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.

Apr 20

What’s up with the water meters?

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 9:25 AM by Jerry Andree

People keep asking me: why is Cranberry taking this perfectly good water meter out of my home?  Has it fallen out of fashion?  Has it become a collectable?  Haven’t we learned anything from Pittsburgh’s awful experience?  Fair questions.  So let me take a stab at answering them.

First of all, an old meter is almost certainly not a ‘perfectly good’ meter.  Water meters, like computers, washing machines, cars and just about everything else, wear out.  In the case of water meters, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll break and flood your basement.  But it does mean that after 20 years or so, the readings it registers have become less and less reliable.  For the resident, that can be either good or bad, depending on whether it’s reading high or low.  But for the Township, that makes it harder to manage our water distribution system because we’re not sure how much water is actually being consumed, how much is leaking, or how much is being stolen from ratepayers.  

So we’re replacing all 8,000 of the old analog meters with new digital ones that are a lot more accurate, if not more fashionable.  They are paired with a transmitter on an outside wall of the home that sends the customer’s usage data into the Township office every day.  That means no estimated bills to pay, no meter reader tromping through your flower bed, and no guesswork about how much water you’re using.  In the near future, you’ll also have the opportunity to track your water consumption online, in near-real time – even when you’re away.  It will also allow us to notify you if we get data suggesting there’s a leak.  And when you eventually sell your home, we can provide you with an instant final reading.  So overall, it should be a better customer experience.  

What happens to the old meters?  Are people collecting them?  That’s doubtful, although I’ve actually seen a few meters which were repurposed as industrial-style artwork.  However, that’s rare.  What’s actually happening is that the brass from the old meters is being bought from the Township for reprocessing, and the income from that sale is being used to reduce the cost of the replacement units. 

But what about Pittsburgh’s experience?  Didn’t they have people getting astronomical water bills and a chorus of complaints about their new meters?  Yes.  And we’ve learned from it.  For example, we learned that water mains eventually fail, and that leaks can make meter readings meaningless.  Pittsburgh is a lot older than Cranberry, so its infrastructure is more prone to failure, but we also know that someday our own distribution lines will need replacement, too.  That’s why our field operations people are doing everything they can to postpone that day through good maintenance practices.  

We also learned that Pittsburgh used meters and accessories from different vendors that didn’t play nice with each other.  A lot of them weren’t installed right, and there were problems with radio signals not reaching where they should.  So, in addition to checking our entire distribution system for leaks twice a year, we’re getting all our meter technology from the same sources, we set and enforce standards for the installers, and we test each unit on site to make sure it actually works.  We’re eliminating estimated readings entirely so that problems are identified and corrected as quickly as possible.  

So that’s why we’re switching out our meters.  It’s relatively painless – the installer is in and out in less than 30 minutes; it comes at no additional cost to the customer because the meters belonged to the Township in the first place; it helps us conserve water; we can free our meter readers for other assignments; and it will allow our Public Works people to do an even better job of planning, maintaining, and delivering the water service our residents expect. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about our water system.  Write me at: jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org 

Apr 05

Cranberry Highlands comes of age

Posted on April 5, 2017 at 12:03 PM by Jerry Andree

This year marks Cranberry Highlands’ 15th anniversary as both a top-rated municipal golf course and a high-value community asset.  Even at a time when America’s golf industry is struggling, Cranberry Highlands has been thriving.  So how did Cranberry come to get involved with the golf business?

It began in the sewer.  The Municipal Sewer & Water Authority, which had been merged into the Township in 1999, owned a 336-acre farm near the sewage treatment plant which it used for land application of sewage sludge from the treatment process.  But state regulations limited how much they could dispose of there, and by that point, they had reached the limit. 

The idea of turning the property into a golf course wasn’t exactly new.  An out-of-county general authority had previously proposed using the property to build a golf course.  So here were the alternatives that fell to the Township: should the farm be sold to developers as the site for another 300 homes?  Should we permit an out-of-county authority to take control of the land?  Or should the Township assume responsibility for turning the property into a community asset by building an upscale public golf course similar to the one proposed by the general authority?  The answer lay in the Township’s stated objectives.

Several years earlier, in 1995, the Board of Supervisors had adopted a comprehensive growth plan.  It identified preserving green space as a priority.  And a golf course, if nothing else, is green space, so building one would be consistent with the plan.  Then we held a series of public hearings, and here’s what we heard: Do not sell to developers!  Use the land instead to benefit the community by building a public golf course.  How would we pay for it?  Float bonds financed by green fees generated from the golfers themselves.  That fee is currently $34 a person for 18 holes.  With around 30,000 rounds being played a year, that’s about $1 million in revenue.

