Cuyahoga Falls -- "I'm proud to tell you that the state of the city is incredibly strong." That was how Mayor Don Walters wrapped up his 35-minute State of the City Address at the Sheraton Suites on Feb. 22.

Hosted each year by the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce, the State of the City featured a sit-down luncheon and a business-to-business mixer called Mixpo where 20 businesses had booths touting their products and services. "Today was a great day for our business leaders and their guests," Chamber CEO Laura Petrella said immediately following event. There were 200 in attendance, she said.

In his address, Walters shared with his audience his administration's accomplishments in 2016. He began by recognizing prominent people in the crowd, congratulating them on their accomplishments.

Those who received the mayor's recognition included one person who was unable to attend, Kathy Romito, the president of the chamber's Board of Directors. "There are few events that you will attend around the community where you don't see Kathy, and we are grateful for all that she does." Walters said Petrella continues to work with small business owners to help them prosper. "(She) has created an organization that works together as a family, and that is what this city is all about."

In recognizing his senior cabinet members, including law director, Russ Balthis; finance director, Bryan Hoffman; community development director, Diane Sheridan; and new service director, Anthony Zumbo, Walters said, "Our city sees continual growth and improvement because of their efforts"

Overview of finances

Walters said the general fund's unencumbered balance at the end of 2016 was $8.46 million and the cash balance was $8.71 million.

"I'm pleased to announce that at the end of 2016, our cash balance has increased by ($1.042 million) since my administration took office at the beginning of 2014," Walters said. "Similar to a personal savings account, our cash balance, or 'Rainy Day Fund,' is the city's savings and provides a cushion during economic downturns." The mayor said Moody's Investors Service last October released a rating report that again confirmed the city's Aa2 rating. The report highlighted the city's "healthy financial position supported by strong management and conservative budget assumptions, and positive operating results," Walters said.

Infrastructure is a main focus

Infrastructure remains a top priority, he said, adding the paving budget for 2015 and 2016 was increased from $1.5 million to $2 million each year, which increased the number of road miles that were improved from 11.9 in 2014, to more than 22 lane miles in 2016.

Additionally, he said the city's Engineering Department, led by the city engineer, Tony Demasi, completed the Chart Road Woodward Creek Culvert project that will help alleviate flooding in the area, and installed a new sanitary sewer along Cochran Road to help spur economic development. "We were also successful in establishing a quiet zone at the Broad Boulevard/CSX railroad crossing" Walters said.

Utility billing problems discussed

Along with the high points of 2016, Walters reviewed a low point: problems brought on by the update of software in the utility billing department. Once the system conversion was complete, there were various technological issues that occurred, he said. To identify the issues, utility billing staff members began to manually review the individual accounts to identify and rectify the problems, which caused delays, according to the mayor.

"I commend Information Services Director John Konich, and Deputy Service Director Teresa Hazlett, for working tirelessly to get our service levels back to where we all expect them to be," said Walters.

Safety forces praised

The mayor said the city's police and fire departments, led by Police Chief Jack Davis and Fire Chief Paul Moledor, "continue to provide our citizens with unmatched safety services." Walters said "Category One" crimes such as assault, burglary and arson were down five percent from 2015. "Our firefighters continue to provide exceptional response times for fire, rescue, and EMS calls all while offering the utmost professionalism and care," Walters said to a round of applause.

Walters paid tribute to Police Officer Ted Davis who was struck head-on by a suspect in his police cruiser on Broad Boulevard and suffered extensive injuries last summer. "As I sat in the hospital with his family at 3 a.m. that night, I realized how life can change in the blink of an eye," the mayor recalled. "Ted had to undergo multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, but remained steadfast in his drive and determination to return to work by the end of the year Officer Davis was able to return to full duty before the end of the year, and we remain in awe of his courage and strength. We are grateful to have him back." The crowd again erupted in applause.

Walters said the city is continuing its fight against the opiate epidemic. Walters said Cuyahoga Falls was the first police department in the county to carry the life-saving Narcan pens. "I am proud that we are also the first city in Summit County to provide our residents with resources and support through the Quick Response Team. This effort is a collaboration with the Summit County ADM Board, Oriana House, and our own Police and Fire personnel."

Front Street project update

Walters also spoke on plans to eliminate the pedestrian mall and open up Front Street to two-way traffic to revive the downtown, attract new businesses, spur economic development and make the area bustling with people again. A proposed hotel is in the planning stages as property owners finalize operator and financing agreements, he said.

The total project investment is estimated at $13 million, according to Walters.

" Efforts to redevelop the Falls Theater are currently underway," Walters said. "We know that developers of both the Falls Theater and hotel have committed to redeveloping property on Front Street, and have done so on the condition, that the pedestrian mall is opened. We also know that the Ohio Historic Preservation Office stated that they would not recommend the area being placed on the National Register of Historic Places if the street is not opened."

Walters said his administration is committed to the "rebirth of our downtown to provide new economic opportunities for our City with approval from City Council, road construction could commence in late spring of this year."

Email: swiandt@recordpub.com

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