Republican candidates running for two spots on the Riley County Commission will face off in the primary election Tuesday.

Republicans Phil Mattox, Greg McKinley and incumbent Marvin Rodriguez are all contending for the District 2 position. District 2 includes northern Riley County.

Whoever wins the primary will face Fanny Fang, a Democrat, in November.

For District 3, Republicans John Matta and incumbent Ron Wells are facing off. District 3 includes parts of Manhattan and areas north of the city.

Whoever wins will face Kathryn Focke, a Democrat.

There is no Democratic primary for either districts this year. The general election is Nov. 3.

Mattox is a retired brigadier general and Barton Community College professor. McKinley is a Riley City Council member while Rodriguez is a former bus driver for the USD 383 school district.

Matta is a former Manhattan city commissioner. Wells owned and operated general contracting and custom manufacturing businesses. The Mercury emailed each candidate a set of the same questions. Here are the candidate’s responses. (Answers have been edited for brevity and length.)

Rodriguez did not submit answers to the questions and said Friday he had no comment on the questionnaire. When asked earlier this week if he would submit answers to the questions, Rodriguez said it depended on what the questions asked.

District 2

How do you think the county commission has handled the coronavirus pandemic? What would you do the same/differently if you were voted in as a commissioner?

Mattox: First, let me say the Riley County Health Department and the task force led by (Riley County Health Department Director) Julie Gibbs and the Riley County Police Department has done a superior job in managing the pandemic. Displayed at many commission meetings is the lack of transparency to the public on pandemic decisions. Amplified by a lack of transparency at intergovernmental level, direct coordination between Riley County and the city of Manhattan seldom occurs to supply a unified decision to residents. We must bridge this county and city gap and present a united front to the public. Finally, I would look for more public opinion through work sessions.

McKinley: Early on, the commission just followed what the governor ordered. Obviously, (chairman Marvin Rodriguez) has not understood this from the beginning. They made necessary accommodations by using social distancing for themselves and others at their meetings and eventually started broadcasting meetings. Cases seemed to be relatively in check at first. When the cases spiked and new mask order came out, they fumbled it at first. I agree with the final decision for keeping the mask order in Manhattan and strongly recommended in the county. Cases in the county have been very low and the order could be modified if the situation changes.

Do you have any specific ideas to stimulate the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic? If not, what existing initiatives are most important?

Mattox: Stimulus dollars from the federal and state level have aided some level of stability in our local economy, but revenues are down dramatically. Today, we as residents can certainly aid economic stimulation by buying local, using our restaurants carry-out and delivery options and buying gift cards. We must name priorities and develop a two- to five-year plan to aid the economic stimulation. Required is coordination between the county and the city, to lessen mill rates and reduce property taxes.

McKinley: The most important need is to keep the existing businesses viable until the pandemic recedes. It is a delicate balance to keep restrictions necessary to keep everyone safe without placing undue burdens on businesses. The county should work with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and the cities of Manhattan, Ogden, Riley, Leonardville and Randolph to be sure the local businesses know all the stimulus funds available through local, state and federal authorities. Some of the small businesses will require help in negotiating the paperwork required to get available funds.

Are you in favor of the county establishing a new sales tax measure after the current one expires?

Mattox: The question is should the county renew the road and bridge tax on expiration in 2022. This tax has been quite effective in supporting our roads and bridges. For clarity, this tax and the proposed city tax are not the same, and the city tax is not a substitute for the road and bridge tax in the county. This is another example of required county and city coordination. It is my opinion the road and bridge tax is good for all in the county to support our infrastructure.

McKinley: I am in favor of extending the current half-cent sales tax for the county. The largest percentage of the funds go to the city of Manhattan. A portion is also given to the small towns in the county. The county portion is dedicated for roads and bridges and has been very effective. Improved roads and bridges are needed for the larger farm equipment used today. The advisory committee has prepared a list of projects for the next ten years. These include the county portion of state highway projects around Manhattan.

District 3

How do you think the county commission has handled the coronavirus pandemic? What would you do the same/differently if you were voted in as a commissioner?

Matta: (Riley County Health Department Director) Julie Gibbs and the county health department have done a commendable job and have led the county’s response. The commission was slow to lead, particularly with transparency. The county commission was the last major local entity to put their meetings online. Local economic response was ceded to the Manhattan City Commission. Spending $850,000-plus on a dilapidated church without a plan for its use did not show appreciation for the current state of financial uncertainty. My plan is to be fully engaged, participating and leading on both the economic and health efforts. Transparency, engagement and accountability is my plan.

Wells: The Riley County Commissioners along with Julie Gibbs have done a very good job so far handling the pandemic. The (Manhattan City Commission) mandating the wearing of masks has been helpful as that is where the bulk of cases are located. If that mandate hadn’t happened, the county commissioners would have had to gone with a countywide mandate. I would do the same in the future depending on the progression of the pandemic.

Do you have any specific ideas to stimulate the economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic? If not, what existing initiatives are most important?

Matta: The commission should be a driver of rural entrepreneurship and set up a rural economic development advisory board to assist them. Compile a listing of the many available resources and assist those looking for opportunities. Inventory the infrastructure gaps and develop a plan to address them. Analyze the business prospects that can generate an ROI in our community and target them. Also, due to the pandemic, the desire of many to relocate to rural areas and small cities creates a new world of opportunities that we need a marketing plan to exploit — Riley County, the county of entrepreneurs.

Wells: Right now, it is difficult to stimulate the economy considering the necessary restraints put on business to combat the pandemic. The best initiatives right now are to take measures that keep property taxes as low as possible and apply any federal assistance programs that would help businesses stay in business. To help the local economy, I still intend to pursue the (Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction) money from the state. The LATVR along with the (County City Revenue Sharing) amounts to about $3.8 million for the city and county annually. The state statutes require that those dollars be used to reduce property tax dollar-for-dollar and cannot be used for additional spending.

Are you in favor of the county establishing a new sales tax measure after the current one expires?

Matta: Yes, the current sales tax funding has been key to the maintenance of the rural roads and bridges. It should be set up to go into place when the current tax expires. Unfortunately, Manhattan and the county have not come to an agreement on the format of the tax. Now, Manhattan is likely to run a Manhattan-only tax. The matter is complicated because most county sales taxes must be shared with cities. The county can run a roads tax that excludes sharing the revenue, but then the small cities will lose those proceeds. Bottom line, we need cooperation between the county and Manhattan.

Wells: I am not in favor of a new sales (tax), but a continuation of the current sales tax as it has helped keep the Riley County property tax lower. It has been applied to road and bridge projects that otherwise would be paid for with property taxes.