Mayor Don Walters 2018 State of the City Address

Feb 21, 2019

2018 STATE OF THE CITY

MAYOR DON WALTERS

February 21, 2019

 

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Dr. Kent, thank you for that introduction and thank you for your continued partnership with the
City of Cuyahoga Falls. I was incredibly proud to see our award-winning Western Reserve
Hospital launch the “Loyally Local” campaign because truer words have never been spoken
about this organization or its dedicated staff. Western Reserve Hospital sponsors health chats and
educational luncheons for our residents, sponsors art installations at City Hall and the hospital so
that our community has free access to view and appreciate local art, and sponsors our Flicks on
the Falls and Falls Downtown Fridays events. Their commitment and investment in moving
Cuyahoga Falls forward are unparalleled, and I thank all of them for all that they do in service to
all of us.

I also want to thank the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce for hosting today’s State of the
City and would like to thank CEO Laura Petrella and Board President Nate Winston for your
leadership and commitment to helping move our business community forward. Year over year
we have seen increases in our ribbon cuttings to celebrate new or redeveloped businesses and last
year was no different. The City of Cuyahoga Falls saw thirty-two ribbon cuttings in 2018, and
those were organized by our Chamber. Thank you for your partnership with the City and thank
you for your continued commitment to helping ensure that our small businesses develop and
thrive here in Cuyahoga Falls.

I want to recognize our school superintendents, Cuyahoga Falls Superintendent Dr. Todd
Nichols, and Woodridge Superintendent Wally Davis. The city and the Cuyahoga Falls Schools
have been able to partner on numerous projects that directly impact our youngest residents.
Thank you for letting us be part of your curriculum and for giving us the opportunity to partner
on projects with your students that give so much to our community. The Master Facilities
Planning Committee is working hard to finalize plans for new school buildings that are so
desperately needed. To Wally Davis and the Woodridge School District, many congratulations
on the passage of your levy last fall and the grand opening of the beautiful new Woodridge
Elementary School building. Our students are incredibly fortunate to be able to learn and grow in
a new and modern environment where they will continue to be well-served by your spectacular
programming.

I’d like to thank all of the elected, community and business leaders that are here today and would
like to recognize our dignitaries: Munroe Falls Mayor James Armstrong, Nick Ciofani
representing Congressman David Joyce, Stow Municipal Court Judge Lisa Coates, Stow Clerk of
Courts Diana Colavecchio, Silver Lake Mayor Bernie Hovey, Leah Jones representing United
States Senator Sherrod Brown, Executive Director of Summit Metro Parks Lisa King, CEO OF
Akron Cleveland Association of Realtors Sandy Naragon, Stow Mayor John Pribonic, Summit
County Executive Ilene Shapiro, Summit County Councilperson John Schmidt, and Vincent
Peterson representing Congressman Tim Ryan. We are incredibly fortunate here in Cuyahoga
Falls to have established relationships between communities that allow for collaborations of this
caliber, and we are proud to be a part of the invaluable partnerships we have with all of you.
I want to thank and recognize my Senior Cabinet members Law Director Russ Balthis, Finance
Director Bryan Hoffman, Interim Community Development Director Sara Leedham, and Service
Director Anthony Zumbo. These are some of the most selfless community servants you will ever
know, and I could not be prouder of the work that they do every day to make our city a better
place to live, work, and play. On this coming Monday, I will be asking Cuyahoga Falls City
Council to confirm my appointment of Diana Colavecchio to the position of Community
Development Director. Diana is a beloved leader, attorney, and former small business owner
here in Cuyahoga Falls and has dedicated her life to serving our community. I look forward to
her leading the charge in our Community Development Department as we continue our efforts of
economic development and revitalization across the city, once she is confirmed by Council.
Additionally, I want to acknowledge my assistant Cathy Meacham. I do not know what I would
do without your help every day. Thank you for the immeasurable amount of work that you do to
ensure that I stay on track – and let me tell you, that is not an easy task. To all of our city
employees, I want to commend you for the phenomenal work that you have done over this past
year and your tireless service to the residents of our community. We have continued to deliver
unmatched city services and provide innovative programs that significantly impact the lives of
our citizens. Thank you for all that you do.

