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August 25, 2015

Will Philly need to pass the collection plate for papal visit?

Many details regarding the papal visit have become clearer as Pope Francis’ Philadelphia arrival inches closer. 

But specifics on how much the historic visit will cost and who, along with the World Meeting of Families, will end up paying the bill remain murky.

A significant update by the organizers on the financial aspects of hosting the visit has not occurred since February.

“We will ultimately present a bill to the WMOF for the variety of city services. It will be in the millions of dollars." – Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Nutter

And while the World Meeting of Families has pledged to foot the bill for its weeklong convention and the papal visit, setting a $45 million fundraising goal to cover expenses, a breakdown of estimated costs has not been released, nor has the WMOF updated its fundraising total since it hit $30 million in February. 

Moreover, while Philadelphia’s contracted expenses are expected to be covered by the WMOF, it appears that Lower Merion Township — where Pope Francis will stay overnight at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary — will have to foot its own bill.

“Reimbursements for the World Meeting of Families and Papal Visit are directly associated with contracted and permitted areas in the city of Philadelphia,” said Stephanie Fanelli, a spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families. 

Lower Merion, which is expecting thousands of people to show up in Wynnewood for a glimpse of the pope as he stays in the seminary, isn't in the budget.

Elizabeth Rogen, president of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners, said she would not be afraid to ask for financial assistance, but said the township had not yet made such a request.

Rogen directed questions regarding cost estimates to Township Manager Ernie McNeely, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Police Superintendent Michael McGrath said the township is still determining its estimated police costs, saying they will total in the thousands of dollars. That figure should be ready around Labor Day, he said.

RELATED ARTICLE: Lower Merion residents worry over pope's visit

Philadelphia, which will incur expenses in the millions of dollars, is still tabulating its estimated costs as well. But both city and WMOF officials say it remains too early to release a breakdown of estimated expenses.

“We will ultimately present a bill to the WMOF for the variety of city services,” said Mark McDonald, press spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. “It will be in the millions of dollars. Meanwhile, WMOF is fundraising to cover its many costs.”

Fanelli said the WMOF will provide a comprehensive update when its fundraising campaign closes. But she said the campaign is “well north” of $30 million.

That fundraising has been through a “diverse mix of individuals, corporations, organizations and foundations,” Fanelli said. Many parishes also have provided both large and small donations.

But what happens if the fundraising fails to cover the costs of the event? Will city taxpayers, many of whom will be inconvenienced by the papal visit, be stuck with the bill?

Fanelli did not directly respond, saying planners have “continually examined” the budget as it has evolved.

“Throughout our planning, we have been attentive to — and continually examined — our budget in light of changing scope and size of the event,” Fanelli said. “Our fundraising goal covers a wide range of costs, from infrastructure to scholarships for socioeconomically challenged dioceses to attend to the printing of an official program book. This goal also includes costs of certain services, which will be provided by the city of Philadelphia.”

Those services, particularly security, promise to cost a pretty penny. Whether event organizers have — or will have — generated enough to cover those services remains unclear. But with the WMOF kicking off in four weeks, taxpayers have little choice but to take the organizers' promises on faith.