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Kamenetz right on riot reimbursement

The question isn't why Kamenentz refused Baltimore's reimbursement after the riots. It's why nobody else did.

The budget for the Baltimore County Police Department last fiscal year was $205,161,521. The Fire Department's budget was $93,517,086. That means that the $257,000 the county spent to help restore order in Baltimore City during April's riots represents about 0.09 percent of its public safety budget at the time. Put another way, the police department spends more than twice that much each and every day. As such, we tend to think Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is right that the departments can absorb that expenditure and do not need the reimbursement Baltimore City offered.

Declining it is, as Mr. Kamenetz expressed, a gesture of good will. Baltimore City needed help during the riots, and it needs every bit of help it can get now. Since the federal government denied disaster relief, the city is being forced to dip into reserve funds to cover the reimbursements for other jurisdictions that helped. Baltimore County won't have to do that, in part because it was careful to manage its contribution to the effort in such a way that it didn't run up large overtime bills — in itself, an indication that officials there weren't expecting to be reimbursed in the first place.

But it is more than that. It is a recognition of just how closely the two jurisdictions are entwined and the degree to which the health of the one directly affects the other. Baltimore County residents had just as much interest in seeing peace and calm restored in the city as most city residents did (excepting, of course, those who actually live in the neighborhoods affected by the rioting). Much as some County Council members might like to believe otherwise, there is no wall on the city border.

On the most basic level, such a small investment in helping the city was clearly reasonable. Every day, according to the most recent Census figures, 117,000 people commute from Baltimore County to Baltimore City. Those people had a vested interest in knowing whether they could get to work safely on that last Tuesday in April. Likewise, about 59,000 people commute from the city to the county, and the county had good reason to help ensure they could get there after the riots.

More broadly, the county has long recognized a responsibility to help maintain the city as the focal point of the region. It routinely supports institutions in the city including the Maryland Zoo, the National Aquarium, the Walters Art Museum, Center Stage and the Baltimore Museum of Art. This year, aid from the county to those and similar organizations throughout the region will total more than 10 times as much as the county spent on the riot response.

It is also routine for county police officers to cross into the city in the course of their duties, and vice-versa. It's not usually on this scale or in so high-profile a situation, but criminals don't respect the city-county line, so the two departments must work together on a daily basis. We don't begrudge the Wicomico County Sheriff's Office the $29,179.94 Baltimore reimbursed it for helping guard police headquarters on the night of the riots. For them to have come to the city's aid is truly an unusual occurrence. But for Baltimore city and county to get into the business of reimbursing one another when one police department helps the other would be a bit like next-door neighbors sitting down at the end of the year to tally up who owes whom a cup of sugar.

But what critics of Mr. Kamenetz's decision really don't get is that the problems that were brought to the surface by the protests and unrest following Freddie Gray's death require a response by the entire region. The $257,000 isn't all that significant on a substantive level, but symbolically it's an important sign that we recognize our shared responsibility and are ready to be engaged in the effort to tackle problems we have too long allowed to lie hidden in plain sight. The question is not why Mr. Kamenetz declined to be reimbursed for the county's assistance during and after the riots but why his counterparts throughout the region didn't do the same.

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