I want to take this opportunity to recognize our councilmembers, some of who are here today:
Ward One Councilman Drew Reilly, Ward Four Councilperson and Council President Mary
Nichols-Rhodes, Ward Eight Councilperson Russ Iona, and At-Large Councilperson Tim
Gorbach. Last Friday, At-Large Councilman Paul Colavecchio resigned from his seat on our
Council, and I want to thank him for his many years of dedication to serving all residents of
Cuyahoga Falls. Last Saturday, Meika Penta was appointed to the At-Large seat and we welcome
her to City Council. To all of our Councilmembers, thank you for your continued support of my
Administration and for casting party politics aside to pass important legislation that allows us to
continue the positive growth and success of our city.

Above all else, I want to thank my beautiful wife, Stephanie. When I decided to commit my
professional life to public service, she did as well. There are many days and nights that I am
away from home serving in the various capacities of my job, and she is always there rooting me
and, more importantly, the success of our city on. I will never be able to thank you enough for
your unconditional support, and I can honestly stand before this room and say that I am truly the
luckiest man alive because I have you in my corner. I could not love you more.

Beginning with our city finances, the 2018 General Fund ending unencumbered balance was
$8.85 million, and the cash balance is $9.19 million. I’m pleased to announce that at the end of
2018, our cash balance has increased by $1,524,639 since my administration took office at the
beginning of 2014. Back in the fall, we were proud to announce that we have been able to pay
down over $9 million of debt since I took office in 2014, saving taxpayers financing and interest
charges. Further, our target with Moody’s Rating Agency is to have a balance of 20 percent of
yearly revenues; ours is right around 27 percent. Our award-winning finance team led by
Finance Director Bryan Hoffman continues to produce sound financial management by
leveraging innovative cost-savings measures and implementing best practices, and we thank
them for their outstanding work.

We also recently welcomed our new Tax Administrator Matt Skitzki and are fortunate to have
him aboard as we transition our municipal income tax processing to the Regional Income Tax
Authority. Matt will be facilitating our municipal tax collections with RITA, and we know that
he will serve the city well.

The Service Department, led by Director Anthony Zumbo, continued to deliver what are some of
the most significant of our city services such as sanitation collection, leaf removal, snow
plowing, building maintenance, and providing water and electric to our residents and businesses.
My Administration continues to prioritize investments in infrastructure. For 2019, we are adding
a quarter of a million dollars for street paving, bringing the total investment to $2.25 million with
an additional $300,000 for concrete street repairs. Last year we paved 34 streets consisting of
over 17 miles of roadway. Our Engineering Department, led by City Engineer Tony Demasi
completed over $8 million in public works improvement projects, and I am incredibly proud of
their efforts.

Speaking of roads, the biggest moment that happened in 2018 was arguably one of the biggest
moments in the city’s history over the past 40 years. On February 3, 2018, Front Street and
Downtown Cuyahoga Falls were reopened for business. Residents gathered at the Downtown
Pavilion and boarded buses to be amongst the first to travel down the new Front Street. The
buses were preceded by a 1978 Trans Am and a new Tesla symbolizing the ushering out of the
old pedestrian mall that was created in 1978 and the ushering in of a new day of economic
growth and innovation. Special thanks to Dr. Scott Higley and Don Sitts for donating the Tesla
and Trans Am, respectively.

Since the opening of Front Street a year ago, there have been ten new businesses that have
opened along the corridor with many more slated for 2019. We are proud to provide free WI-FI
for all who visit Downtown Cuyahoga Falls and do so to help make sure everyone stays
connected while visiting all that we have to offer. We were also pleased to see the creation of the
Downtown Cuyahoga Falls Partnership, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with the mission of
revitalizing and sustaining our historic Downtown Cuyahoga Falls and the riverfront as a vibrant
destination by promoting economic development and enhancing our downtown for residents and
visitors.

