BATON ROUGE, La. (NBC Local 33) (FOX 44) — The St. George Fire Department broke ground today on a construction project to provide improved fire protection services for East Baton Rouge Parish.
The capital improvements include a new fire station connected to the Headquarters building at 14100 Airline Hwy, replacing the one nearby on Castille Road.
In addition, the project calls for a new training/classroom building, a dedicated special services/maintenance facility and continued communications enhancements on the Airline Highway campus.
The board for the St. George Fire District approved a low bid for construction in mid-June, which came in at $12.8 million.
St. George voters approved tax extension requests by the fire department in April 2018 that extended a $2.0 and $1.25 million measure for ten years, from 2024 to 2034 for capital improvements and general operations.
“The community of Baton Rouge needs to be patted on the back here, because these are your tax dollars,” said Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves (R). “This is an action that the community made to fund this department.”
Property owners did not experience an increase in their tax bill due to the vote; instead, the current taxes were extended beyond their initial approval dates.
Officials said the approval measure was needed in order for them to present a longer-term revenue stream and secure bonds for the $12.8 million project.
“We borrowed $16 million to fund several projects,” said St. George fire chief Jerry Tarelton, “the bids came back at $12.76 million.”
The original tax measures were voter-approved in May of 2015.
The new station, along with expanded training and maintenance facilities is expected to be complete by October 2020, according to St. George fire spokesman Eldon Ledoux.
The new project begins as St. George voters prepare to head to the polls and vote on whether to incorporate a new city of St. George. If passed and a succession agreement were met with East Baton Rouge parish, St. George would become the fifth municipality alongside Baker, Baton Rouge, Central and Zachary.
The St. George Fire District would serve both the city of St. George and Baton Rouge, according to the department’s fire chief Gerard Tarleton. The board for the fire district would be determined as such:
- Baton Rouge Metro Council votes and places 2 members on board,
- St. George Council votes and places 2 members on board,
- Members of the board work together to nominate 5th member, who would become the chairman/chairwoman.
In a Metro Council meeting August 14, St. George organizers sought to defer the request that they pay off their share of city-parish pension debt. The proposition passed.
“There’s going to be an election October 12,” said metro council member Matt Watson (District 11), “we need to see what’s going to happen after things happen in the right order.”
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome called the effort “premature” in an interview with NBC Local 33, considering St. George voters have yet to go to the polls regarding whether or not they would like to succeed from Baton Rouge.
“I have been asked – from multiple parties – to sit down and talk about a transition,” said Broome. “It’s been my stance – and it continues to be my stance – that before the election takes place, any discussion around that would be premature.”