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From the Desk of County Commissioner
 Jim Martin

(11/2012) As we enter November 2012, it is reminiscent of last year’s general election final campaign push for candidates. I refer to this from personal experience to express my appreciation for those candidates who have stepped forward and have invested their time and financial resources to run for a public office. It is also time for all eligible voters to step forward and cast their ballots on November 6th. This is a duty and responsibility that falls upon all Americans. Plan now to vote and I encourage you to vote as an informed voter. If after October 30 unexpected circumstances prevent you from appearing at your election poll to vote, emergency absentee ballot applications can be filed prior to 5:00pm on the Friday preceding the November 6th election (November 2nd).

As a result of last year’s General Election three new Adams County commissioners were elected to office; Randy Phiel, Jim Martin and Marty Qually. We have completed our first ten months in office. Speaking for myself, the pace has been vigorous and I feel it has been the fastest ten months of my life and including some of my most rewarding and humbling experiences. September and October ushered in an extremely high level of activity surrounding the courthouse, not to discount the months before. During this two-month period the courthouse was a buzz. Tax claim sales, hearing assessment appeals, holding a death penalty trial, relocating our IT department (aka MIS department), beginning the 2013 budget process, and starting the upgrade of our computer network with the installation of new servers ; this is not the exhaustive list, but obviously the high-profile actions.

Among this list, a death penalty trial was something I have never experienced from close range. However, my assessment is that the Johnson Death Penalty trial schedule and all related support activity were handled extremely well and in a very professional manner. The activities behind the scene that lead to a trial without incident or disruption are commendable and a result of a well managed plan of operation.

The initial action of planning revolved around sound budgeting and managing key aspects of the trial. This was achieved by the court administrator engaging different departments in pre-trial planning. The pre-trial planning involved the courts, the Chief Tipstaff, the Sheriff’s Office, Courthouse Security, and the Maintenance Department. The pre-trial planning began approximately two months prior to the trial.

Once the presiding judge ruled in favor of the Public Defender’s argument that a fair trial required an out-of-county jury, then more detailed planning for the trial began to take shape. The court administrator assembled all support entities to put together a plan to provide security and protection inside and outside the courtroom and courthouse. Suitable bus transportation of the jury had to be negotiated and contracted. When the jury arrived by bus at the courthouse, they were given secure access and escort and a security check through joint procedures of the Sheriff’s Department and the Courthouse Security Team. The Sheriff’s Department was also tasked with the secure transport and protection of defendant Johnson. This process also was designed to grant protection from unnecessary public and media activity. In the event the jury had to be sequestered, the Sheriff’s department was prepared this event. To insure that there was adequate man power for emergencies, personal leave and PTO were put on hold, especially in the Sheriff’s department. Constant communication was maintained among the court administrator, the Sheriff’s Office, and Courthouse Security. Anything that was a potential disruption was discussed among this three for appropriate action and resolution.

The Victims Witness Department had the task of briefing the victim’s family of testimony and evidence that would be presented. This allowed the family to decide which aspect of the trial would be too emotional for their presence in the courtroom. Maintenance and the Victim Witness Department arranged a private chamber for the victim’s family and certain witnesses if they wished to avoid the courtroom, the public and/or the media. Also in this setting meals were provided. Beverages, food and snacks were donated by local businesses. The Law Enforcement Association’s families also provided food that was served to officers that had to remain on site for the entire day of trial proceedings.

There are certainly more critical and important tasks that were implemented, but I wanted to give an overview that represented a model for a well managed, high profile death penalty trial. I anticipate that our court administrator will present the model of procedures and actions implemented to state and other county authorities. It would not surprise me if this model or portions of it will be incorporated in a manual of practice. Also the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office were each thoroughly prepare for their respective prosecution and defense responsibilities. Both regarded their assignments and duties with the highest level of importance and performed at superior standards of professional conduct.

Another of our high profile actions has been the real estate assessment appeal hearings. Approximately 1100 appeals were heard (as of time of publishing) and were divided among three boards of assessment appeals. The three county commissioners composed one of the boards that primarly heard commercial appeals and unique land parcels appeals. The remaining two boards were auxiliary boards that heard residential appeals. The auxiliary boards were carefully chosen and instructed to be fair and equitable in value determinations and allowing appellants to withdraw if they so desired. Also appellants were allowed to submit a variety of documents and pictures that they felt were relevant to their appeal. Projections indicate that nearly half of the appellants received value reductions. The remainder of the appeals was either unchanged or withdrawn by the appellant. The Tax Services Department did an excellent job of scheduling appeals and organizing appropriate documents used to conduct the appeals. The Commissioners were even given commendations for their time management to stay on schedule.

Based on the apparent outcome of the appeals, there will obviously be a reduction in the county’s total property value tax base. We expect this reduction to be partially absorbed by limited new construction and development. As a result, tax revenues for 2013 are projected to be flat and this will need to be reflected in the budget for 2013. My expectation is that we will be following a lean budget for 2013. To date the 2012 county budget is on target. Let’s pray that we are able to deal with the unknown consequences of hurricane Sandy both financially and especially without loss of life or property.

Looking toward a lean budget, how can we afford to update our computer network with new servers as previously mentioned? The new servers were included in the 2012 budget and the funds are therefore available. Do we need to update our computer network? Yes, we are operating at nearly 95% of capacity which is not recommended, especially for network components that are near the end of their life expectancy. At present we are operating on a very narrow margin of operability. Also our processing speed has slowed considerably over the past four to five months. The new servers will systematically be brought on line over the coming weeks, using nights and weekends for installation. This project will also provide us with back-up servers, which we presently lack, at an off-campus location to bring us out of antiquity and halt gambling with system failure. At present, system failure would be extremely disruptive to operations and would require days to recover. Also to enhance system performance and accommodate future needs, we will be switching from cable transmission to fiber optics. Fiber optics will allow instant redundancy to the backup servers. Additionally, the new servers are designed to serve virtual computers that operate with 30% less electricity and produce less heat. Virtual computers require less hands-on maintenance and we anticipate transitioning to their use. This will reduce the traditional man-hours needed to service conventional computers.

There is more happening, especially as we near the completion of the County-Wide Emergency Radio System contract design review. By the time this article goes to press, we anticipate that the review will be complete. Following this review, tower construction activity will begin and to be followed by the manufacturing and simulated test of our new radio equipment. For further information on what is happening in Adams County, come to our next community forum. It will be held at the Arendtsville Community Building, 1 Chestnut Street, Arendtsville, on November 13, 2012 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm.

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