Brief personal background, education, career, bio: 

Wayne Johnson

I am a lifelong resident of Otter Tail County, born and raised on a 3rd generation dairy farm just west of Dunvilla. My wife Dena and I have two adult children, Ian and Grace. I graduated from NDSU Fargo with a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. For the past 29 years, we have owned and operated Super Septic Inc. Our success has come from focusing on customer service and problem-solving, the same skills I apply to my position as the current County Commissioner for District 2

Can you list a couple of the key issues you are focusing on for the campaign?

Economic development: We need to continue to grow our tax base in order to reduce individual property taxes. We need housing; several of our larger businesses have been forced to expand outside the county, due mainly to the lack of available housing. We need to recruit and retain more labor force; we are competing statewide and nationwide for a limited number of workers. We need to let them know they are welcome here, and that this is a great place to live, work, and play.

I am also focused on public safety. It seems the radical elements of our society are becoming more radical and brazen. We need to make sure our law enforcement has all the tools and resources they need to keep us all safe.

I am also focused on protecting our lakes. We can’t allow overdevelopment, and we need to keep our 1048 lakes clean, clear, and protected for all.

Housing has been consistently identified as one of the top priorities in Otter Tail County. Do you agree with that priority? 

Absolutely!

Do you support the Otter Tail County “Big Build” initiative?

Yes! The Big Build is the County’s housing growth initiative to build, preserve, or rehabilitate 5,000 housing units by 2025. These housing units are typically single-family homes, duplexes, or market-rate apartments. The Colony Apartments on the west edge of Pelican Rapids were the first 32 units built due to The Big Build. There are multiple new single-family homes built in our area with the assistance of The Big Build. There is currently work being done for a housing development at the old county garage site east of the Pelican Rapids City Hall. It is projected that there will be a 4.6% decline in the workforce in Otter Tail County, mainly due to our aging/retiring population. We need to have housing in order to attract workers to fill our growing workforce needs.

Can you comment on how housing needs should be addressed as a county board member?

The County can incentivize the construction of new housing units to meet the various needs of household types and income levels using things like property tax rebates and down payment assistance. 

We can build partnerships with and expand the capacity of non-profit organizations, community partnerships, and private developers to collectively respond to the housing challenge.

We can seek funding opportunities to support new housing development, ownership opportunities, and reinvestment.

We can advocate for increased funding and support of housing at the state and federal levels.

Finally, the County can partner with all our communities to assist them with their own unique opportunities.

Do you support a gravel extraction tax in Otter Tail County? Why or why not?

It depends. If it can be done with minimal impact on our citizens, I would be in favor. Aggregate material is a limited resource. When it is gone, it is gone. Much of the resource is already being exported to the Fargo/Moorhead area, with more to come. Currently, the Fargo/Moorhead area gets a majority of its material from Clay and Becker Counties (both of which have the tax), but those resources are being depleted as we speak. I believe Otter Tail County is next, as we are the next closest. Gravel-rich lands have already been bought up by corporations from outside the county, and our roads and bridges will be negatively impacted by the increased truck traffic. The tax would be a way to have those companies pay for the repair and maintenance of our roads, especially the township roads where many of these pits are located. It would also give us the tools to make sure the pits are reclaimed and usable after the gravel is gone.

If you received a $10 million grant for Otter Tail County to spend any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

I would use it to leverage other funding sources. State bonding money for bridges has to have local cost participation. We have a number of bridges in the county that need replacement. I would use some of the money for those projects. I would use it to support broadband grant applications by our local telephone companies. Those companies apply for competitive state and federal grants to bring high-speed internet access to our citizens and businesses. Those grant applications are more successful with cost participation from local units of government. Finally, we need housing and workers. I would use some of the money to incentivize housing and workforce development, so that our businesses, schools, and communities can continue to grow and prosper.

Can you outline two ideas for fostering economic development and expanding the tax base in Otter Tail County?

We need workforce. In order to bring in workforce, we need to expand our infrastructure: housing, broadband, childcare, and outdoor recreation. Increasing the housing stock allows businesses to bring in employees and their families for the many open positions that are available. Bringing in more employees also drives the expansion of our schools, and small businesses, grocery stores, hardware stores, etc.

I believe the workforce won’t come here if we don’t have safe, affordable housing, good internet access, a safe place for their young children to be while they are at work, and things to do with their families when not at work. We are competing statewide and nationwide for a limited number of workers. We need to let them know they are welcome here, and that this is a great place to live, work, and play.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in Otter Tail County?

I would resume the open house listening sessions around the county. The pandemic put a hold on those events, but it is time to get back to them. I have proposed a plan where we hold some of the county board meetings in the evenings at different locations around the county, so that our citizens can share with the entire board their thoughts, concerns, and ideas as we move forward. We also have begun to have an open forum available to speak to the county board on the days of our normal county board meetings, and of course, all five county commissioners have their email addresses and cell phone numbers posted on the county website, I encourage you to reach out to me, or to any of the county board members.

General comments: 

The citizens of Otter Tail County have identified their top priorities going forward for the next 25 years.

1. Resilience 

2. Economy 

3. Land Use 

4. Public Infrastructure 

5. Natural Resources 

6. Parks and Trails

By continuing to follow and implement the citizens’ plan, we can address many of the needs and priorities of our county. I am asking for your support to continue to implement your plan.

Please vote to keep me working for you. You can either vote on November 9th, or by absentee starting September 23rd.