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Adams County Commissioners Bid Farewell to Chief Public Defender Kristin Rice; finalize tax-neutral budget

There were multiple moments of applause and a standing ovation on Wednesday morning as the Adams County Commissioners bid farewell to Chief Public Defender Kristin Rice, who is retiring after serving for the past 19 years.

“I want to say the last 19 years have been a joy. I’ve felt so supported by my attorneys and my office staff,” she said. “Everything I have ever needed, this county has supported me to do my job. I am extremely proud to have been a part of this service we provide to our citizens.”

Rice joined the Adams County legal system in 2003 and assumed the role of Public Defender in 2011. She plans to continue working at the law firm of Wolfe, Rice & Quinn, LLC., which she opened with her husband in 1986.

“It is a privilege to talk about this wonderful woman,” said Adams County Court of Common Pleas Judge Christina M. Simpson.  Simpson said she once worked across the aisle from Rice as the assistant district attorney and that they often argued against each other in court. “But it was always with grace, dignity, and mutual respect. The community owes her a debt of gratitude, not just for her role in the justice system but for the care in her heart for her clients—which is rare and admirable in her position,” she said.

“You’ve been an advocate, a contemporary, and always on the other side,” said District Attorney Brian Sinnett. “I have the greatest respect for you personally and professionally, especially with regard to how you always do what is best for your client. There is nobody like Kristin Rice when it comes to being a public defender.”

Commissioner James Martin echoed the praise, saying, “What you do provides a link in the justice system, and you do it well. I’ve never seen anyone do it better. You do it with a whole heart and by making sure your clients have the proper representation in the justice system.”

Presenting her with a plaque for her years of service, Commissioner Randy Phiel said “we owe Kristin Rice a debt of gratitude we can never repay.”

“You’ve had a difficult caseload,” said Commissioner Marty Qually, who added he will miss her in the courthouse. “I’ve never doubted your caring.”  

2023 Budget

The final 2023 Adams County Budget was approved at Wednesday’s meeting. Not only is there no tax increase for the coming year, but a change in the budget brought its deficit down by nearly one million dollars. County Manager Steve Nevada said this occurred because of an increase in the hotel or “pillow” tax and the utility allocations.

“The tentative budget presented on Nov. 16 projected using $3,586,790 of the appropriated fund balance. Since that time, we received finalized open enrollment data and revised utility allocation and are now projecting using only $2,636,774 of the appropriated fund balance,” said Nevada.

The final budget can be found on the county website at www.adamscounty.us.

Commissioner Randy Phiel reiterated that the county is in good shape, has a strong bond rating, and only uses $2.6 million of reserves. “That’s not bad for us. There are thousands of pieces of minutiae in a budget like this, and the process begins in July,” he said, thanking the many people who had a part in its creation.

County taxes account for about 20 percent of a homeowner’s tax bill, with another 20 percent going to township or borough governments and about 60 percent to school funding.

National Impaired Driving Prevention and 4D Prevention Month

“30 percent of all traffic crash deaths in the U.S. involve drunk drivers,” Nate Sterner, youth director at Collaborating for Youth, told the County Commissioners. The county has proclaimed December as “National Impaired Driving Prevention and 4D Prevention Month.”  The four areas of distraction are drunk, drugged, drowsy, or distracted.

“For young teen drivers, drunk driving is very dangerous, regardless of if they’re the ones driving or not. One driving under the influence citation (DUI) can change their life forever,” he added.

“It used to be all about alcohol,” said Commissioner Randy Phiel. “Now we need to grasp the fact that more people are driving under the influence of drugs–and cell phone distraction is phenomenal—worse than it’s ever been.”

Sterner agreed, stating statistics that indicated drivers aged 15 to 20 years represent the largest group involved in fatal crashes occurring because of distraction. “And 19 percent of drivers of all ages admit to using the web while driving, while 40 percent of teens say they’ve been in a car while the driver has used a cell phone,” he noted.

Collaborating for Youth is a community-driven program focused on increasing services and reducing risks facing area youth and families.

Other Board Business

  • Nearly $450,000 was approved for a license and service agreement for software that will assist Adam County first responders. The contract with Tyler Technologies, Inc. of Yarmouth, Maine, also includes maintenance and support fees of almost $50,000 per year for as long as the county uses the software.
  • Emergency Services Director Warren Bladen also received approval for a grant award to be used for attendance at two HAZMAT training conferences. The three-year agreement will end in September 2025, costing about $8,000. The cost to the county is $1,591 as a non-Federal match.
  • Commissioners approved a modification request for the STOP Violence Against Women grant for $375,000 in federal funds to the YWCA Hanover Safe Home. The home provides free services for victims of domestic violence and operates on a 24/7 basis.
  • There will be no additional cost to the county to provide employment readiness skills, education, and mentoring services for the inmate population at the Adams County Adult Correctional Center. The one-year agreement is with Equus Workforce Solutions, a Kentucky company with local offices in Gettysburg.

Featured image caption: Adams County Chief Public Defender, Kristin Rice, is honored upon her retirement. From left, Commissioners James Martin, Randy Phiel, Rice, and Commissioner Marty Qually. 

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Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

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