Roy Buskirk’s hard work and common-sense approach as an Allen County councilman have qualified him for a bigger job as an Allen County commissioner.
After 12 years on the council, Buskirk has proved a strong advocate for responsible government as well as a vicar for cooperation between the county and the city of Fort Wayne.
In this primary, Buskirk, 69, is challenging a local political icon: incumbent Linda Bloom, who has served the county for more than 3½ decades. Bloom was the county’s auditor and treasurer before becoming its first female commissioner in 1994.
Everyone brings different things to the table, says the 72-year-old Bloom. I’m really good at finding the money. I’ve accomplished a lot.
Indeed, she has. During this past term, for instance, she has led or helped lead on such projects as the Maplecrest extension and the Fort to Port upgrade of U.S. 24. She’s been a key player in the effort to expand local trails.
I have a lot of respect for Linda Bloom, Buskirk says. I feel it’s just time for a change.
Also running is Michael Mills, 45, who served in the sheriff’s department for 14 years and has studied to be a teacher. Mills wants to see county government become more accessible to the public through night meetings and do more for economic development.
Low-key, homespun and highly effective, Buskirk already has changed a lot of things.
He played the key role in creating the City-County Joint Oversight Permitting Board and serves as its first and only chairman. This is a group whose bureaucratic mouthful of a name belies its reason for existence: to cut red tape for businesses and residents who must deal with both Fort Wayne and Allen County on development and permitting questions so you don’t have to switch your hat when you run across the city line, Buskirk says.
One example of a rule that could drive a prospective developer crazy: the city required 4½-foot sidewalk widths, and the county required five feet.
This spring, the board has produced plans for unifying the city’s and county’s approach to such questions as lot widths, setbacks, landscaping requirements and buffer zones.
Almost as important is the effort, as Buskirk puts it, to come into the 21st century and make most of the information electronically available. That seems like an obvious step, but when Buskirk began pushing for it, only one Indiana county’s requirements were online.
Buskirk’s battles are not splashy, but they often prove worth the effort. The county used to lose money on tax sales. After a three-year effort, Buskirk was able to persuade the Indiana legislature to increase the tax-sale fees paid by mortgage companies from $10 to first $100, and now $200. In 2013, he said, $344,000 went into the county treasury from those fees.
He’s also shown an innate understanding of how tax policies that make sense at the state level may cause problems at the local level. He was one of the first to predict inequities for residents in unincorporated areas when the state set statewide tax caps for incorporated areas. Now, he’s concerned about the changes in sentencing laws that will send more prisoners to jail instead of prison, with the cost of their care falling to the county.
But Buskirk believes he can get more done as a commissioner. We think he can, too.