The housing market in Cuyahoga Falls remains strong due to our diverse housing stock. We
currently have homes listed anywhere from $50,000 to $950,000. We have something for
everyone here - ranging from starter homes to custom built homes and everything in between.
Real estate professionals share that homes are being sold quickly. In many cases, full-price offers
are made on the same day that the homes are listed. Listings and sale prices are on the rise, and it
is not uncommon for a home to sell at or above the listing price. Let me put this into perspective
from an engineering standpoint. Our Engineering Department reviewed over 100 plot plans for
new homes in 2018 which equates to one new home starting roughly every three days. For a city
of our size, this is a testament to the allure of the City of Cuyahoga Falls and our growth and
development.

I am thrilled to announce the creation of the Public Arts Advisory Committee and Public Arts
Master Plan. The goal of the plan is to provide a long-term roadmap for strategically planning
and placing public art throughout the City and to develop procedures for administering a public
art program. The plan will help to encourage art in the downtown historic district, public spaces,
streetscapes, parks, neighborhoods and private development projects. An Advisory Committee
representing various interests throughout our community is currently being formed. A series of
public engagement activities are scheduled to begin on February 27 and will continue throughout
the process. The Community Development Department will work with a consulting team and the
Neighborhood Excellence, Communications and Community Outreach Department to ensure
ample public participation, including surveys, public meetings, interviews and roundtable
discussions. This endeavor has been a long time coming and will allow us to make strategic
investments for the purpose of executing public art in Cuyahoga Falls.

We also started the Green Initiatives Working Group to assess our city’s current and future
practices and policies to ensure that we are developing, implementing, and maintaining
environmentally, socially and economically sustainable community initiatives and policies. We
focused communication efforts this year on executing a “Recycle Responsibly” campaign to
educate residents and businesses on how to effectively reduce the amount of materials that are
being dumped in landfills. My Administration remains committed to the conservation of our
resources, finding innovative ways to impact sustainability and the preservation of our natural
resources such as our parks systems and the Cuyahoga River. Special thanks to Tristan Haidet,
Teresa Hazlett, Becky McCleary, Council President Mary Nichols-Rhodes and Adam Paul,
among others, for getting this necessary initiative off the ground.

Keeping with sustainability efforts, our Law Department is committed to upgrading their
software and case management systems in an effort to be more environmentally conscious by
reducing paper usage. Additionally, Law Director Russ Balthis led labor negotiations with our
bargaining units, and we were able to provide reasonable wage increases to bargaining and nonbargaining employees while agreeing to innovative healthcare language that provides great benefits for our employees and controls costs for the city. Thank you to all who were involved
for coming to the table and delivering a cooperative process. I would like to recognize the
members of our Law Department for the imperative work that they do day in and day out to
ensure that we are all doing what is right for all of our citizens.

Our newly formed Neighborhood Excellence, Communications and Community Outreach
Department led by Director Kelli Crawford-Smith has hit the ground running by increasing
communications across the city. They have been reactivating and creating multiple social media
accounts because we know that the latest numbers show that 67 percent of adults now get their
news from social media. You can now follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Nextdoor.
We have streamlined and are improving our communications so that our residents, businesses,
and visitors are better served by our programs and services. We have produced a centralized
location for accurate and timely information. We are engaging our residents in strengthening
relationships in their neighborhoods through our Neighborhood Excellence Initiative and started
Front Yard Information - FYI meetings – to help bring City Hall and information about our
programs and services into our neighborhoods and to give us an opportunity to hear concerns and
ideas from our citizens. We know that residents have busy schedules that can make it difficult to
see us at City Hall and so we are coming directly to them. Additionally, we are partnering and
collaborating with organizations across Summit County to increase our community outreach
efforts. The return on this investment is the strategic and intentional promotion of our city
throughout the region, stronger relationships through neighborhood engagement and
involvement, and mutually beneficial partnerships and collaborations to leverage our resources to
move the city forward. I know very few who would argue against working to ensure that our
community is better informed, more involved and engaged, and well connected to community
resources and services. To our Neighborhood Ambassadors, thank you for all that you do to
make our neighborhoods stronger and more welcoming to all people.