The comprehensive plan also identified another priority: investing in assets that would add to local property values.  But a golf course can only achieve that if it’s well-designed and exquisitely maintained.  So golf course architect Bill Love was brought in to design the course.  His philosophy, which had been brought to life in other courses he had designed, was to ‘discover’ a golf course, as distinct from building one.  Love was able to see, in the former farm’s rough and hilly terrain, exactly where a golf course could be built without requiring a massive volume of earthmoving.  And to make sure the course would be kept up properly, we hired Dave Barber – a perfectionist in golf course maintenance – as our Superintendent. 

The architecture of Love’s design remains the foundation of Cranberry Highlands.  But the past 15 years have also seen a series of additions and enhancements that have both improved the golf experience and made its clubhouse a magnet for weddings, receptions, business meetings and other private events.  The golf course itself has become the venue of choice for a huge number of outings, raising millions of dollars to benefit worthy causes. 

In addition, it’s become a focus of new development.  Over the years since Cranberry Highlands opened, a number of attractive residential developments have sprung up around it.  The golf course not only adds value to those homes, but also to the values of properties throughout the Township.  Yet it costs us virtually nothing.  Since about 80 percent of our golfers live outside of Cranberry, we now have a Township-owned asset that benefits our residents which is mostly financed by our guests.

At the same time, though, there’s an ongoing connection to the Sewer & Water Authority’s former use of the farm, and it’s not just sentimental.  It’s that instead of using tap water, the golf course irrigation system uses the water treated and discharged from our nearby Brush Creek wastewater treatment plant – conserving both water and money for the Township.

Throughout our 15th season, we are planning a series of celebrations to mark this milestone anniversary, so keep an eye out for details.  In the meantime, I see Cranberry Highlands as a success story we can all be proud of – even those of us who can’t tell a birdie from a bogy.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Cranberry Highlands.  You can reach me at jerry.andree@cranberrytownship.org
Dec 17

While you slept

Posted on December 17, 2016 at 11:16 AM by Jerry Andree

It’s not surprising, the weekend before Christmas, that most Cranberry residents would be focused on last-minute holiday preparations.  But weather was a concern.  Over the previous two days, a monster polar vortex had been marching across the northern states, bringing widespread power failures, horrendous driving conditions and structure fires that were extremely difficult to fight.  The southern edge of the storm’s trajectory seemed poised to cross through Southwestern Pennsylvania on Friday night, and local forecasters warned their listeners to avoid going out until temperatures rose enough to melt the overnight accumulation of road ice.  

But not everyone was preoccupied with preparing for the holidays from the comfort of their homes, worried about the last minute shopping, baking and entertaining.  A small but dedicated group of Township employees, volunteers and allied first responders were focused on something entirely different: ensuring the safety of their fellow residents.  

I am tremendously proud to be a part of a community whose priorities – keeping one another safe – are in the right place.  Let me share their story.

Starting late Friday evening, every agency in the Township with a role to play in public safety was preparing for the worst and deploying is resources accordingly.  For example:
  • Our Volunteer Fire Company began staffing the two Fire Stations around the clock with firefighters prepared to respond instantly to any calls for service.  
  • Our Public Works Department sent out trucks overnight to pretreat roads and prepare for the accumulated ice.  Then they sent out more when the snow and ice arrived.  Beyond that, a Department field crew responded to a water line break in a residential area, restoring the water service within a couple hours
  • Cranberry EMS prepped their crews and outfitted their equipment to respond quickly to any calls for service, particularly those related to dangerous driving conditions. 
  • Our Police Department was on full alert and prepared to respond immediately in the event of an increase in calls due to poor driving conditions or power failures.
  • Throughout the night, a seven-person crew monitored all areas of operations, keeping a close eye on emerging weather conditions and developing power issues.  If needed, they were prepared to activate our Emergency Operations Center to coordinate Township services and collaborate with the Butler County Emergency Management Office.  Had the Emergency Operations Center been activated, representatives of Fire, Police, EMS, Communications, and Public Works were ready to spring into action.

In the end, we were fortunate; the weather system dealt us a glancing blow, but not the knockout punch that it did to our north.  But Saturday morning, as the rest of Cranberry woke up to see rising temperatures and roads clear of ice, they were free to concentrate on their list of holiday chores without ever knowing what was going on behind the scenes while they slept.

If you want to be part of this amazing group of residents who work for the safety of their community, please contact me, at Jerry.Andree@CranberryTownship.org.  We can use you!