Jerry Andree, Township Manager

Jerry Andree, Township Manager

No level of government has more impact on daily life than local government. That’s why my colleagues and I at Cranberry Township are passionate about pushing the limits of excellence to provide the best possible services to our residents and customers. However, being well-served is not a passive achievement; it is a collective undertaking. Through this blog, we offer our personal reflections on that assignment. And we hope it will help engage you in joining us on that same collaborative mission.

Sep 14

Earning straight A’s: How investors assess the Township’s operations

Posted on September 14, 2017 at 2:56 PM by Jerry Andree

Last month Moody’s Investor Service – the nation’s premier credit rating organization – assigned Cranberry Township a rating of Aaa, their highest level.  It came because we were about to go into the bond market for money to finish upgrading our wastewater treatment plant and do a few smaller capital projects.  Whenever you go into the bond market, your credit rating gets reviewed.

We hadn’t actually expected to get a credit increase.  We already had Moody’s next highest rating, Aa1, which allowed us to borrow at very favorable rates, and we were happy with that.  But now, with our new top-level ranking, we can borrow at even better rates, which is a great advantage to both the Township and our sewer system ratepayers.  So it’s very good news, and it puts us right up there with a handful of the most creditworthy municipalities in Pennsylvania – all the others being wealthy Philadelphia suburbs.

But the reasons Moody’s gave for Cranberry’s upgrade – a growing, diverse tax base, a well-managed and robust financial position with healthy reserves and a modest debt burden – are not the norm for Pennsylvania, whose own bonds were given an Aa3 rating at the end of last year – three steps below Cranberry’s rating, making it significantly more expensive for the state to borrow money.  That’s because what’s normal for Pennsylvania is political, not practical.  Basing financial decisions on the long-term health of the Commonwealth and its taxpayers means having the courage to balance the state’s on-going expenditures with real, legitimate, recurring revenue sources.  Regrettably, that’s not the way Pennsylvania does business.  Here’s how Moody’s put it in evaluating the state’s credit: 

This report “recognizes the Commonwealth’s chronic late budgets, which reflect a political gridlock that has made it difficult for the Commonwealth to chart a sustainable long-term fiscal path.  The Commonwealth is likely to struggle to balance its budget annually as its pension contributions ramp up and expenditures grow more quickly than revenues.”  Ouch!  And it isn’t much better at the federal level, either.  

But that’s not how it works in Cranberry.  We have studied the life-cycles of other municipalities to understand which factors which lead a community into financial difficulties.  What we found is that avoiding crises in another 10 or 20 years requires two things: continuous investment in local infrastructure and staying away from any legacy employee costs that aren’t required by state law.  But whenever you make investments, you need to pay for them.  So we raise our tax rates as well as our sewer, water and solid waste fees whenever there’s a compelling case for making such investments.  Of course, nobody likes tax or rate increases.  But the alternative would be to kick the can until a major crisis hits and then slam taxpayers and ratepayers with huge increases.  However, management by crisis is a lousy way to run a government.  

Our goal is to create a community that is vibrant both today and into the future.  So, in addition to roadways, sewer, water and other basic infrastructure, we invest in our parks, library, and recreational assets as well as advocating for quality public education.  

Even with all those investments, our tax and utility rates remain below the average of comparable communities.  That’s because we place a great deal of emphasis on doing what we do as cost effectively as possible.  We build partnerships to deliver services to our residents.  They include our sports associations, our volunteer fire company, and Community Chest, CTCC.  We require developers to create a sustainable sense of place.  We constantly work to bring back a fair share of the county, state and federal tax dollars our residents pay.  And yet Cranberry’s own property taxes average less than two months of cable service.

Our Board of Supervisors governs for the long haul, avoiding short-term gains at the cost of long-term benefits.  Doing that involves investing where we must and then paying the associated bills.  That’s how Cranberry earned an Aaa rating – a score we like to believe validates our pragmatic approach to local government.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about local government financing.  You can reach me at jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org

Jul 14

Cranberry didn’t happen by accident

Posted on July 14, 2017 at 3:42 PM by Jerry Andree

Let me get something off my chest.  Cranberry is a great place to live, work and play. Just about everyone says so.  

But it wasn’t always that way.  As far back as the 1980s, it was clear that – like it or not – growth was coming to Cranberry.  So our elected officials faced a choice: whether to let that growth roll over the Township haphazardly, as it has elsewhere in the region, or to take control and steer that development toward making Cranberry the outstanding community they knew it could become.  

They chose to manage Cranberry’s growth.  That choice, in turn, prompted a series of very deliberate strategic decisions, made over an extended period of time.  The community you see today is the result of their methodical planning, thoughtful policy-making, targeted investments, and a sustained vision implemented by our staff under the Board of Supervisors’ direction.  

And yet I keep bumping into people – including people that ought to know better – who just shrug and say well, all the good things that happened in Cranberry just happened on their own.  As though a community’s good fortune was random – a matter of luck, something like winning the lottery.

