The Mount Carmel standoff may have happened outside the city limits, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t pinch Waco taxpayers.
Waco officials Thursday estimated that security details, news conferences at the Waco Convention Center and other activities have cost the city more than $80,000 since the Feb. 28 standoff started at the cult compound.
The final bill will likely rise “drastically” when officials add other payroll costs and expenses, said Assistant City Manager Curtis Snow. Snow said he is preparing a letter outlining the city’s costs for the Criminal Justice Division of the governor’s office.
So far, the office has helped McLennan County officials receive about $300,000 in reimbursements from the federal government, said division director Doyne Bailey.
Snow said the city hopes it can get the same kind of help.
“I think the approach we’re taking is that the city of Waco is there to help anyone who is in trouble, and we’re glad to do that,” he said. “What we have found is that someone, the feds, is prepared to reimburse the state and the county for their expenses.”
“That being the case, then we would like everyone to know what the city of Waco’s expenses are and; hopefully, they will consider reimbursing us,” he said.
Snow said the city also is considering whether to ask the state or federal government for help in restoring Waco’s reputation in the outside world.
The standoff at the Branch Davidian compound ended April 19 with the fiery deaths of scores of cult members.
City officials are trying to determine whether the city suffered economically because of the siege. If so, maybe Waco can get help for a campaign to promote tourism, Snow said.
A tax hit
Contrary to earlier reports, officials now feel they may have lost tax revenues because of the large number of federal agents and media personnel here during the standoff. For example, the FBI and other federal agencies did not pay occupancy, or “bed,” taxes while here, Snow said.
“And if our assumptions are correct, that there’s actually a negative growth during that period, we’ll try to quantify it and then go to some state or federal agency and say, ‘Hey, we lost this kind of money,’” he said.
The city’s expenses during the 51-day standoff are broken down into two major categories: police overtime pay and use of the Convention Center.
Snow, who oversees the police department, said officers from its special-operations unit provided security at area hospitals, the Methodist Home — where released Branch Davidian children were kept — and the Convention Center during news conferences there.
The city has paid its officers $52,836 for overtime related to the siege. That number will rise when officials add the regular time pay for those officers, Snow said.
Bailey said he will only be able to help the city with its police-related costs.
If he receives a request from the city, Bailey said, he will submit an application for help from the U.S. Justice Department’s Emergency Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Fund.
“What the outcome of that will be, I don’t know,” he said.
Next to the police department, the Convention Center may have been the city department with the most direct contact with the siege.
Soon after the Feb. 28 gunfight between the Branch Davidians and federal agents, Police Chief Gil Miller called Assistant City Manager Melissa Vossmer to see if the center would be available for a news conference.
The FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stayed for the next two months.
“There was no other facility large enough,” said Vossmer, who oversees the Convention Center.
As of April 9, the loss of room bookings, food, damage and other costs added up to $27,101 — about 1.6 percent of the center’s $1.7 million annual budget.
“That’s a hunk out of my Convention Center budget,” Vossmer said. “We always had to find them a place.”
At an average cost of about $678 per day, use of the Convention Center during the standoff may end up costing the city almost $34,000.
Bailey said he probably won’t be able to help the city with its Convention Center expenses. The city, he said, may have to directly bill the FBI and ATF.
The federal assistance fund is only “to keep cops on the streets,” he said.