Affluent, white residents of south Baton Rouge propose seceding from city's poor, black northern areas

The predominantly white and wealthy residents of the southern area of Baton Rouge have proposed seceding from the city proper and incorporating into a new one to be called "St. George."

The movement began as an effort to create a new school district, but after the state legislature repeatedly mothballed its proposals -- claiming that they could not approve an independent school district that was unaffiliated with a city -- organizers shifted their energies to the creation of "St. George."

The new city would be the fifth largest in the state, with over 107,000 residents, and would include two of the largest tax revenue bases in the state: Perkins Rowe and the Mall of Louisiana. A study by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber concluded that Baton Rouge residents "will be disproportionately paying taxes to the proposed municipality," given city governance's reliance on sales tax revenues.

If the succession were successful, the study claimed, it "could entail the dissolution of the present system of governance."

John Fregonese, a city-planner responsible for the much-lauded FutureBR plan, said that "[t]he idea of creating a city like this — I can’t find another place in the United States where it would cause so much turmoil."

"The problem is that the whole parish built a major retail center there," Fregonese said. "You have $90 million go from one hand to another and that’s going to cause a major catastrophe to the finances of this parish."

City Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle is equally upset by the proposal. "If they pull away from Baton Rouge, it will affect everyone," she told The Morning Advocate. "We’ve spent millions of dollars on improvements out there and making traffic better, and now they want to be their own city?"

The demographic shift the incorporation of "St. George" would create is almost as troubling as the economic difficulties. According to recent study on the demographic impact of Hurricane Katrina, the city of Baton Rouge accepted over 200,000 displaced New Orleans residents, the majority of whom were black and settled in the northern, urban parts of the city.

The "St. George" proposal would create a poor, black, and urban Baton Rouge and a wealthy, white, and suburban "St. George." Supporters of the new city brush off such complaints. "Typically, the only comments you hear are those that try to create fear," one of the leaders of the movement, Norman Browning said. "They never support it with any documentation to make those claims."

He did not address any of the specifics of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber's study.

Watch a report on the proposed secession from WBRZ below.

["des & phyllis" via ratterrell on Flickr]