LIMA — And then there were two.
As October begins, Allen County Commissioner Greg Sneary has officially left his position on the three-person board to settle into retirement after spending almost 18 years on the job.
He leaves behind a legacy of public service.
Falling into politics
Sneary never expected to get into public office. He started out his working career in the private sector, first as a factory worker at Nickles Bakery and then as an owner of a used car lot. A zoning issue changed that path.
Back in 1991, Sneary had purchased a property to be used as car lot, but faulty township maps dating back to 1983 had listed the property as commercial. A month after buying the property, he was being challenged by the township and nearby property owners, who said that the plat was actually residential.
The issue lingered for years, and he said he decided to run for American Township trustee after wrestling with the legal ramifications.
“At that time with all the turmoil that happened, I just felt when I looked at it: ‘Well, I think I can do a better job than the people in that office.’”
He ran in 1993 and lost. But the race was close enough for him to try again in 1995. He took office in ‘96 and served as a trustee for eight years before deciding to try for the Allen County commissioner position as an independent.
Back in 2002, he grabbed 45 percent of the vote in the three-person commissioner race, replacing Alberta Lee on the board by pushing a message of fiscal responsibility.
An article from that year described him as “more comfortable in jeans than the suits he had to wear while campaigning. He wants hamburger rather than steak for his county budget.”
Over the years, that governing philosophy hasn’t changed much. One of the main responsibilities of the county commissioners is to tend to the county’s budget, and Sneary said he’s always tried to keep spending one the lower end instead of increasing tax revenues to try to keep a balanced budget.
But he’s also been realistic about the county’s needs. Two years ago, Sneary and the rest of the board campaigned to increase the sales tax over a decade’s time to tackle the county’s building issues. A lack of upkeep over decades had left many of them in bad shape, and commissioners proposed a shot in the arm to fix the problems before they worsened. Taxpayers, however, ultimately disagreed with the sentiment.
Sneary said part of the county’s capital problems were increased by the Great Recession, which he helped the county get through.
“The worst time that we had, by far, would have been during the Recession,” he said. “It happened very, very rapidly. I remember that. We knew there were issues. We were trying to deal with them, but it would last no more than just a couple of weeks, it would change and it would change again and change again. It was just continuing. And the numbers kept falling.”
At one point, Sneary recalled the county could only spend $400,000 on capital repairs, and that was after taking a long hard look at almost every facet of county spending. He said they had tweaked with temperatures to keep down heating and cooling costs, and even looked at nixing the budgets for office necessities, like pens, by relying on the branded freebies often handed out by businesses.
“We were looking at everything — even the paper that we bought.” Sneary said. “It was amazing. We bought the thinnest paper and it would still hold up. I mean, we were looking at absolutely everything.”
By the end of those trials, he said the county ended up being better for the challenge by trimming some of the fat that can be government spending, but the costs of building upkeep will most likely still be an issue for whoever takes his seat on the board in the future.
“Well, it’s going to take something to get caught up eventually, and right now, we’re doing pretty good, but we’re not getting really caught up,” he said. “And that’s where the problem really comes in.”
Overall, when looking back at his years in office, Sneary said he’s enjoyed the work.
“It’s a really, really neat job to have. It really is. And it’s very rewarding at the same time, too, because the public trust that you have got it’s just amazing to think of,” Sneary said. “Every day you basically do the same thing, but every day is different than the last day. And I’ve never had two days be identical.”
As for his retirement, he’s looking forward to taking some time to travel the country with his wife, Sarah. The two plan to buy a new camper and visit states they’ve never been to.
“I don’t know a place I don’t really want to see,” he said.
“I appreciate Commissioner Sneary’s dedication to Allen County,” Allen County Commissioner Cory Noonan said. “I can never question his service and loyalty to the county, and I appreciate the friendship we fostered over seven and half years. He’s going to be missed on the board.”
“In the time that he and I served together, I tried to absorb as much information as possible from him,” Interim Allen County Commissioner Beth Seibert said. “I’m happy for him and wife to be able to start a new chapter, because he deserves it.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.