POSTED: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 6:00am
UPDATED: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 5:33pm
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — Another group has started raising money in the fight over the proposed city of St. George, but this time, to stop it.
Better Together  held its first meeting Tuesday night, and more than 200 people braved the rain to attend.
They presented their own research and the findings of others to explain why they believe the creation of St. George would be a bad idea. Since St. George is being proposed mainly as a vehicle to create a new school system, they talked about why it would hurt the academic prospects of thousands of students.
"The proposed school district has not detailed the range of services they will provide, other than to say they will provide what is required by law," Jenny Hogan stated. Speakers pointed to research that showed nearly 7,000 students would be removed from their current school, either because they attend a magnet or alternative school, or because their current school falls within Baton Rouge city limits.
They also provided economic reasons for opposing the incorporation effort.
"The proponents of this breakaway city rely on $67 million in sales tax revenue to fund their city's services," Tania Nyman told the audience. "But there is no guarantee the area will continue to generate that much sales tax revenue in the future."
Other speakers made emotional appeals about the image of residents of the greater Baton Rouge area, as the incorporation effort gains national media attention.
"We are portrayed as secession-seekers," Dianne Hanley said, "a place where whites are against blacks, that the affluent areas want to split from the poor."
Much of the economic information cited by Better Together came from a report authored by economists from LSU  at the request of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. It showed that St. George would cause East Baton Rouge Parish to lose approximately $53 million in sales tax revenue from its general fund.
"Look at Detroit," Hanley cautioned. "One year before it declared bankruptcy, it experienced a 12.5 percent budget deficit. We're looking at 20 percent."
St. George organizers  have claimed that the number is actually much smaller, because they will remit a large portion of the sales tax revenue back to the parish.
"This promise is being made by private citizens with no official capacity in a not-yet-existent municipality, speaking on behalf of future elected officials, who, if the incorporation succeeds, could decide for themselves whether to give that money to another municipality," Hanley countered.
Hanley and Nyman also pointed out that sales tax revenue can change dramatically year-to-year, depending on the state of the economy or personal shopping habits. With two large shopping complexes being built in Denham Springs and the possibility Baton Rouge would build shopping complexes of its own, they see potential for the proposed St. George to lose much of the tax base it is counting on.
Better Together also had parents speak about their experiences with school programs that could disappear if St. George gets its own school district, especially for students with either special needs or special talent.
Hogan, who has an autistic son, said, "East Baton Rouge Parish is able to offer programs like Southdowns because of the large district and the large population."
Bubba Plauche' talked about his children, who have experienced foreign language immersion and magnet programs. "We want them to continue their unbelievable education they're receiving in the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system," he said, "an education that the proposed St. George can't even begin to duplicate, much less improve."
After providing its rationale, Better Together organizers passed around collection buckets to start raising money, and encouraged volunteers to give their time to the cause.
"We believe the solution is not to split off and create a separate system that can harm all of us, as well as leave behind many of the most disadvantaged among us," Michael Strain said. "Instead, we should come together, because we're better together, and address the challenges of our community head-on."