It’s a view that drives me nuts.  So let me set the record straight.  There are specific goals and practices which have been behind Cranberry’s success.  Here are just a few of them:
  • Enhanced mobility.  Managing traffic growth and accommodating pedestrians have been among the Township’s top operational and spending priorities for decades.  
  • Leisure assets.  Over the past 20 years, we have either built or greatly expanded three major parks, a golf course, and enhanced our community center, providing extensive recreational programming.
  • Predictable development.  Careful long-range land use planning has been a hallmark of Cranberry and a source of confidence to PennDOT in supporting Township road projects. 
  • Developer financing.  Instead of having taxpayers finance road improvements for new businesses, Cranberry collects fees from those developers and requires them to pay for their improvements. 
  • Clear communications.  Cranberry uses a variety of media, both print and electronic, to relay timely information to its residents and respond to their inquiries. 
  • Fiscal soundness.  Cranberry’s municipal taxes are low, its budget is balanced, its credit is excellent, and its spending is conservative, 
  • Action-oriented.  Cranberry’s Board of Supervisors acts decisively.  It doesn’t ‘kick the can down the road’ or grant non-mandated benefit programs that create legacy costs for future generations.
  • Sustainable growth.  Cranberry’s development and business practices are designed to serve future generations as well as current residents. 
  • Pleasing aesthetics.  Cranberry’s ordinances and planning reviews are designed to enhance the experience of residents and visitors with attractive streetscape, open space, and architectural detail. 
  • Good neighbors.  Cranberry has formed partnerships with numerous businesses, civic organizations and other units of government in the area to advance their shared goals.
  • Resident engagement.  Cranberry welcomes and supports volunteer participation in its planning, recreation, culture, advisory and public safety functions. 
  • Tech-friendly.  Cranberry is not only home to a number of leading-edge technology companies, it also is among the early adopters of technology for its own operations. 
I could go on and on.  But I think you get the idea: Cranberry’s success didn’t just happen.  Nor did it occur without struggle and conflict, as longtime residents here remember well.  Instead, it is the product of a long-running collaboration between its public, private and nonprofit sectors together with engaged and passionate residents and a visionary Board of Supervisors.  

We like to think of our residents as shareholders, and we believe their return on investment has been substantial. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Cranberry’s success. You can reach me at jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org

May 12

Traffic? What traffic?

Posted on May 12, 2017 at 9:50 AM by Jerry Andree

If you ask people around Western Pennsylvania what comes to mind when they think about Cranberry, you’ll get a lot of answers – great parks, great shopping, great jobs, nice homes and so on.  But what you’ll hear from almost everyone is something related to traffic.

It’s an evergreen topic – one we spend a lot of time and effort addressing.  For example, the juncture of Rt. 19 with 228 and Freedom Road is now the busiest intersection in all of Western Pennsylvania, and there are others in the Township which aren’t that far behind.  No question about it: there’s a huge volume of traffic that moves through our community, and we do our best to make it flow as efficiently as possible.  At the same time, though, we love having people come here because traffic signifies a bustling, thriving economy.  Just think about communities with no cars on their roads; they’re ghost towns.
 
Still, our surge of traffic is nothing new; we saw it coming more than 25 years ago with the advent of I-279 North.  That was when our Board of Supervisors implemented Impact Fees on new developments to help finance local road improvements.  We also formed partnerships with local businesses and with other units of government to secure the funds for intersection improvements like turning lanes, traffic signals, roundabouts and signage. 

Our Board’s direction has been clear: Cranberry needs to be proactive in traffic management and safety.  In addition to maintaining an aggressive program of capital investment in our roadway infrastructure, we track incidents on local roads to see where re-engineering a roadway segment, or a speed awareness campaign, or additional maintenance, or more vigorous enforcement could make a difference.  And they do.  The collective impact of all these measures has been positive, and that’s been validated by the Western Pennsylvania AAA which, for the eighth consecutive year, awarded us their Platinum Safety Award – the Association’s highest – for traffic safety. 

But we’re not just hanging up their plaque and resting on our laurels.  The effort to improve traffic flow and safety is ongoing.  Starting in January, PennDOT stopped mailing license plate validation stickers to vehicle owners.  In its place, the state is helping to finance the installation of patrol car-mounted license plate reading cameras, linked to a database, that can immediately determine whether a vehicle’s registration is current.  It can also help to quickly identify stolen vehicles, an unpleasant issue that Cranberry recently received some help in dealing with.

There’s a state fund that was created some years ago to finance police officers detailed to vehicle theft investigation.  That officer is usually attached to a County District Attorney’s office.  But when a vacancy was created earlier this year in Butler County, the money became available to fund a replacement.  Cranberry saw the opportunity to add that specialty to its force and was awarded a grant to finance that position.  

As a result, Cranberry now has an experienced officer on staff, specializing in auto theft, helping to advance our efforts on various aspects of law enforcement and traffic safety.  So we’d like to thank our state partners for supporting our efforts to make Cranberry both a model of traffic safety and a model of efficient traffic flow. 

What all this means is that when you see our police vehicles traveling around the Township looking like Google cars bristling with cameras, they’re all about keeping our community secure, keeping traffic moving efficiently, and assuring the safe passage of people and products along our bustling corridors. 
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Cranberry’s traffic safety.  You can reach me at jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org