The recent action by the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners to join a mutual emergency agreement with other communities is a reasonable effort at coming up with an administrative framework to account for doing something that already happens.
As a practical matter, in times of emergency like blizzards, floods and tropical storms, various governments are fairly generous in offering assistance to each other for things like snow removal, directing traffic, helping with evacuations, providing shelter for displaced people and the like. One town offering help to another when extra public works crews are needed to deal with downed trees, damaged roads or such things is not just a matter of common courtesy and human decency; it also is good public policy. The town providing aid today, may be the town that needs a little help tomorrow.
Such assistance, however, generally isn't included in a town's budget, but it has to be accounted for at some point. If a crew is sent from one town and ends up working 20 hours of overtime in another town, that money ends up being paid out to the workers.
Over time, presumably the favor will be returned, but there are no guarantees. Plus, given the choice between being paid back during an emergency or having no emergency, the obvious choice is hoping for no emergency, which is like hoping to never be repaid.
Presumably, the arrangement Bel Air signed with the Maryland Municipal Public Works Association, which is designed to provide a financial and legal framework for settling up after the dust (or snow, or mud) from an emergency settles.
Bel Air Mayor Eddie Hopkins, who as an officer in the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Department and as a longtime law enforcement officer who also formerly worked for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, knows a little about emergencies and paying for them, called it a "step in the right direction."
We agree, but would like to reiterate a sentiment that probably doesn't need amplification, namely that helping out in times of emergency shouldn't hinge on the expectation of being repaid in the future.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun