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Business & Developmentby Danielle Sweeney and Mark Reutter12:59 pmJun 10, 20150

Uncertain whether city will get reimbursed for riot costs, official says

FEMA has not footed the bill for civil unrest since the Los Angeles riots of 1992. Maryland will pay for National Guard and State Police deployed in Baltimore.

Above: Police officers with shields and riot gear pass by McKeldin Fountain at the Inner Harbor during a Freddie Gray protest in May.

Hopes raised by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan that a large share of the costs of the recent Baltimore riot would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were put in perspective by a city budget official yesterday.

“In order for us to be eligible [for federal aid], the city would have to receive an actual disaster declaration from FEMA,” Robert A. Cenname, deputy budget director, told the City Council.

While both Rawlings-Blake and Hogan have requested such a designation, the federal disaster agency had not made such a designation – and does not routinely reimburse civil unrest-related disasters.

“They [FEMA] haven’t decided on something of this nature for years,” Cenname said. “Actually, we have been told not since the Los Angeles situation back in the 90s. It’s unusual.”

Rodney King Riots

In the Los Angeles case, FEMA issued a disaster declaration, citing fires during six days of rioting in April and May 1992 that were sparked by the acquittal of police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King.

Ferguson, Mo., the scene of riots last August, received no disaster designation or financial assistance from FEMA, according to on-line federal records. The riots were considered by many officials as a local law enforcement issue.

As for what costs FEMA might potentially cover in Baltimore, Cenname didn’t say because the city has mostly received FEMA assistance for weather-related emergencies.

Based on those emergencies, the city has received up to 75% of eligible expenses, he noted. After the hearing, Cenname told The Brew that the city hoped to hear from FEMA by the end of June about any possible reimbursements.

In late May, Rawlings-Blake and the Board of Estimates approved $20 million in supplemental funds in the current budget to cover riot costs. Those funds came from the city’s “rainy day fund” of approximately $90 million.

Prior to the riots, budget officers had estimated a $12 million surplus in the 2015 budget, mostly from higher-than-expected property and utility taxes ($39.6 million) offset by a deficit in revenues from the Horseshoe Casino ($9.2 million) and budget overruns in the Police and Transportation departments ($18.6 million).

Highest Riot Cost: Police

Cenname estimated the cost of the riot to be slightly less than the $20 million the Board of Estimates had allocated.

He broke down the costs into three categories – direct costs to city agencies, costs of mutual aid from other jurisdictions, and projected costs of employee injuries and workman’s compensation claims.

City agencies were responsible for an estimated $11.8 million, of which the largest chunk was in overtime for police and firefighters.

“Police alone spent $7.7 million in personnel costs,” he said. Purchases of riot equipment, such as barricades, masks and shields, and food for officers on long hours of duty were among additional police expenses.

Several other agencies accounted for a majority of the remaining city costs.

A few examples Cenname gave were the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT), which provided technical support and call center assistance to emergency responders, and the departments of Transportation, Public Works and Recreation and Parks, which were out on the streets cleaning up in the aftermath of the April 27 riot.

General Services was faced with repairing 78 damaged vehicles, while the Housing Department and Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) deployed staff to evaluate buildings damaged by fire.

State Covers National Guard

The city’s costs for mutual aid are now estimated at $1.6 million, Cenname told the council.

That’s down from the initial estimate of $2.6 million, because the State of Maryland has up the costs of deploying the National Guard and State Police in Baltimore, which cost about $1 million.

The city received assistance from about 30 other government entities, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Prince George’s counties, and from cities as far afield as Cumberland and Ocean City, as well as from cities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Workman’s Comp Claims 

So far, there have been 169 injury claims, the majority from police officers.

“Those most common injuries were for what we would have expected: folks struck by objects or who had falls or altercations during the riots,” Cenname said.

These claims are expected to total $1.7 million, including medical costs, lost time and permanent or temporary disability.

Workman’s comp costs could rise “by a few hundred thousand dollars,” Cenname warned, because not all of the jurisdictions who provided aid to the city have turned in their cost estimates.

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