We worked incredibly hard last year with community leaders and sponsors to plan and execute
the Falls Downtown Fridays events to drive residents and visitors to experience the new
Downtown Cuyahoga Falls. After we kicked the season off with a parade and Grand Opening
event, we followed up with seven additional events that were family friendly with a heavy focus
on local food, retail, and entertainment. We were thrilled to watch the crowds grow throughout
the summer as people were not just coming down to enjoy the events, but were patronizing our
local restaurants and retail businesses in our downtown. We raised over $37,000 for local
charities that serve Cuyahoga Falls. We have begun planning for the 2019 season and are pleased
to announce that 91.3 The Summit has already signed on as our media partner and sponsor.
We look forward to another season of growth with new and exciting events. None of this would
be possible without the continued collaborative relationships with our community leaders,
volunteers, and businesses such as Western Reserve Hospital and Cascade Auto who served as
series sponsors and will be returning this year. We look forward to seeing you this summer in
Downtown Cuyahoga Falls.

Back in October, I was humbled to learn that the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction,
and Mental Health Services Board was awarding me with the Dr. Bob Smith Trailblazer Award.
According to the ADM Board, those honored with the Dr. Bob Smith Trailblazer Award are
known for offering hope and inspiring change in others. I was honored to receive this award, and
I pledge to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Bob Smith, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in
offering help and hope in treating every human being with the dignity and respect that they
deserve.

The City of Cuyahoga Falls has always been at the forefront in the fight against the opiate
epidemic that has been plaguing our region. The City of Cuyahoga Falls officers were the first
police department in Summit County to carry the life-saving opiate-reversing drug Narcan and
was the first city in Summit County to provide residents with resources and support through the
Quick Response Team. Though the opiate crisis continues to weigh on the community, we were
pleased to report that overdose-related deaths in Summit County were down from 340 in 2016 to
a little over 100 in 2018. This is a direct result of the aggressive response that communities like
ours took to address the problem head-on. The numbers are declining, and we remain committed
to doing our part to end this epidemic.

Our Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Jack Davis, continues to serve with the
utmost respect and dignity that our residents and visitors deserve. We are thrilled that the
construction of our new state-of-the-art training facility is currently underway. We broke ground
back in the fall and look forward to the grand opening later this year. Our officers will now be
able to be trained and complete qualification assessments on-site in the city. As we know,
outdoor ranges are becoming relatively obsolete, and this location will provide our officers with
an indoor facility that is located behind Fire Station 5 on Wyoga Lake Road. Special thanks to
our friends at Western Reserve Hospital for providing emergency bags for every Police
Department squad car to equip officers with vital first aid supplies for use on duty. These lifesaving
supplies help our safety forces continue to provide top-notch services to our citizens.
In the Fire Department, we bid farewell to former Chief Paul Moledor last fall when he retired
after 35 years of dedicated service to the City of Cuyahoga Falls. He left an indelible mark on the
department through his many years of leadership, and we knew that the next Chief would have
big shoes to fill. In October, I swore in former Assistant Fire Chief and Paramedic Fred Jackson
as the city’s 15th Fire Chief. Fred has served the city for over 30 years and has a proven history
of leadership as he has risen through the ranks of the department. He has been excelling since he
entered his new role and under his leadership, we will see the construction of the new Fire
Station 3 which will soon break ground on Portage Trail.

It was a great honor to unveil the permanent memorial signage at the corner of State Road and
Maitland Avenue in honor of fallen Cuyahoga Falls Firefighter Frank Schumann. Schumann lost
his life in the line of duty on December 15, 1957, and this tribute is long overdue. I want to thank
Firefighter Charlie Kilbel for his work on getting this project completed under the leadership of
Chief Jackson.

Back in late fall, residents and businesses in our city donated funds to help victims of the
California wildfires through both the North Valley Community Foundation and Ventura County
Humane Society. We wanted to be able to help people and pets through reliable nonprofit
organizations that would directly impact fire victims and displaced animals in what was listed as
the third worst fire in California history in terms of the number of acres that were devastated,
according to officials in California. We later received press coverage in the Camarillo Acorn
newspaper because those who live in the area and were affected by the fires were so touched by
the fact that strangers from thousands of miles away were willing to donate their hard-earned
money to people they didn’t know. They learned what we already know – that Fallsites have
hearts of gold and we will do anything to take care of our fellow citizens. Thank you to all who
donated.

