The Pope in Philly

Why Philly taxpayers got stuck with an $8 million Pope Francis bill

So many numbers were bandied about before the papal visit. How did a $45 million surplus turn into a bill?

Pope Nutter

So many numbers were bandied about before the papal visit: $45 million was to be raised by the World Meeting of Families. $12 million was to be spent by the city and reimbursed by the WMOF, including $5 million of it up front.

Two months later, the figure that resonates was released by the Nutter administration last night: $8 million. That’s how much the city owes of an estimated $17 million bill. The city is asking the World Meeting of Families to pay for the rest of it, a total of nearly $9 million.

Wait, what? What happened to $12 million? Why isn’t the WMOF footing at least the $12 million estimate, or even the full $17 million pricetag?

Mayor Michael Nutter told Billy Penn Thursday that the city was only seeking reimbursement for costs associated from the Saturday and Sunday of the pope’s visit. He said it was protocol with any type of event, from parades to concerts, for the city to only seek reimbursement on the active days of the event itself. The costs associated with those days totaled just under $9 million ($8.7 million).

Pope reimbursement costs
City of Philadelphia

The other $8 million that won’t be reimbursed deals with costs incurred from setting up before and breaking down after the event. Most of it, about $6 million, will be used for police costs, which totaled over $9 million and for which the city has only asked for $2.9 million in reimbursements.

Nutter said the city could only ask for costs from the Saturday and Sunday papal events, given the contract signed with the WMOF.

That contract states that the WMOF submitted its “Special Events Application” with the city for Sept. 26 and 27 — the Saturday and Sunday Pope Francis was here. But the contract also states the World Meeting of Families applied for permits that included “setup” and “breakdown” dates ranging from Sept. 12 to Oct. 2. The first line of the contract states that it is effective “as of September 10, 2015.”

City controller Alan Butkovitz believes that under the contract the WMOF should be responsible for all of the $17 million because all of the costs to the city were associated with the event. He wants Nutter to ask for Philadelphia to be reimbursed for the entire cost.

“They could ask for $17 million and could have to settle for less after making a claim,” said city controller Alan Butkovitz. “Why the mayor is giving away in the invoice the argument that is set up by the contract I don’t understand.”

Nutter disputed the idea that the city could ask for $17 million.

“The contract says the WMOF is responsible for the actual…cost of the event,” he said. “That’s what we asked for in reimbursement.”

Nutter said the city collected data regarding their security costs and will continue petitioning the federal government for assistance. His press secretary, Mark McDonald, said in an email that Philadelphia experienced a marketing coup from the event that city will continue to build upon.

“For all the costs incurred by the City,” he said, “we gained a level of media visibility that the City could never purchase.”

Want some more? Explore other The Pope in Philly stories.

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