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A public career
Times photo: Anthony Wahl City of Monroe Public Works Director Kelly Finkenbinder will retire Feb. 2 after working for the city for the past three decades.
MONROE - Kelly Finkenbinder, director of the City of Monroe Public Works, was making some last-minute changes Monday to ensure his duties will be covered before he retires Feb. 2.

Finkenbinder began his work for the city more than 30 years ago, as a laborer on the garbage trucks.

He quickly moved to the stormwater and sanitary sewer crew, where he learned to operate a backhoe, and eventually became crew foreman. He was hired as the public works director in 2003.

"I worked my way all the way through," he said.

Looking back, he's glad he did it.

"I got to see all the aspects - from construction methods to changes in city government because of economics," he said.

The current economic recession is one of the biggest changes Finkenbinder has seen in his years of working for the city.

"It's the worst I've seen because of what we can't do now that we did then," he said.

When he started, the city had more money in the budget for road and street maintenance. Crews were reconstructing two to three blocks of streets at a time, he said.

"Now, we're falling behind again," he added.

Finkenbinder noted budget constraints in the past three years haven't allowed even the installation of new sidewalks.

"We've only been able to do a little sidewalk repair, so we don't have liability," he said.

"I'd like to see the city get back into bringing the infrastructure up-to-date, like it was doing in 2000. It's shame we got so close and had to fall behind again," he added.

Finkenbinder has seen the city expand quite a bit in the past 30 years, most recently to the north for the Walmart and Menards developments. He has also seen the addition of two industrial parks and a southwest residential area.

"(The southwest area) used to have small trees and many kids. Now there are big trees and no kids," he laughed. "But it's starting to cycle back."

Federal and state requirements for stormwater and wastewater have had a large impact on the city budget.

Finkenbinder helped start the stormwater utility in 2005, in part to help meet government regulations. He took on the administrative aspects of the utility, while the engineering and street departments handled the construction and maintenance.

"We had to get the public to realize those things have to be done, and money has to be gotten," he said.

Finkenbinder said managing stormwater is more important than people realize.

"It doesn't go to the wastewater treatment plant, but to the creek," he said.

A lot of new infrastructure for stormwater has decreased flooding, like that seen in the 1990s, he added.

When Finkenbinder retires, a lot of the city improvements that he has been responsible for will be underground, where nobody will see them.

But the job has been an experience he's glad he had.

"The government part, I liked. I've always had an interest in government and wanted to know a lot more about it," he said. "And I'll miss the people I've worked with throughout my career."

Finkenbinder will be only 56 when he retires and advises young people to start saving early.

"Especially if their employers have a retirement plan where they put the money away for you," he said.

In retirement, Finkenbinder first wants to take some time off, adjust to a more relaxed lifestyle without emergency calls for the city and then look for a hobby or some work to do.

"Something to do on my schedule," he said.

But Finkenbinder has already adjusted his spring vacation plans. He and his wife, Gail, are expecting the births of two grandchildren in April, and they aren't twins.