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Lakewood asks residents to join stormwater task force to help find viable flooding solutions

LAKEWOOD – Village officials are seeking qualified residents to assist in finding solutions for sewer and stormwater flooding in Lakewood.

Village President Paul Serwatka sent an email Thursday urging residents with expertise in engineering, stormwater systems and hydrogeology to join a proposed stormwater task force, which will include five to seven residents that hold regular meetings.

Serwatka said the task force would allow residents to hold village engineers and contractors accountable for decisions made regarding the village’s stormwater and sewer systems, while also helping the village find the most productive use of its money.

More than 100 residents packed the Village Board meeting room July 25 and shared emotional stories about flooding damage that has affected dozens of homes, prompting the village to seek ways to provide relief.

“In the heat of everything, it’s easy for everyone to come out yelling and screaming with emotions,” Serwatka said. “Then time goes by and people forget. And we need their involvement. We need to make sure they don’t forget.”

The Village Board took no further action Tuesday to examine the flooding problem, despite including an item to discuss paying about $40,000 to televise the east side sewer system through a contractor.

Serwatka said some miscommunication led to the item being pre-emptively added to the agenda, but added the possible televising services would be discussed at a later date.

“I certainly didn’t want to vote it down to give the message that we weren’t going to do it,” Serwatka said. “I really want to have a sit-down with the engineers and the wastewater department first. If that’s the best route, we’ll go that way.”

Resident Jon Gabric, who sustained flooding damage to his home in 300 block of Oxford Lane, expressed interest in serving on a residents’ committee at the July board meeting and said he would gladly serve on a stormwater task force to offer insight.

He said he has 27 years of experience doing underground utilities work for municipalities and could help serve as a mediator between the village and residents.

“I’d think I know both sides pretty well,” Gabric said. “I could probably help in mediating that there are some things residents are going to be responsible, and there are some things the [village] is responsible for.”

Serwatka said a village stormwater task force previously existed as recently as 2010 but was disbanded for unknown reasons; although, he added reinstituting the task force would be essential in reaching resident consensus on viable solutions for sewer and stormwater inadequacy.

On Tuesday, trustees also approved hiring Julie Heather Meister as the village’s chief administrative officer with an annual salary of $157,700 to fill both the village manager and finance director openings within the village.

The village had previously entered into a consulting agreement with Meister to analyze the state of its workforce and to recommend options for a new type of administrative structure.

Meister’s new position, which is at-will employment with no severability clause, replaces two administrative vacancies that would have cost more than $300,000 a year to fill, Serwatka said. Meister is an Illinois-licensed CPA as well as a certified internal auditor and fraud examiner.

Meister, who will be one of the village’s point people for flooding problems, offered to return the $10,950 earned through her consulting agreement with the village so that the money may be used to assist flooding victims.

While Gabric is glad the village is taking steps to help residents with flooding, he said the village has talked about solutions in the past and things haven’t changed.

“We all need a resolution,” Gabric said. “And let’s not kid anyone: It has decreased our property values. I think we need a long-term solutions, not a Band-Aid.”

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