Cost is beyond belief

The bills just keep on coming.

In the 25 years since the MOVE house bombing destroyed a West Philadelphia neighborhood, city taxpayers have paid out upward of $45 million for rebuilding and repairs, as well as other costs like police overtime and legal fees.

For some perspective, $45 million would cover the budget for the city office of parks and recreation. It would also pay for this winter's unexpected snow removal three times over. Or it could provide for almost 45 Phillies Championship parades.

The bulk of the money spent by the city over the decades has been for rebuilding and repairing the 61 homes leveled in the May 13, 1985, confrontation that killed 11 people. Upward of $31 million has been spent on rebuilding and related costs like settlements paid to homeowners, according to records compiled by the city controller in 2005.

In addition, well over $2 million has gone to legal fees. And at least $4 million was spent on a round-the-clock police guard at the rebuilt MOVE house at 6221 Osage Ave. That service ended in 2007 after questions were raised about the cost.

But the final bill still hasn't been tallied because the city has not resolved an ongoing dispute with some of the homeowners whose houses were destroyed in the bombing.

At first, 61 families whose homes were destroyed agreed to let the city rebuild. But the effort was botched by poor workmanship and theft by the contractor, Ernest Edwards. He was convicted and sentenced to six to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $137,000.

In 2000, Mayor John Street offered the families a $150,000 buyout. Some accepted, but 24 households sued for more money.

The case dragged on for years, with a judge initially awarding a $12.8 million settlement that was later overturned. More families have since settled - the city recently paid out $3 million to 16 households.

But that means eight households are still fighting. Among them is Gerald Wayne Renfrow, 64, who lives at 62nd Street and Osage Avenue. He and some of the other residents came to City Hall recently to protest outside the mayor's office.

"If we accepted the settlement offered to us, we would not have enough money to tear down and rebuild," Renfrow said. "We're here because of the intolerable living conditions we're forced to live with every second, every day of our lives."