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 21

The SV idea incubator

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 11:42 AM by Jerry Andree

It doesn’t look like a classroom.  The Creativity, Innovation & Research Center, or CIRC space in Haine Middle School, actually seems more like something you’d see in a Silicon Valley company that flaunts collaboration and creativity.  Cutouts of clouds hang from the ceiling.  Café-style booths and conversation pit couches nest in its corners and border its walls.  A TV studio-type green screen lies hidden behind a red curtain.  Electronic tablets are everywhere.  Murals of hills and forests decorate its walls.  And there’s a floor-to-ceiling treehouse, complete with a child-size tunnel and bright yellow slide, right in the middle of the room.  

Haine School’s CIRC is actually one of several such imaginative spaces created by Seneca Valley in its K-6 schools.  It is a collaboration of the school district with InventionLand, an O’Hara Township-based company started 20 years ago around a proprietary process to help clients in a variety of industries, including education, to create innovative products, processes and solutions.  

The CIRC project provides strong evidence of just how far Seneca Valley has been ratcheting things up lately.  Not only are they implementing a Master Plan to enhance their physical assets and improve the learning environment for our children, they are also implementing new academic initiatives to enhance the educational services they provide.  But it’s not some sort of elite program reserved for the highest achieving children; every child from Kindergarten through sixth grade meets at least once a week in the new facility.

Earlier this week, along with members of our Board of Supervisors, I had the opportunity to see it for myself.  And what we saw was more than just an elaborate classroom.  What we saw was an exceptional level of energy and enthusiasm emanating from the CIRC.  And it didn’t just come from the students; the school’s highly motivated and dedicated teachers were just as excited. 

I was so impressed that I went back to the school that evening for a public open house, along with my wife – herself a former teacher from a family of teachers – and she was even more impressed with what she saw.  Of course, it came too late for the two of us or for our own adult children to personally benefit from.  But we can’t wait for our grandchildren to have this amazing educational opportunity.  

So kudos to Superintendent Tracy Vitale and Assistant Superintendent Sean McCarty for leading this effort.  And thanks to the Seneca Valley School Board for their continued investment in one of most important roles of local government – educating our young people to be thoughtful, creative, and independent adults who will help to ensure a healthy, vibrant future for Cranberry Township.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about our public schools.  You can reach me at jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org


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