POSTED: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 10:41pm
UPDATED: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 3:49pm
Watson, LA (NBC33) — The town of Watson faces a familiar decision: whether or not to become a city. And the group leading the way to incorporation wants it to make a decision soon.
Neighbors in Action!  hosted a meeting at Live Oak High School Thursday night, which roughly 275 people attended.
"I just think it's indicative of who we are," said Gene Baker, "and the kind of quality of life and value of community that we want to keep."
The group discussed what it feels are the benefits to incorporation as well as the drawbacks, and asked for feedback from the community.
"Our responsibility as a group of citizens," Baker said, "is to offer the opportunity."
The group said incorporation would give Watson more control over its future, as opposed to being one of several towns represented on the Livingston Parish council. Of primary concern are the ability to manage population density and a desire to block a potential Baton Rouge loop .
It needs to get enough people to sign a petition to put the issue on a ballot, the stage in which the idea failed in 1999.
"We're talking about a need for 3,000 signatures on our petition," Baker said. "So it's a great deal of work to accomplish that."
Watson would be the biggest city in Livingston Parish. But not everyone wants to see that come true.
"We're happy with just what we've got," William Newton said. "We've got everything we need here."
Critics like Newton say the group does not have enough details, and hasn't included expenses like health care in its budget.
"No question in my mind, we'll uncover questions that we don't have answers for," Baker replied. "But I think we have probably 90% of them.
"This is not our professional job to do this. This is, we're a group of citizens."
The city would be funded entirely through a utility tax. Residents would pay a five percent tax to the city, which thr group claims would be enough to fund all operations with a small surplus.
Neighbors in Action! hopes that a population boom will be enough to succeed in this incorporation push. Watson had approximately 8,000 residents in 1999, compared to 22,000 today, and the group cites data projecting the population to double by 2025.
The proposed city government would have a mayor, five council members, and a police chief, the minimum required by the state of Louisiana. (The members of Neighbors in Action! said they have no interest in holding any of those offices.)
The group said it spent the last year researching the issue to be as prepared as possible, and now is the time to act.
"The public get tired of talking," Baker said, "so we need to, if we're going to do it, we need to move on."
Neighbors in Action wants to get a petition circulating in the next couple of weeks.
It says it hopes to have it completed by July, so the issue to be placed on a ballot in October.
"We hope that people will share their thoughts and be willing to pitch in and work," Baker said.