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Rebuffed in sharing effort, Wadena County seeks its own highway engineer in January

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After pursuing some unfruitful efforts to share a county highway engineer, Wadena County is opening up the position vacated by Joel Ulring in October.

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Commissioner Rodney Bounds said the opening was an opportunity to look into some other options, but now he is satisfied the county cannot have either a part-time engineer or a shared engineer.

Auditor and Treasurer Char West sent a letter to the counties in the Region Five transportation committee to ask if any would be interested in sharing an engineer with Wadena County. They all responded that they were unable to do this, she said.

Commissioner Bill Stearns said he also asked Otter Tail County and Hubbard County engineers if they would be interested in sharing services and they each said no because they don't have time.

Minnesota statute requires counties to have a full-time engineer. They can share an engineer, however.

Kelvin Howieson, Minnesota Department of Transportation district 3 state aid engineer, accompanied Assistant Highway Engineer Jeff Adolphson to the Dec. 17 county board meeting.

Howieson said he wanted to bring the "optional pots of funds" available to counties outside of the main state aid account to the commissioners' attention. Previous engineers Joel Ulring and Russ Larson were able to identify and secure $8.3 million in non-traditional funds for the 2000-2013 funding period, Howieson said.

"I just want to stress how important that is for a county to have that advocate out there to help you receive funding that you normally wouldn't have in these situations," he said.

Howieson provided commissioners with a list of the projects awarded with these optional funds and pointed out that a number of them use federal aid funds. These projects require a tremendous amount of oversight and recording keeping, he said. For example, a $466,272 bridge replacement over Partridge River awarded this year was funded with federal stimulus dollars. He has been told that everyone of those jobs will get a federal aid audit because of fraud that's happened in New Orleans and other places, Howieson said. It's important for counties to have a good engineer and good engineering staff to stay on top of these projects.

Not all funding is a steady thing like the state aid accounts, he said.

"It comes in fits and spurts," Howieson said. "[It's] all about being in the right place at the right time."

Chairman Dave Schermerhorn asked Howieson if it would work for a young engineer without a lot of experience to be the county's engineer.

Howieson said he thinks the Wadena County position is a great opportunity for a young engineer.

He told commissioners the job market is a lot better than the last time the county hired. Crow Wing had 30 applicants when it advertised for the position. He's not saying Wadena County will get that many, but they will definitely get more than two, he said.

"There's a lot of good candidates out there," Howieson said.

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