Our Police and Fire Departments serve our citizens with professionalism and dedication to the
community, and I am proud to honor their service to our residents and thank them for their
unwavering commitment to selflessly watching over all of us and keeping us safe from harm.
We were pleased to announce that Western Reserve Hospital’s Division Chief of Emergency
Medicine Dr. Sonny Bare was named the Cuyahoga Falls Fire Department’s new Medical
Director. In this capacity, Dr. Bare serves the city as a liaison between the Fire Department,
hospital administrators and medical staff, local public health and public safety agencies, and
members of the community. Dr. Bare provides written protocols that define and direct patient
care. These protocols are designed to maximize quality patient care and safety and direct a
patient's triage, treatment, and transport to the most appropriate facility. Dr. Bare, thank you for
your continued commitment and service to our community.

Last year, we were thrilled to have Sara Kline join our leadership team as our new Parks and
Recreation Superintendent. She and the Parks and Recreation Department have brought new
programming and energy to the city that has changed the trajectory of the department. We were
proud to have our inaugural City Hall trick-or-treat event for the community. All City Hall
departments decorated their respective offices and came in costume to open our doors and
distribute candy to over 300 children. Additionally, they added a special Halloween edition of
Flicks on the Falls with a combined Trick or Treat event with the businesses along Front Street.
The Ghostbusters-themed event included photo opportunities in front of Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters
mobile, and the Ghostbusters themselves who completed a quick assessment of me to ensure I
had not been taken over by a ghost. Over 250 people attended this event in Downtown Cuyahoga
Falls. The holiday tree lighting and ice rink grand opening were held the Saturday after
Thanksgiving with an attendance of over 1000 people, including Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their live
reindeer. We are excited to add a new dog park in Water Works Park later this year so that
residents and visitors can enjoy our park system with their beloved pets on the eastside of our
city. These are just a few examples of the impact that is being made on our community through
Parks and Rec.

There are two significant programs that will be launched by Parks and Recreation this year that I
am excited to announce. The first is Mobile Rec. One of our old ambulances is being repurposed
to bring scheduled and unscheduled visits in all of our city parks. How will this work? The
Mobile Rec vehicle will pull into our parks and will activate games and sports aimed at bringing
additional activities for our families to enjoy. Staff members will be on-hand to provide this
fully-inclusive programming in our parks and community events. Look for Mobile Rec to be out
and about later this spring.

The Parks Department is committed to expanded offerings for adapted and inclusive
programming to best serve the needs of all residents and visitors to our parks system. The
department has partnered with the Courage League Adapted Sports program from Iowa to assess
and modify existing sports activities to ensure inclusion for everyone. Courage League is also
assisting the department in developing an overall fitness class specifically modified for
individuals who live with a disability. This fitness class can be a great opportunity to engage
people who may not otherwise have utilized our wellness and fitness offerings within the Parks
Department. Additionally, the Department has brought in a special education teacher part-time to
ensure that Mobile Rec and the other child-centered offerings of the department meet the unique
needs of exceptional children. Our Parks Department and the City of Cuyahoga Falls as a whole
are truly committed to ensuring that everyone in our community has access to and support for
recreation, wellness, and fitness.

I could not be prouder of all that we collectively accomplished in 2018 here in the City of
Cuyahoga Falls. People often tell me that they have never seen a bigger cheerleader for the city
than me, but how could I not? We have some of the most dedicated and committed employees,
residents, business owners, and community leaders in the region and our Falls Pride runs deep.
We have only begun to realize the full potential of our city, and I know you are with me when I
say that together we have put the City of Cuyahoga Falls on the map. Our opportunities for
growth and prosperity are endless.

I am proud to tell you that our State of the City is incredibly strong.

I cannot thank you enough for being here today to hear about the incredible progress that we are
making here in the great City of Cuyahoga Falls. Thank you for your continued friendship, your
partnership, and your investment in our community. Above all else, thank you for allowing me
the privilege of serving this city that I love so much as your Mayor. It is truly a life’s honor.
Thank you.