- Associated Press - Saturday, July 12, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - It’s looking less likely that voters will be considering a proposal to create the city of St. George in November.

Organizers have been working for more than a year to gather 18,000 signatures for a petition that gives voters living within the boundaries of the proposed new city the chance to decide whether they become St. George residents.

Leaders of the effort have long said their goal is to put the issue on the November or December ballot. To hold a November referendum would require the petition to be submitted by July 23.

St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey tells The Advocate (https://bit.ly/1qkoXle) about two weeks from the deadline that they did not have enough signatures for a November election day. Still, he says, they’re aggressively pursuing their goal.

“We don’t have the signatures today, but we’re getting closer every day,” he said. “We’re still confident we’ll have either a November or December election.”

But Baton Rouge political watchers wondered if the failure of organizers to have the needed signatures in hand by now is reflective of the proposed city losing some of its appeal. Pollster Bernie Pinsonat said if there were widespread support for creating St. George, organizers would have gotten the signatures by now.

“It’s not a good sign when you take so long to get the signatures,” said Pinsonat, who noted he isn’t working for either side. “It means there’s not a lot of interest in it other than the organizers. I don’t know if they’re not organized or they don’t have the money or whatever else, but it looks like not being able to get enough signatures will be their Achilles’ heel.”

John Couvillon, another Baton Rouge pollster who said he has done polling for both sides of the issue, agreed.

“Any time you have an issue that interests a great number of people, you should have people coming out of the woodwork to get signatures,” he said. “They still have time, but after November or December, they don’t have much of a chance from a perception standpoint.”

To get the issue on the December ballot, organizers will need to submit the petition in October.

Even as organizers continue to work on grassroots support, the proposed city of St. George is also facing the incremental chipping away of its tax base through annexations of property by the city of Baton Rouge from the currently unincorporated part of East Baton Rouge Parish.

The most recent potential annexation was revealed earlier this week, as the city released a petition by the owner of 630 acres of land along the Mississippi River to join Baton Rouge proper.

Land owner Charles Lambert, listed as director of Louisiana Riverboat Casinos Inc., filed the request earlier this month. The item will go before the Metro Council on July 23.

The property is a vacant plot of land, south of the Riverbend subdivision, a neighborhood by the river at the southern tip of the city. The assessed value of the property, according to the petition, is $51,950 - which is 10 percent of the property’s market value.

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

But St. George organizers have accused Baton Rouge officials of pursuing targeted properties to protect key revenue sources, while also undermining the petition effort.

“The city-parish has attempted to undermine and derail this movement from the beginning, yet here we stand,” Rainey said. “We are resolute in our mission, and will stay the course.”

St. George supporters hope to create a new city as a means to an end to establish an independent school system, which has twice been killed by the state Legislature. Supporters have also complained about what they see as inadequate government investment in the southern end of the parish.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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