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.

Dec 04

Jimmy Stewart and me

Posted on December 4, 2017 at 12:10 PM by Jerry Andree

In the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, just as James Stewart’s character becomes despondent over a series of reverses in his life, an angel appears to show him an alternate reality – what the life of his small community might have been had he never been born.  And in that alternate world, people were very unhappy.  Children died, family members were institutionalized, businesses failed, people lived in overpriced slums, parks became cemeteries, and so on. 

Cranberry is not the movie’s fictional Bedford Falls, nor am I James Stewart.  But, just as in the wartime film, there are some genuinely depressing issues, including the pain inflicted by today’s opioid crisis, that weigh heavily on my mind.  So as I drive around the Township, I sometimes wonder what Cranberry would be like in an alternate world where nobody intervened to guide and direct it into becoming what it is today.

For more than 25 years now, I’ve had the privilege of serving this community under the direction of a visionary Board of Supervisors.  By the late 1980s, they clearly saw that change was coming and knew that if they didn’t step up and steer that growth, it would roll right over them.  So they stood up, crafted a plan, enacted ordinances, imposed impact fees, and used the authority they were given under state law to mold the community into an attractive, efficient, and high-value place to live, work and play.  

That wasn’t easy to do.  Many Western Pennsylvania communities, in their zeal for growth, have given developers free rein to do whatever they wanted, no matter its impact on traffic, revenues, aesthetics, safety or anything else.  That was what developers expected from Cranberry, too.  But they were wrong, and a number of spectacular conflicts resulted.  

Cranberry’s growth is still taking place.  While we would like to believe the tools to shape that growth are now well-established, it is still premature to hoist the ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner.  But as I drive around the Township, I see evidence everywhere of our Board’s foresight.  As a Cranberry resident myself, I am able to do just about everything my family needs right here – shopping, dining, healthcare, recreation, church and much, much more. 

Cranberry has become a major employment center with approximately 22,000 good jobs.  We are an important regional retail center.  We are a regional recreation center with tournament-level athletic fields and more on the way.  And we have become the residential community of choice for a constantly growing number of individuals, couples and families from throughout the tri-state area.  

On Thanksgiving morning, I saw more than 1,000 people either running in the Turkey Trot or playing in one of the many Turkey Bowls taking place in our three parks.  They were playing and running and laughing and enjoying life, building friendships and strengthening neighborhoods.  So, like James Stewart’s character, I wondered what it would be like if those parks had never been built.  Would those social relationships ever happen?  Would neighborhoods and families have any place to come together?  Would children have the opportunity to participate in team sports?  I shudder to think what life here would be like without that critical component of our infrastructure.

However, It’s a Wonderful Life has a happy ending.  Stewart’s character realizes, despite his struggles, how much good he has been able to bring to his community over the years.  And the townsfolk rejoice at his turn of fortune.  I can appreciate that, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to play a role in advancing Cranberry’s own wonderful life.

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

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