Hes been called Farmingtons biggest cheerleader.
Now, after 12 years serving as mayor the longest in recent memory Todd Larson is passing his shop local megaphone to former city councilman Joshua Hoyt.
I told him, Trust your staff, dont micromanage, Larson said. You cant do everything. If you agree to do everything, youre going to get totally burned out and this wont be any fun. And always remember there are two sides to every story.
Hoyts term begins Jan. 1.
He could have added be financially transparent, to the list, a lesson he learned during his first term. He served on the Planning Commission for 11 years prior to being elected mayor in 2009, but never knew the city was broke until he took office.
The debt was huge and the money wasnt in the bank to support it, he said. We were borrowing from the sewer and water funds to pay our bills.
In the late 1990s, Farmingtons population of 6,000 began to increase rapidly. By the time Larson was elected, it was nearly 20,000 strong. City leaders went into debt trying to keep up, building an $8 million city hall/police headquarters and a second fire station. School leaders built a new high school, one of the most divisive projects in recent history and the reason why Larson decided to run for mayor.
It was very toxic, he said. At that time the city was suing the school and the school was suing the city and everyone hated each other.
Add to that a recession and the loss of $175,000 in revenue from the state, and Farmingtons credit rating sat at AA-. (Its now an AA+.)
Larson had to make some tough choices. He let 12 city employees go, slashed the budget, halted spending on projects and raised taxes incrementally over several years. The new City Hall suddenly seemed too big, with a skeleton crew rambling about the two-story building. He also started looking for other revenue sources and found one in the city-owned liquor stores.
Im very proud of our liquor stores, he said. They were barely, barely making a profit. We restructured them and made some changes from the top down. We went from a profit of $4,600 a year to $330,000. Thats money spent in the city that we dont have to use the general fund money or taxpayer money for.
Much of that profit went into building up the fire department, another accomplishment with which Larson is credited.
I didnt know how under-prepared or under-equipped our fire department was when I took over, he said. We were sending firefighters into burning buildings without radios; thats how bad it was. Theyve grown from a small-town, good-old-boys club to a very professionally run organization right now.
He doesnt regret hiring James Larsen in 2015 as Farmingtons first full-time fire chief, who was let go by the city two years later for placing too many demands on the volunteer crew, causing unrest.
He made the changes that needed to be made and really set (current Chief Justin Elvestad) up for success, he said.
Larson also helped improve the police department, but one acrimonious city council meeting in 2018 in which he was out-voted and the police chief was forced to resign for alleged insubordination, still bothers him.
That was the hardest meeting Ive ever had and the maddest Ive ever been, he said.
Through it all, Larsons consistent message was Shop local. Spend your money in Farmington, a motto he repeated at the end of every City Council meeting. He spent thousands of dollars out of his own pocket eating at local restaurants and patronizing businesses, often advertising them on his personal Facebook page.
I appreciated how he was always Farmingtons biggest cheerleader, said City Administrator David McKnight His consistency in leadership has been very valuable for the community.
An unfortunate north/south division of the city in which the north half shops in Apple Valley, often not even aware of the downtown businesses, has continued to plague the town, as has its inability to attract big business. The disconnect eventually led to Farmington losing its only grocery store in 2019.
Under Larson, the city worked to attract businesses to its 40-acre Vermillion River Crossing development. It attracted some businesses, but also got a lot of unfulfilled promises. Both Hy-Vee and Aldi grocery giants own land in Farmington, but have no plans yet to build.
I thought, Yes its finally going to happen and then it just stalled. That was so hard on me, Larson said. My biggest regret is just not being able to build the Hy-Vees and the Targets and stuff that people wanted.
Hes resigning his position, he said, because he believes in term limits and he feels hes done all he can do and wants to give someone else a chance.
Once his decision was made, he decided to permanently ink his experience in the form of a tattoo on his left arm. The tattoo, created by Josh Arment at Burnsvilles Aloha Monkey, took five hours to make. It includes the stars from the American flag, the iconic Farmington bridge from its logo, Proud Past from the citys motto and the dates of his terms.
Im proud of my service here, he said.
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