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Taxes, economic growth top priorities among most city council candidates

The mayor and three council candidates at a candidate forum on Wednesday, Oct. 12, were all on the same page, more or less, regarding the top issues facing Farmington: taxes, debt and economic development.

And then there was newcomer Brett Wilson, 21, who had an agenda all his own.

Wilson called for polling places to be taken out of places of worship and said if he was elected, he'd "pack the house every night" for city council meetings.

"I want to increase community involvement in government," Wilson said. "If it takes handing out prizes for people to come in and voice their opinion, so be it."

He and Robyn Craig, 58, are challenging incumbents Douglas Bonar, 59, and Terry Donnelly, 61, for two open city council seats, each with a four-year term.

Mayor Todd Larson, 51, is running unopposed.

Larson and Donnelly were both elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. Bonar has served one four-year term.

Both Larson and Bonar said if they were elected, this would be their final term in office.

"Twelve years will be long enough," Larson said.

The incumbents all stated they want to be re-elected so they can follow through on several economic development projects that have been in the works, such as a Hy-Vee grocery store that just bought three plots in the Vermillion River Crossings development on Highway 50 east of Denmark Avenue.

Donnelly, a farmer, put it this way: "We've planted a lot of seeds, and that's just starting to bear fruit now. I'd like to be around to see some of that come to fruition."

Bonar agreed. "I've seen a renaissance that is beginning to occur and I wish to be a part of the progress."

Craig said the city needs a "more aggressive approach" in attracting businesses to Farmington.

"I don't really see a clear-cut vision or path that has been developed to keep and attract new businesses," she said. "There's a master plan and there's things in place, but there's not really an implementation of how those things are going to happen."

Taxes and the upcoming recreational facilities referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot were topics the audience wanted to know more about. The candidates were asked how they would vote on the $10 million to $12.3 million referendum.

All but Wilson declined to make their vote public.

"I'm not going to sit up here and tell the world how I'm going to vote on anything," Larson said.

All candidates supported the decision to let the people decide if they wanted to pay for new ball fields, a water park and an ice rink.

"We've made it very clear what the tax burdens are going to be for them to approve this," Donnelly said.

If both questions are approved, the taxes on a $223,000 home in Farmington will increase by $106 annually.

Bonar responded philosophically, "It basically is, should government or private industry expand the recreational opportunities within the city of Farmington?"

Craig encouraged residents to do their research before voting so they understand the tax burden they're being asked to carry.

Wilson said he would not vote for the referendum. "We don't need a $12 million recreational project right now."

As for the property tax levy, which has been raised by the city council four years in a row, incumbents defended their positions.

"We have an obligation to our debt," Bonar said.

The city has been working to pay down debt accumulated between 2006 and 2010 when the city grew quickly and had to borrow to keep up.

Donnelly said a couple of years ago, the council voted not to increase taxes.

"What that did really was just postpone, push off things that needed to get done," he said.

Craig said strategic planning in regards to economic growth would help keep taxes down.

All five candidates said they were pro-business, the mayor getting passionate about it at times.

"I end every single meeting begging people to spend their money in Farmington when possible and support the local businesses," he said. "Absolutely I'm pro-business."

Donnelly said commercial business and residential growth go hand in hand.

"The businesses have to be able to make money when they come to Farmington, and you need a residential base to do that," Donnelly said.

As for Wilson, he answered many of the questions with, "I don't know," or "pass" or "I got nothing" and finished with a quote by musician Meghan Trainor, "I might be young, but I ain't stupid. Let's shake things up a little bit."

The candidate forum was hosted by the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce and can be viewed online at www.dcrchamber.com/voter-guide.cfm. (Note: This link does not work in mobile broswers). 

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