Are taxpayers on the hook for higher pope costs? The city isn’t saying

 Workers use blowers during the cleanup process along Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia a day after Pope Francis concluded his 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Workers use blowers during the cleanup process along Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia a day after Pope Francis concluded his 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Philadelphia’s budget director says the city spent roughly $17 million on welcoming Pope Francis to town, about $5 million more than it estimated in September. Now, the city isn’t saying whether taxpayers will be on the hook for the difference. 

A contract signed by the city and the World Meeting of Families in September showed the Vatican-sponsored group agreed to pay roughly $12 million in estimated event costs. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Michael Nutter told taxpayers not to worry

“We’re getting reimbursed,” he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

On Tuesday this week, Nutter’s point man on the papal visit, his chief of staff and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, told reporters the city was still working out exactly how much the World Meeting of Families owed, but that it would likely come in under the projected $12 million. 

“We gave our worst-case scenario, so if something blew up or something needed to happen … I think it’ll end up being less than that,” Gillison said. 

Two days later, Philadelphia City Council introduced a $16.9 million budget transfer to cover the actual costs of the papal visit tallied up by Budget Director Rebecca Rynhart. 

So … what gives?

Nutter’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, could not explain the discrepancy and did not respond to questions on whether Gillison knew the budget transfer was being prepared when he spoke to reporters earlier this week.

“We are not through the process, so I’m not in a position to talk about reimbursable costs,” McDonald said in an email. 

The World Meeting of Families also would not address what it called “speculative cost estimates.”

“When the invoice is received from the City of Philadelphia it will be paid within an appropriate time frame after we have completed our review,” said Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. 

But here’s one thing Gillison did tell reporters on Tuesday:

“Sometimes people say well, the World Meeting of Families is going to pay for all costs and I always said no, they’re not ’cause it’s not fair for them to be on all costs because all costs are not attributable to their matter.”

Take, for example, a police officer assigned to work the event. 

“If he’s on overtime, yeah, I think you have to eat that cost. If he’s on straight time, perhaps he shouldn’t,” Gillison said. “There is a certain level that we can actually come down to, to say that we will take responsiblity for, to make sure we have a city that we love … that we want to have various parades and big events like this.” 

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