WILLMAR -- Incumbent Kandiyohi County Commissioner Richard Larson will be facing two challengers in Tuesday's primary election.
Larson will be defending his post against Bill Graves and Paul Hoffer.
The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the general election Nov. 4.
Larson, 76, has been on the County Board since 1997 representing District 2, which includes all of Willmar's Ward 4 and part of Ward 3.
This is Paul Hoffer's second campaign for a seat on the County Board. Two years ago Hoffer, 55, ran against Harlan Madsen in District 5 in the southern part of the county. Hoffer has since moved to Willmar.
Bill Graves, 46, is making his first step into politics. The father of five young children is a self-employed businessman who has opened more than 50 Dominos pizza franchises in seven states, including the store in Willmar.
Despite their differences in age and background, all three cited taxes as a top challenge facing the county.
"In these economic times I feel we need to become more astute when addressing the county budget," Hoffer said. We need to do a better job of prioritizing the many programs and needs of the citizens of Kandiyohi County."
Providing services is one of the main jobs of counties.
"We understand that people are accountable for their own actions, and we also understand that the government's role is a safety net for those in need," Larson said.
Graves said tough decisions need to be made when it comes to trimming budgets so that responsible cuts can be made without cutting things "that people depend on."
Graves said by "finding a way to reach out to the people," the community will find ways to "cover some of the slack."
Hoffer said he would hold "informal information gathering sessions" twice a year with the residents of the 2nd District to help prioritize budget items.
Larson said counties are the "right arm for the state's legislative actions" and cost shifts from the state to counties have caused problems for local taxpayers.
"The burden that causes most of our increases in taxes is due to mandated programs passed down to us without funding, and this has increased substantially in the past few years allowing the state to then balance their budget," Larson said.
When it comes to discussing opportunities or goals they have for the county, all three candidates cited the MinnWest Technology campus as an example of a successful enterprise that holds the promise of more business and community opportunities for attracting good-paying technical jobs and positive exposure for the county.
Those factors will help the county in the future "to be progressive rather than regressive," Larson said.
Hoffer said there also needs to be a focus on "enhancing our commitment" to agricultural-related industry and businesses and to "building and maintaining a business-friendly environment" that will attract all types of businesses and residents.
Graves said some of the "most hard-working and educated people are living right here in Kandiyohi County" and are assets that can help bring new opportunities to the community. He said establishing Kandiyohi County as a tax-free zone should be considered by the board, as well as encouraging technology and creating opportunities for people to work from home that could help "grow the county."
Larson said one of his goals is to work together with other governmental agencies -- like townships, schools, cities and other counties -- to reach cooperative agreements so that services are not duplicated. As chairman of the board this year, Larson said one way he's tried to promote community cooperation is by holding board meetings in different communities.
While much has been accomplished in recent years, Larson said he wants to continue to serve on the board to follow through with projects yet to be completed, such as the Grass Lake restoration project, "environmental issues, cleaning up of our lakes, keeping our transportation system in repair and showing concern on the burden placed upon our taxpayers."
Hoffer said he would "bring fresh new ideas to the county board" and, as a lifelong resident of the county, he has a "commitment to my children and grandchildren and all the residents of Kandiyohi County to keep this county a strong and viable place to live and work."
After working hard to establish his business franchises, Graves said he's ready to "give back to the community and give back to the people who've helped me." He said he's "at a time in life" when he's able to take time to serve in an elected position.
Graves has high praise for the current board, but said considering that the commissioners are either at or near retirement age, it would be good to have someone a little younger on the board to bring "a new set of eyes and a new set of ears" to the table. He said if he does win a seat on the board, he would look to Larson to serve as his mentor which would be a "huge benefit" during a transition.
With past service in church and community organizations, Hoffer said he brings an "ability to listen and understand the concerns of residents" and he is "not one to be swayed" but will represent concerns of the district.
Larson said he brings knowledge of how the county works, and "understanding of the complexities" for county departments, the ability to work and communicate with county employees and the public and the dedication, and wisdom and leadership that comes with his 12 years of experience.