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From the Desk of County Commissioner
 Jim Martin

(2/2012) On January 3, 2012, the Swearing in Ceremony for Adams County’s publicly elected officials was conducted by the Adams County Board of Judges. During this ceremony we, the newly elected County Commissioners; Randy Phiel, Jim Martin, and Marty Qually took the oath of office. The venue for this ceremony was Adams County’s historic ceremonial courtroom which dates to pre-civil war. It served as a command post and hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg. The ceremonial courtroom is seldom used and unknown to many of Adams County’s residents, yet it is an impressively restored treasure and a symbol of past governance.

Because of the character of this courtroom, we considered it to be a very fitting setting for future commissioners’ meetings. This proposal was quickly presented to the board of judges for their review and approval. Following their approval we immediately began holding our commissioners’ meetings in the ceremonial courtroom. We feel that the use of the ceremonial courtroom sets a respectful tone that official county governance is in session rather than the informal environment of the previously used meeting room. We have received numerous public responses that have been very complementary plus an editorial praising this venue change. We realize that the ceremonial courtroom lacks modern acoustics and lighting, so we are working through the process of addressing and improve these conditions.

As we move forward as a completely new board, our Chairman Randy Phiel is enthusiastic that the new board which also includes Commissioners Jim Martin and Marty Qually, all share the same strategic objectives dedicated to a new and better direction for Adams County. In this early stage of our administration, considerable attention must be given to good transition while attending to the daily flow of county business. To make our transition as efficient and effective as possible, more than a month prior to taking office we took deliberate actions to better prepare ourselves for this challenge. We networked with peers to discuss issues, we attended workshops and training sessions, plus we voluntarily met on numerous occasions to develop strategic planning.

One of our strategic planning objectives is efficient and effective governance through timely and good decision making plus long turn planning. We have set the policy that decisions will be based upon listening to public comment, gathering the best available information, analyzing the facts and options, then making the decision that is in the best interest for the citizens of Adams County. It is also our objective to explain the reasoning behind the decisions that we make.

We consider long-term planning to be an essential tool to adequately prepare for the future operations and function of Adams County. One aspect of looking long-term is developing good relations with our legislative leaders, both at the state and federal levels. This results in a clear line of communication to keep us abreast of issues that may affect or impact Adams County. Also, good relationships with our legislative leaders presents us a better opportunity to quickly address issues that may need higher level governmental action. Recently we received the backing of State Senator Alloway and State Representatives Tallman and Moul to reschedule PA DOT road projects. With the help of these legislators and the objections of the Adams County Commissioners, the road repair projects that would have impacted the 150th Anniversary Celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg have been rescheduled.

Another aspect of our long-term planning is to be aware and informed of initiatives and projects of our local municipalities. To develop that focus, the commissioners plan to be regular participants in the Adams County Council of Governments (locally known as CoG). Also, being involved in this organization will also help us to develop good communications with many municipalities.

Recently we attended CoG’s January meeting. Our participation in this meeting was very useful. We learned of efforts by CoG to study measures that can help sustain our volunteer fire and emergency services. With the help of the Department of Community and Economic Development a study could be made possible. Part of that study would include developing "best financial management practices " to be utilized by our volunteer fire and emergency services. By following these recommended practices, volunteer fire companies would be sustained through building a stronger financial position. To help this project move forward, the Adams County Commissioners plan to pass a resolution to support a grant from the DCED to fund the study.

In regard to the controversy whether or not to fund a new county-wide emergency radio system, we were faced with this decision that was passed on to us by the previous board of commissioners. The project plans for a new system were developed over several years and adopted by the previous board. That project was handed to us by the former board of commissioners, without a plan for payment. In the 2012 budget narrative prepared by the previous board they stated, "The 911 Radio System upgrade is in the final stages of review and is a project which is direly needed, yet at a high expense for the county residents for 2012 and beyond." So, how long can we continue to kick the can down the road? Do we do nothing and say, "It is acceptable to continue to put first responders and our citizens at increasing risk?"

In the very short run we may be able to struggle through with our system that is not reliable and approaching the end of its useful life. However, at some point something must be done. A new system cannot just be dropped into place in a few days as with a car engine. Construction of a new system must begin before the existing system crashes. We need approximately a two year window for construction to occur plus time for transition testing. The hope is that if we begin very soon, we will have sufficient time for the existing system to carry us to completion.

Yes, it appears that we will be funding a new digital system, but that decision has come after extensive review day and night for the best solution. Our objective was to keep the tax burden as manageable as possible; millage will be raised .181 mills which equates to $18.10/yr for each $100,000 of assessed value. In other words, a property with an assessed value of $200,000 will have a tax increase of $36.20/yr. We have structured the bond financing into two phases. The second phase will be delayed to allow an opportunity to utilize possible State and Federal funding to reduce the debt of the project. In final analysis, this was an extremely difficult decision and one that no one was willing to make. We determined that the risks and costs of not proceeding with the construction of a new system were too great to do nothing. We sincerely believe that in the long-run we made the best decision for Adams County.

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