Baton Rouge Is Now Trying To Annex L’Auberge Casino

The paperwork was filed this week, and it will be voted on at the July 23 meeting of the Baton Rouge Metro Council, for the city to annex a piece of land close to the casino. But this won’t actually put the casino into the city; that would be a separate annexation, and the parcel to be annexed isn’t actually contiguous to L’Auberge.

How they connect to the casino will be an interesting project to watch unfold.

The City of Baton Rouge is poised to annex in another 630 acres of land along the Mississippi River, shrinking the footprint of what could one day be the City of St. George.

Land owner Charles Lambert, listed as director of Louisiana Riverboat Casinos Inc, petitioned to annex his property into the City of Baton Rouge. The item will go before the Metro Council on July 23.

The property is a vacant plot of land, south of Riverbend Subdivision.

The assessed value of the property, according to the petition, is $51,950.

In the face of the continued effort to create a new city in the southern part of the parish, a handful of business and property owners have petitioned to be included in the City of Baton Rouge, which would prevent them from ever being in the City of St. George.

Baton Rouge officials have said the annexations demonstrate that these land owners are nervous about the uncertainty and potential increase in taxes of being in a new city.

This will make for a strange and chaotic situation, as it would cut the southwestern part of the parish into two pieces, both of which are in what would be St. George, with a piece of Baton Rouge in between them. This is destined for the courts.

For their part, though, the St. George organizers are greeting the news about the 630 acres, and the thought that the casino would be the next shoe to drop, with a big, fat “Meh.”

As long as the law is followed, we will not protest if the L’Auberge Casino would like to be included inside the city limits of Baton Rouge. We feel confident, per the Attorney General’s recent opinion, that any annexations will not affect the legality of our petition.

The City is securing revenue centers that produce money that our movement has already agreed to pay back into the Parish when we incorporate. We will simply adjust what we will put back in based on what the city takes. This annexation will not negatively affect our budget.

The L’Auberge Casino will be spun as a self-determination or a story about safe harbor, but the rational mind can see this for what it is, the City-Parish’s attempt to derail this movement. The City-Parish has attempted to undermine and derail this movement from the beginning, yet here we still stand. We are resolute in our mission, and will stay the course. To our supporters, we could not be more proud of you throughout this process. We have chosen to take the high road, which has proven to be a difficult path. However, we have pushed through the roadblocks, and we have learned that there is a silver lining beyond every obstacle. Far, far better things ahead await the people of St. George.

Projected budget synopsis:

The projected St. George budget, based off of 2013 numbers, was 80 million in total revenue for the general fund. Anticipated governmental costs were listed at 32 million, and we were agreeing to pay back 28 million into the Parish because we felt it was the right thing to do. This would leave our new city with a 20 million dollar surplus. With the recent annexation of the mall, and possible annexation of the casino, we have reevaluated our budget. We will continue to fund all of the constitutional offices totaling 17.5 million, however, we will have to eliminate our other financial support to the parish. This will provide the new city budget with a 15.8 million dollar surplus on day one. There will be no reason for any tax increase.

In other words, Baton Rouge can fund its own stuff if they’re going to take these big-dollar entities.

Unlike the case of the Mall of Louisiana, though, there aren’t likely to be any plans for St. George to put up its own casino. Building a retail center is a no-brainer; a casino – even one nice enough to attract people from out of town like L’Auberge is – isn’t exactly a vehicle for unbridled economic growth. But like the Mall, Baton Rouge annexing the casino (if they can) means they’re on the hook for fire and police protection and who knows how they’ll be doing that.

The real issue with this is the effect it will have on the map. So far it sounds like this wouldn’t affect the St. George petition, per an Attorney General’s opinion issued after the Mall annexation. But the St. George folks can’t get that petition in to the registrar of voters soon enough. They’re close enough to the number of signatures that there isn’t much doubt it will happen eventually; the question is when they pull the trigger.

At this point they’re saying they’re working to make that happen in time for the December ballot, which is likely to give them a pretty good turnout model. But they might like the March ballot better, simply because it would give them more time to build a campaign organization vis-a-vis the expected turnout. December, when you’re going to have a congressional runoff between Edwin Edwards (in all likelihood) and whichever Republican survives the nine-person battle for the other spot and probably a runoff with Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu slugging it out for the latter’s Senate seat, could be a fairly expansive electorate.

Not so much in March. St. George would be the only thing on the ballot. Considering you need 25 percent of the registered voters signed on just to get the thing to a ballot, that’s a pretty substantial data set to work from. Figure you could turn out 80 percent of those people to vote for St. George – if they signed the petition, it’s a safe bet they’d actually come out to vote yes – and you’d need at least 41 percent turnout to beat the incorporation assuming nobody votes for it who didn’t sign the petition. A spring election without anything else on the ballot probably doesn’t generate 41 percent turnout, and that means St. George wins in a massive landslide.

The problem is, if you’re St. George you’re going to need some help from the legislature in next year’s session. You’ll need some legislation which changes the boundaries of the school district it created this year to conform to the new city limits, you’ll need legislation to hook that school district up to the Minimum Foundation Program so it can get state funding, and there are several other items that would put our readers to sleep if we went into them.

And getting the bills moved to complete those tasks when you haven’t even voted to form your city prior to the opening of the session is less than optimal. It won’t kill you with the legislature, but it will make things harder. Which St. George frankly doesn’t need; this project is hard enough as it is.

So they’ve got some interesting strategy decisions to make. And meanwhile, Kip Holden’s Land Grab program continues apace.

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