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Pension debt payment outlined should St. George effort pass Saturday

6 days 13 hours 58 minutes ago Wednesday, October 09 2019 Oct 9, 2019 October 09, 2019 5:00 PM October 09, 2019 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE – Metro Council signed off on a plan outlining how a newly formed City of St. George would pay back its portion of the pension debt should voters approve the incorporation Saturday.

The issue has been a bone of contention for government policy scholars and people who crunch numbers on either side of the issue. Supporters and proponents have been at odds over how much it would cost and when the debt would be resolved.

The mayor told the council Wednesday, the retirement board has called for an annual $5.2 million payment for 15 years. But the number does not reflect other costs associated with the retirement of court employees, accrued and owed time off or health benefits.

While outlining the rate which has aspects that “would still need to be negotiated,” the mayor took the opportunity to challenge the St. George effort.

“...It is incumbent on me to make certain that the voters of the proposed area understand the cost and liability issue,” she wrote to council members Wednesday.

St. George organizers have argued it has planned a budget that can fund the pension payments.

“Our numbers that we did with the largest accounting firm in the south … indicate we’re going to have a $14 million surplus,” organizer Andrew Murrell said during a forum ahead of the council meeting Wednesday.

He used the discussion to argue the St. George area floats city-parish operations: “What else do we pay for that we don’t get the benefit of? Baton Rouge police and Baton Rouge fire pensions? But, BRFD doesn’t come to my house and the police turn around at Essen,” he quipped.

The debt is associated with the cost of retiring public employees who worked prior to incorporation.

The election is Saturday. Nearly a quarter of voters in the proposed area voted early.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome released the following statement late Wednesday evening:

Tonight was the first negotiation of many for unknown, outstanding legacy costs and debts for the proposed city of St. George. With only two days left before voters go to the polls, there are entirely too many unknown variables. The true cost of the legacy and pension expenses will be over $100 million. The proposed budget does not address these costs. Their plan is not workable and will result in higher taxes. That’s why St. George is risky, unverifiable, and unknown and we urge citizens to vote no this Saturday.

A St. George spokesman responded to the mayor's statement, saying "The mayor is well aware that the City of St. George will have plenty of money to satisfy our unfunded accrued liability, and that is why she refuses to negotiate the amount of that liability."

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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