If Cranberry Township were a person, we’d be a Generation X-er – someone in their late 30s or early 40s who is paying the mortgage, making car payments, saving for the kids’ college, and working hard to get established in their career. We’d be following a financial plan that would allow us to look ahead another 30 years or so to a time when we’d hope to have the house paid off, the kids on their own, and a comfortable, mature community in which to enjoy our retirement.
Cranberry was originally chartered more than 200 years ago, but the Cranberry Township we know today really didn’t get started until the 1970s and ‘80s. Back then, most of its roads were meandering country lanes. Its municipal water and sewer systems were small and limited. And its recreational resources were very modest. But growth – prompted by the juncture of two Interstate highways in the Township – was clearly on the horizon. Township officials realized they couldn’t stop that growth, so they faced an important decision: they could either step back and let it happen, or get ahead of it and manage that growth to ensure the community’s long term health. Fortunately, they chose a proactive approach. To more effectively manage their growing community, they began a comprehensive planning process to guide their policy making and capital investments. The first plan was completed in 1977, the second in 1995, and the most recent in 2009, which we call the Cranberry Plan.
Just last month, the Board of Supervisors approved an update of that 2009 plan. It covers a wide range of issues related to Cranberry’s future growth. And it identifies a variety of infrastructure projects which will be needed to comfortably accommodate the mature community we expect to become in another 30 years or so. Our Board is using that updated plan to inform its budget and spending priorities. In effect, like a Gen X family unit, Cranberry is financing the house and related home improvements so that our extended family can enjoy it for generations to come.
The updated plan confirms most of what we had outlined in 2009, although it includes a greater emphasis on education and public safety – particularly with maintaining a volunteer fire company. We are continuing our aggressive capital infrastructure improvement program with a special focus on our roads and on upgrading our wastewater treatment plant. We are investing in our parks with the new second phase of Graham Park. And we’re adding two full-time officers to our current 28-member police force.
But we are living within our means. The Board’s proposed 2017 budget contains no tax increase. Cranberry’s organic revenue growth – about three percent a year – results from our residents’ higher earned incomes and increased business sales, so we keep our expenses constrained by those revenues. We never deficit spend; if there’s a year-end surplus, those funds go into our capital budget – not into salaries or normal operating expenses.
When we borrow, as we must for major capital projects like the wastewater treatment plant, we are able to do so at very low rates thanks to our Aa1 rating from Moody’s – one of very few communities in Pennsylvania to attain that rating. It indicates we are a high quality, very low credit risk borrower. Beyond that, we work very hard to minimize any legacy costs like long-term debt and we limit our defined pensions to those required by state law, involving no post-retirement healthcare costs.
Cranberry is a healthy community now; we want to be even healthier 30 years from now when Generation X reaches its golden years. That’s the goal guiding our 2017 budget.
I welcome your thoughts on Cranberry’s budget and financing. You can reach me by emailing: Jerry.Andree@cranberrytownship.org.