by the City-Parish Treasurer’s office has beenthe subject of a growing controversy. St. George organizer Norman Browning said his volunteers began combing the budget of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board in an effort to prepare a budget for the proposed Southeast Baton Rouge Community School System.
After they decided to launch the petition drive to incorporate St. George as a municipality, they began studying the City-Parish budget. What they found in the City-Parish budget left them in wide-eyed disbelief. It seems the unincorporated areas of East Baton Rouge Parish, chiefly St. George, have been financially carrying the entire parish in one of the most one-sided relationships since colonial days.
According to budget documents produced by the City-Parish, the $80 million collected in St. George is placed in a separate fund called the Unincorporated Fund. The $80 million in that fund is spent in three ways:
- $17.7 million is used to pay the expenses of the constitutional offices in the parish (those agencies established by the Louisiana Constitution), such as the 19th Judicial District, Family Court, Juvenile Court, District Attorney, Registrar of Voters, and Coroner.
- $10.4 million from the fund is used to pay the expenses of parishwide agencies, such as the Parish Prison, Juvenile Services, Animal Control, Parish Health Unit, Council on Aging, Crime Stoppers, and others.
- The remaining $52 million dollars is transferred directly to the City of Baton Rouge.
The Unincorporated Fund doesn’t pay a “share” of the expenses of the constitutional and parish offices. Rather, it pays 100 percent of those expenses!
The taxpayers of the City of Baton Rouge make no contribution at all — zero — to the operating expenses of the 19th Judicial District, the D.A., the coroner, the Parish Prison, or any of the others. Neither do the taxpayers of Baker, Central, or Zachary!
The remaining $52 million in the Unincorporated Fund is transferred in its in entirety to the City of Baton Rouge. It is not transferred to the parish or shared with Baker, Central, or Zachary. All of it goes to Baton Rouge.
The taxpayers of St. George are already paying for a city — but not their city. They pay $52 million a year to support the City of Baton Rouge.
And there was a graphic to go with the story…
The more these things surface, the more they’re going to move that petition forward.