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Ahmann denounces County Board, Reese lists successes

WILLMAR -- Candidates for the Second District seat on the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners shared their views Friday on top issues facing the county, the use of tax abatements as an economic development tool and future opportunities for in...

Reese and Ahmann
Incumbent Kandiyohi County Commissioner Doug Reese, left, and challenger Steve Ahmann answer questions Friday about their positions on issues. They are shown in a combination photo from a forum sponsored by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. (Briana Sanchez / Tribune)

WILLMAR - Candidates for the Second District seat on the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners shared their views Friday on top issues facing the county, the use of tax abatements as an economic development tool and future opportunities for increased collaboration.

Doug Reese, the incumbent, and challenger Steve Ahmann took turns answering questions at the forum, sponsored by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

When it was time for closing statements, however, Ahmann used his allotted two minutes to criticize Reese and the County Board.

Reese's resume lists training and experience in civil engineering but he "has chosen to do nothing" about the city of Willmar's stormwater problem, Ahmann said.

He accused Reese of throwing the Willmar City Council "under the bus" in comments published in the West Central Tribune and criticized the commissioner's performance at a League of Women Voters forum for County Board candidates Tuesday night.

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He also accused the County Board of failing to be adequately transparent, citing the board's daytime meetings and its expense report that Ahmann claimed is not itemized.

Reese was briefly silent at the beginning of his turn to speak, then said, "I refuse to get into a negative campaign."

He followed up with a list of some of Kandiyohi County's accomplishments during his tenure, including a redesign of services at the county office building and an innovative wastewater leachate collection and treatment system installed at the county landfill that is the first of its kind in North America.

"In the end, I can make decisions that are in the best interest of Kandiyohi County," Reese concluded.

The forum was the second in a series hosted this month by the Chamber of Commerce.

Voters will decide the County Commissioner race in the Second District on Nov. 8. Reese, who was first elected in 2012, is seeking a second four-year term. Ahmann is a longtime member of the Willmar City Council looking to gain a seat on the County Board. The Second District covers the east, southeast and near west side of the city of Willmar, including the downtown district.

Ahmann told his audience Friday that he has been preparing for the role of County Commissioner "for years."

"My strong points are new ideas and rethinking what we have in policies," he said.

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Changing demographics, population growth and an aging population are among the greatest immediate challenges facing Kandiyohi County, he said. There will be a greater demand for services and a greater need for efficiencies and cost-effectiveness, as well as a need to address agriculture and infrastructure and maintain what the county already has, he said.

Ahmann took a jab at the County Board as he brought up the stormwater problems that have plagued parts of town and led to property damage.

He claimed the County Board has been remiss in not sitting down with the city to work out the drainage issues.

Real solutions need to be identified and implemented to correct the problems, Ahmann said. "You have to deal with that or we'll have people moving out of Willmar," he said.

Reese stuck to a positive message, promising in his opening statement that he will lead "with passion, integrity, with honor. I will not constantly be looking for something that is wrong to make myself look good. ... We need to start looking for what is right."

He listed roads, bridges and broadband as some of the current key needs in Kandiyohi County. There has been progress in meeting those needs, Reese said. A state grant application was submitted earlier this month for a broadband project, and construction is scheduled to start in 2018 on a railroad bypass west of Willmar, opening up the Industrial Park to future expansion, he said.

Reese also cited many examples of Kandiyohi County's collaboration with other entities, ranging from Woodland Centers and Vision 2040 to the joint city-county Economic Development Commission and a recent merger of the city of Willmar's assessor office with that of the county.

"If there's an opportunity to do so, I'm wide open to it," he said.

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He defended the County Board, saying the commissioners are able to focus on policy, avoid micromanagement, make decisions and move forward without rancor.

"The current board functions well," he said.

Both candidates said they support the use of tax abatements as an economic development tool but they also said each abatement request has to be weighed individually.

Ahmann said he wants to see more accountability and more information accompany each request. "We'd love to have the tax base, but you have to look at each situation on a different basis," he said.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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