The sudden population explosion here has candidates talking.

Wasatch County has had an almost overnight population increase - more than 25 percent since 1990. New houses and condominiums are consuming the fields once used by ranchers and farmers. Houses in the Heber Valley cost around $200,000 - making it one of the most expensive places to settle in the state.Longtime residents complain that the area's popularity is reducing the quality of life - way too many people are moving in.

Indications are it won't slow, either. Heber processes hundreds of building applications every year and developers are proposing massive housing projects.

The population hike has brought dramatic increases in drug distribution and crime, authorities say. Thefts, break-ins and other property crimes have increased the most.

Two Democrats, Joseph Nelson and Steve Ridge, are competing in the primaries for a spot on the final ballot against incumbent Sheriff Mike Spanos.

Incumbent County Commissioner Sharron Winterton faces Republican newcomer Glen Van Wagoner in the primary. The winner will run against Democrat Ralph Duke.

SHERIFF

Joseph Nelson (D)

Age: 51

Address: 91 E. 500 South, Midway.

Occupation: Training officer for the Utah Highway Patrol.

Experience: Served in Vietnam War in the Army for 18 months, attended the University of Utah.

Personal: Lived in Midway for nearly 20 years with his family.

What he hopes to accomplish: Ridge wants to do everything from changes within the department to getting the public more involved in crime prevention. "I think it's time for change," he said. "I have some new ideas and would love the chance to implement them."

Departmental: Nelson wants to start with new policies to improve employee retention. He would try to give deputies more chances for promotion and better pay. "The county is footing the bill to train the employees, then they're hired away by other agencies."

Crime: Nelson also wants to implement new approaches to crime prevention. "I would hire some full-time drug enforcement officers, and I would love to see a neighborhood watch."

Steve Ridge (D)

Age: 45

Address: P.O. Box 394, Midway.

Occupation: Probation officer for the Utah Department of Corrections.

Experience: Wasatch County sheriff's deputy for 15 years, Midway mayor for four years and a Midway councilman for four years.

Personal: Lived in Midway for 20 years with his wife and four children.

What he hopes to accomplish: Ridge wants to fix the problems within the department while fighting crime. "I worked as a deputy for 15 years," he said. "I know the problems. The department can't retain employees. There's no incentive to stay."

Departmental: Ridge left the department in 1995 because "I was doing the same thing as the day I started." He would try to give employees a chance to advance and better pay.

Crime: Property crimes hurt the most people in Wasatch County. The break-ins and robberies hurt residents and tourists. Ridge would also try to crack down on drug dealers. "I would concentrate less on traffic enforcement and more on solving crimes and prevention."

COMMISSION

Glen Van Wagoner (R)

Age: 43

Address: 871 E. Pinion Circle, Heber.

Occupation: Owns and manages the Wasatch Park Cafe, a restaurant at the Wasatch State Park golf course.

Experience: Wasatch County sheriff's deputy for 13 years, served as Midway's marshal for three years, owned his own business for three years.

Personal: Lived in Wasatch County for nearly his entire life. Lives in Heber with his wife and children.

Reason for running: Van Wagoner wants to maintain the area's small-town atmosphere, no matter how many people move in. "I want my kids to grow up in a place as nice as I did. It doesn't matter if there's 500 or 5,000 homes here - it's people who make a community."

Growth: Van Wagoner isn't against growth, but he wants to encourage businesses to move in, not just residents. He would like to see people live and work in the county, instead of commuting to Provo or Salt Lake City to work.

Sharron Winterton (R)

Age: 60

Address: 2810 W. 2400 South, Heber.

Occupation: Retired dairy farmer.

Experience: Four years as a Wasatch County commissioner.

Personal: Lived in Wasatch County his entire life.

Reason for running: Winterton wants to use his experience and contacts in government to prepare Wasatch County for the 2002 Olym-pics and for the expected population increases. "I don't think there's any substitute for experience. I've had four years to learn the trade and make con-tacts."

Growth: "I would like to see things the way they used to be, but growth will happen planned or unplanned. You can't stop it." Win-ter-ton would like to limit growth to a pace the county can handle. The county needs to build new roads and lay sewer lines as the population expands. The coun-ty has a limited amount of resources to do that. Leaders need to control the amount of growth to protect the quality of life.