Wright County honors retiring county engineer

By John Holler

Of all the employees of Wright County, Wayne Fingalson has seen as much or more than just about any.

Fingalson, the Wright County Highway Engineer for the last 31 years, was honored at the Aug. 7 meeting of the Wright County Board — his final official day on the job for Wright County. Considering that, when he was first hired as an assistant county engineer in 1975, Gerald Ford was president, a gallon of gas cost 45 cents, Barry Manilow was singing about a girl named Mandy and, worse yet for Fingalson, he had yet to experience “The Hail Mary.”

Fingalson, a lifelong Vikings fan, has a penchant for wearing purple. The year he started with Wright County was the same year Vikings fans would have their hearts broken against the Dallas Cowboys with an incredible (if not legal) play that allowed Dallas to upset the heavily-favored Vikings. Even 37 years later, Fingalson would be known to say, “Pearson pushed off.”

About the only thing Fingalson holds more dear than his family and the Vikings is his commitment to safety. Whether it was being a pilot project for strengthening road beds to insisting on any new construction to include eliminating dangerous curves and blind intersections, Fingalson’s long career as the Roadmaster of Wright County has been marked by his commitment to safety.

He was the son of an engineer and admits that being an engineer himself has been in his blood since childhood. Being able to create a safer road system for county residents and visitors to travel has been more than a passing fancy. It’s been a life ambition.

“Safety has clearly been a passion for me,” Fingalson said. “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘The care of human life and happiness is the first and only objective of good government.’ The safety programs we did in Wright County were focused on that line of thinking – that the care for human life is our objective. Safety was a passion for me in this job, especially with the county growing as much as it has and more challenges arising along with that increase.”

When Fingalson started with Wright County, Buffalo was the largest city in the county and had a population of 3,000. As he leaves his post as highway engineer, Buffalo has five times the population and 10 municipalities – eight cities and two townships – have a population in excess of 3,000.

“The exciting part of the job has been all the changes,” Fingalson said. “The population increase has been a challenge, but, for me, it’s been the technological advantages that we’ve seen. The computer has impacted just about every aspect of our business. We have technology to tell us the ideal mix ratio for de-icing roads in the winter. We have made technological advancements in road construction and, when someone has a really good idea that works, we have the ability to share information and improve our own performance.”

On his watch, Wright County replaced 50 bridges, resurfaced 870 miles of road and did complete reconstruction of 130 miles of county roads and highways. While he may not be that well known to the people who travel the roads he has maintained over the last three decades, Fingalson’s legacy in Wright County will be indelible. Lives have been saved because of the road improvements he insisted on having. His dad would be proud.

“I feel like I made a positive contribution to the people of Wright County,” Fingalson said. “That was my job and I took my responsibility seriously. I’d like to think that my passion for safety has made life better in Wright County.”

In other items on the Aug. 7 agenda, the board:

AUTHORIZED budget transfers of $325,000 to various departments from the county’s Budget 100. The transfers are done annually to cover the costs associated with step increases, benefits, health insurance contributions and salary adjustments resulting from the county’s job classification study earlier this year.

APPROVED a three-year professional services agreement between the county and SRF Consulting Group, Inc. The consulting firm has represented the county providing administrative and technical assistance for the Hwy. 55 Corridor Coalition. SRF has represented the coalition since 2004 and, after the coalition put the consulting contract out for bids earlier this year, the SRF bid was the one approved.

REVISED the budget committee of the whole schedule, changing court administration budget review to 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, and moving court services to 9:15 a.m. the same day.

RECEIVED an update on four county ditches that are in need of repair from the ditch committee. The only action item was to receive quotes for getting rid of floating bogs on County Ditch 24. The estimated cost to remove the bogs was approximately $4,500.

ACCEPTED the 2011 annual report from the highway department.

APPROVED a maintenance agreement with Meeker County for two shared line segments. During the recent updating of the Wright County map it was discovered that the two road segments never had formal maintenance/construction agreements in place. Meeker County has approved the contract, which was patterned after similar agreements the county has with line roads shared by McLeod County.