Niles Utilities manager retires SaturdayPublished 8:49am Friday, April 30, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star
When Niles Utilities Manager Jim Lehmkuhl looks back on his 16-year career with the city, his fondest memories won’t be the improvements of the infrastructure of the Utilities Department. And they certainly won’t be the inevitable complaints he receives when something goes wrong.
When Lehmkuhl retires on Saturday, his best memories will be of his co-workers, who have become good friends of his.
“I will miss the people,” he said. “I had a great working relationship with the people here. That will not be there when I retire.”
He also said the key to many of the improvements at the Utilities Department has been his supporting cast.
“I’m very proud of the efforts of the employees in improving reliability for the customers,” he said. “Without them we don’t have a department.”
Lehmkuhl, 63, was brought on by the city in 1994 as the assistant manager and was promoted to manager in 1999, the same year a second feed from Indiana Michigan Power Co. was added.
Lehmkuhl said the second delivery point has helped restore power more quickly in the event of a storm.
He was also happy to see the improvement of the city’s water filtration system when an iron filtration plant was built.
“It’s been tremendous in improving water quality and the discoloration of water,” Lehmkuhl said.
The city also improved its 32-year-old wastewater treatment plant with an upgrade that was slated to cost the city $11 million. But contractors turned in lower bids than expected and Niles received enough stimulus money to lower the total cost of the project to $4.5 million.
Lehmkuhl also said he has been working hard recently on the energy optimization program, a multi-year initiative started last summer.
“We are encouraging customers to reduce energy costs,” he said.
City Administrator Terry Eull has nothing but compliments for Lehmkuhl.
“He’s done an outstanding job and we have been very happy with the success that has been achieved with the water and waste water divisions under his watch,” he said. “He’s a detail-oriented person, who is not afraid to dig in and get things done.”
Lehmkuhl acknowledges the department has had to regularly increase rates recently to fund all the improvements.
“We are still very competitive,” he said. “We are always trying to be cost effective, so as not to burden the taxpayer.”
The first thing Lehmkuhl will do when he retires this weekend?
“I’ve got quite a bit of work to do around the house,” the consummate worker said.
He is also looking forward to heading to the greens more regularly, as he and his wife are avid golfers. They are looking forward to seeing their children and grandchildren, who live in Baltimore and Toledo, more often as well.
“We expect to do more babysitting than before,” he said.
J.W. Rossow, a Brandywine High School graduate and Navy veteran, will take over for Lehmkuhl on May 1.