Cuyahoga Falls -- When City Council returns from its August break, its members are going to lead discussions about the bills and the bees.
Something that has been on the minds of many residents over the summer has been their utility bills. City Council President Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2) said public discussion about utility billing will take place during the public affairs committee meeting Sept. 6. Mayor Don Walters has also said he will speak on the subject.
"With the recent software upgrade implemented in utility billing, we are all aware of the many frustrations being voiced by our residents" Pyke wrote in a letter to Council dated Aug. 30. "Whether the means of communication is by email, phone, text, social media or face to face conversation, the same theme rings true. The residents would like a reassurance that the billing issues are being addressed and will be solved."
Pyke said she believes as Council President she owes it to the residents to allow them the opportunity to address Council and voice their concerns. She suggested to members of Council if they have any questions, to send them to the administration prior to the meeting to allow them time to prepare to answer them.
Pyke told the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press she is going to request Eric Czetli, service director; Teresa Hazlett, deputy service director; Zack Jones, utility billing manager; and John Konich, director of IT services, be present at the meeting to answer questions.
Before Council took a monthlong hiatus, on July 18, utility billing issues were discussed during Council's public affairs committee meeting. Two residents said they had not received a bill in two months and they could not get through to utility billing by phone to find out why. One resident said she went into the billing department but "no one could tell me what's going on."
During that meeting, Czetli said the city started on June 13 to switch over to a new utility billing software. "The software we had was old [and] obsolete," Czetli said. "We had to go to a newer software." He said "hiccups" are common with any system conversion.
The biggest change affected customers who pay online, Czetli said. Every one of them had to get a new account number, he said.
On Aug. 14, Czetli and Hazlett spoke with approximately 30 residents with billing questions during a Sunday morning meeting arranged by Councilman Adam Miller (R-6) outside the municipal building. Citizens' contact information and individual inquiries were recorded, and "they were addressed by staff members early this week," Czetli told the Falls News-Press on Aug. 17.
Due to the increase in calls, the city upgraded its phone system to help alleviate wait times, he said. And, additional staff has been reassigned to increase efficiency when answering voice mails and emails, Czetli added.
The city's utility billing office began using a new computer software system in June. Czetli said his staff discovered some technical issues which have been corrected by Innoprise, the software's vendor.
Before the rollout, the system was "thoroughly tested," the service director said, but they still encountered technical issues with the new software that disrupted the customers' regular billing cycles.
In an open letter to residents posted on Facebook Aug. 13, Mayor Walters said, "As a result of longer billing cycles and consistent hot and humid temperatures, some customers have experienced larger than average utility bills. I understand the inconvenience that this has caused for some customers and for that I sincerely apologize."
New beekeeping laws also on Council agenda
The city is also buzzing about new beekeeping laws going before City Council. A public hearing is scheduled to take place during the Council meeting Sept. 6 to hear remarks for and against proposed legislation that would amend the city's codified ordinances and general code to regulate beekeeping in the city.
The city's Planning Commission unanimously voted July 6 to send proposed legislation outlining rules on establishing beehives on residential property for City Council's approval, with a recommendation that the legislation be passed.
The legislation, which would spell out the number of hives a person could maintain, distances from adjoining properties, features of the hives, acceptable barriers, and other rules, now goes before Council for final approval.
In July, Fred Guerra, the city's planning director, said that beekeepers must immediately meet all the requirements, should the legislation pass, except the regulation dealing with the number of hives on a property; in that case, beekeepers would be given three years to become compliant. Guerra said he chose the three-year number because he read that was the average life span of a queen bee.
More than 30 people attended the Planning Commission meeting, and several individuals -- the vast majority of them beekeepers -- voiced their opinions and concerns regarding the proposed legislation. A Falls resident said she had concerns about safety with allowing beehives on residential properties.
Russ Iona, the council representative on the Planning Commission, said he would welcome input from beekeepers on the legislation. "We don't want to over legislate," he said. "But we want to put rules in place."
Council's meeting on Sept. 6 will start at 6:30 p.m. in the Natatorium, 2345 Fourth St.
Editor's note: Special Products Editor April Helms contributed to this article.