Some on County Council question Kamenetz move to decline riot reimbursement

Was Kamenetz right to decline riot reimbursement? Some say no.

Some Baltimore County Council members are criticizing County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for declining more than $250,000 from Baltimore City — a reimbursement to the county for sending police and firefighters to help during April's rioting.

Baltimore City officials said last month they would pay surrounding counties a combined $1.8 million for their help responding to unrest in April and May after the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old West Baltimore man who suffered fatal injuries while in police custody. The reimbursements are part of $20 million in costs related to the unrest that the city expects to spend.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, said last week he would turn down the $257,000 reimbursement as a gesture of neighborly good will. He said the Baltimore County Police Department could absorb costs associated with the response within its own overtime budget.

But some on the County Council say the county is owed that money.

Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson and Perry Hall, said the money could be used to fill open positions for police officers. He also said declining the reimbursement could set a precedent for future events.

"The county executive is absolutely correct that we should be a good neighbor and Baltimore County acted appropriately to send in support last April," Marks said. "My only difference of opinion is I think that we should accept the reimbursement."

Councilman Todd Crandell, too, said the money could be spent to fill police vacancies. The Dundalk Republican said the county also needs to add air conditioning to schools and make improvements to parks. "Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is not going to solve every problem we have, but I could sure use it in our district," he said.

Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, said the move sends a message that county officials are OK with how the riot response was handled.

"I'm concerned that by forgiving the debt, it shows approval of the way the riots were handled by Baltimore City," Kach said. "Our policemen who were sent to the city were put in harm's way."

But others had no problem with Kamenetz's move.

"Every day, fire apparatus and police cars run back and forth through jurisdictions through the state. We come to help each other in times of need. It's not a new concept. It's something that we do," said Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat who also is a high-ranking officer in the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said it was important to help keep the city safe during a turbulent time.

"They are our neighbor. I think that we're all in this boat together. The stronger the city is, the better for the county," he said.

Council members Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, and Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, declined to comment.

Through a spokeswoman, Kamenetz declined to comment further Monday.

Other counties that are due reimbursements from Baltimore said they plans to accept the money, including Anne Arundel County, which is owed $426,000, and Montgomery County, which is owed $296,000. Howard County already received its reimbursement of $373,000.

Also on Monday, the Baltimore County Council held its first meeting of the new year and elected Almond as council chairwoman for the year. This is Almond's second time as council chairwoman, having first served in the role in 2012.

pwood@baltsun.com

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