Thursday, October 15, 2015
Pope weekend visit price tag for Bucks towns: More than $140K
Posted: Tuesday, October 6, 2015
For the tens of thousands of religious faithful, the recent weekend papal visit created priceless memories.
But for the Philadelphia suburbs in which Pope Francis never set foot — including Bucks County municipalities — the historic event created more than a total of $100,000 in unanticipated costs, according to local officials.
In the five towns where SEPTA regional rail lines shuttled papal pilgrims into Philadelphia, officials are estimating the two-day visit cost each between $12,000 and $65,000. Most of the expenses are related to police overtime costs, the added.
But counties and municipalities may be able to recoup the papal-related costs through a promised $5 million state allocation, according to a Montgomery County official.
The Montgomery County Commissioners last week estimated that county's preliminary costs related to the papal weekend at more than $240,000. The county hosted Pope Francis overnight at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Lower Merion and had two SEPTA train stations operating during the papal visit.
Most of that ballpark total — $205,000 — is for labor-related costs such as overtime for county employees and the rest are costs associated with supplies, officials said.
Meanwhile, Bucks County estimates it spent about $20,000, also mostly related to overtime, according to Scott Forester, director of emergency services. The county secured from the state equipment it loaned to individual communities such as light towers, electronic traffic signs, barricades and all-terrain vehicles, he added.
Among local municipalities, the costs varied dramatically.
SEPTA train stations in Middletown, Bristol Township, Bensalem, Tullytown and Warminster were among the 18 in the Philadelphia region operating during the weekend visit. An estimated 11,883 people took SEPTA trains to Philadelphia at the five Bucks County stations, roughly half the estimated 21,000 who bought the special $10 passes needed for the ride.
Middletown — which was home to the second busiest train station during the weekend — had the highest papal price tag: approximately $65,000, with all but $10,000 related to overtime costs, township Manager Stephanie Teoli Kuhls said.
The busiest Bucks County train station during the papal weekend was in Warminster. Interim township Manager Steven Wiesner estimated the township spent $12,000 to $16,000 in additional costs, primarily as a result of employee overtime.
Wiesner added that the township saved some money through donated time and supplies. Twenty national guardsmen as well as fire police from the Enterprise Fire Department also assisted with traffic control near the train station. The county donated all-terrain vehicles and electronic traffic signs. A local supermarket donated food to volunteers and staff.
Bensalem estimates it spent $23,000 in police overtime during the papal visit, Director of Public Safety Fred Harran said. In addition to 12 officers working throughout the weekend at the Cornwells Heights train station, police were also stationed outside the National Shrine to St. Katharine Drexel off Bristol Pike in anticipation of more visitor traffic related to the World Meeting of Families. Bensalem police also loaned Philadelphia police eight officers to help with crowd control in Center City.
Bristol Township estimates it spent $12,000 to $15,000 in police overtime costs between Friday and Sunday. One officer alone accumulated 30 hours of overtime posting “No Parking” signs and barriers around the streets near the Croydon train station, Lt. Ralph Johnson said.
Johnson added that when he learned the Croydon train station was among those chosen to shuttle potentially as many as 5,000 people a day, he shut down officer-leave requests for the papal weekend.
On Saturday, the first day of the visit, eight officers and a sergeant were working around the clock, but after it became apparent that the number of rail-users was not as heavy as anticipated, Johnson said he eased off staffing for Sunday.
The township shelled out a couple hundred dollars for “No Parking” signs, but those signs can be reused, Johnson added.
Tullytown police Chief Daniel Doyle, who is also in charge of emergency management, said the borough had not calculated its additional costs, but added that the lower-than-anticipated ridership helped significantly control costs.
On Saturday morning — when he wasn’t sure what to expect — Doyle scheduled 12 police officers and four public works employees at the Tullytown train station; another two police officers were sent to Center City, he said. But the far-from-overwhelming crowds meant that for the Saturday evening return trip from Center City Philadelphia, Doyle needed only two police officers and two public workers employees.
On Sunday, which had been anticipated as the more heavily attended day, Doyle had six police officers and two public works employees working at the train station in the morning. For that evening's return trips, Doyle said he again scheduled only two police officers and two public works employees.
He added that the borough incurred “minimal” costs — less than $1,000 — for other supplies such as “No Parking” signs.
“Everything we spent, we can re-use,” he added.
At a meeting last week, Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro announced that Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers had agreed to allocate $5 million to help local governing bodies defray their costs related to the papal visit. Shapiro said the allocation — through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency — was in keeping with a state tradition to help with costs related to events that require large security efforts.
For Philadelphia's suburbs, the budget impact of the papal visit is a drop in the bucket compared with the $12 million in related costs for the host city. But the World Meeting of Families is expected to reimburse the city for what it spent to prepare for the papal visit, according to city officials.
The nonprofit also paid $230,000 in fees to use locations such as the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which was closed to the public for the papal Mass on Sept. 27. The WMOF set a fundraising goal of $45 million for the week-long World Meeting of Families and papal-weekend events.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jociavaglia