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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.

Feb 26

Pennsylvania’s 50% Rabbitburger

Posted on February 26, 2015 at 11:12 AM by Jerry Andree

In his classic book “How to Lie with Statistics,” author Darrell Huff provides the example of a restaurateur offering his special “50% Rabbitburger.”  The recipe?  Take one horse and one rabbit, grind them up, mix them together, and Voila!  A 50% Rabbitburger.

It seems that the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has taken that recipe to heart and fried one up for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  In a P-G chart published on February 23 entitled “Enough Said,” the article states that 9.3 percent of the income from Cranberry households making $60,000 to $95,000 a year goes to state and local taxes.  I won’t dispute those figures.  But that tax bite has all the ingredients of a perfect rabbitburger. 

When the rabbit of local government is casually mixed together with the horse of state government, it leaves the distinct impression that the two are equally responsible for the resulting bite of taxpayer money.  But they’re not.  And frankly, that rubs me and my counterparts in municipal governance the wrong way.

If you look closely at the numbers, 9.3 percent of Cranberry’s average $94,000 household income is $8,742.  But of that amount, just $713 goes to Cranberry Township; more than $8,000 goes to other units of government.  Then it gets more interesting.  When you look at the income tax levied by the state, its 3.07% rate applies to all forms of income – dividends, interest, retirement income, royalties, etc.  Cranberry, on the other hand, levies a tax on just earned income – a much narrower band of household income – and even then, it’s only 0.5%. 

That $713 goes a long, long way in Cranberry and its use is much more transparent.  For example, it provides first-class, professional public safety services – police, fire and the guaranteed timely response of EMS.  It covers the maintenance of around 82% of the public roads in the Township; the other 18% are state owned.  It pays for high quality recreational and park facilities and a first-class library – the only one in Butler County open seven days a week.  It includes professional land use management which has resulted in one of the most desirable communities in the state.  And it finances a responsive, professionally run local government – all for about half of what the average household pays a year for cable and internet service.

Beyond that, Cranberry has one of the highest possible financial ratings for local government – significantly better than the State’s own financial rating by those same agencies.  That’s why we get irritated when we’re mixed in with the state and served up as a common Rabbitburger.

If we were to show that in graphic form, it would look more like this:

State and Local Taxes

So, to the editors of the Post-Gazette, I say Bon Appetite!  Your rabbitburger is waiting.  Enough said.

Feb 23

Has Cranberry gone tabloid?

Posted on February 23, 2015 at 9:54 AM by Jerry Andree

People sometimes tell me that Cranberry’s website, newsletter, and social media contents have crossed the bounds of good taste.  Even when they haven’t crossed, I’m told, many of our communications seem to hover at the edge of what some consider only marginally acceptable standards of publishing, at least for a unit of government. 

What, they wonder, were we thinking when we said that our Public Works Streets manager “seeks cure for crack?”  Or that our County District Attorney has gone “down on the pharm?”  Or when we introduced a new trash collection service saying that “Mutant Robots Make Garbage Grab!”  Or our current video series featuring “The Most Interesting Man in Cranberry Township.”  Are we entering a new age of sensationalism? Is nothing sacred? 

Well, the truth is their critique may actually have some merit.  Some of our messaging really does push the limits of convention, although not terribly hard.  But it’s not an accident.  Nor it is an attempt to make light of issues that truly upset or offend people.  Let me explain.

Everyone you know is painfully aware that the prevalent tone of institutional communication is hollow, impersonal and cautious, or as some would say, blah, blah, blah.  It shows up in news releases, in published reports, in official correspondence, and more.  It results in boring headlines, followed by fluffy, self-congratulatory text, intended to create the appearance of communicating with the public.  But it is often little more than a pretext for the organization to simply check off the box: “public informed.” 

There are lots of reasons for that – past practices, fear of legal action, defensiveness, careerism, political caution, oversensitivity, and so on.  The results are typically specimens of writing that feature a careful selection of facts, wrapped in superficial courtesies, which never really answer the most important question: So what?  Instead, it leads to publications that few people bother to read and even fewer actually believe or make use of. 

In Cranberry, communicating with our residents, businesses, and visitors is not simply a box we feel obliged to check off.  It is something fundamental to our philosophy of government.  Engaging residents in our shared civic mission and in the common culture of our community is a basic value.  And communication is central to achieving that outcome.  But to be effective, it needs to connect with people – to attract enough attention so that people will actually read it – and to be memorable enough that it can actually be used.

So we try to make our communications interesting, provocative, attractive, and fun to read and listen to.  We use humor, word play, cultural memes and campy graphics to help achieve that.  So if someone sees a headline that reads: “Drug vault overdoses, enters rehab,” we hope they feel sufficiently curious to find out more.  And when we say that the design for our wastewater treatment plant upgrade involves “popping cassettes and pouring mixed liquor,” we like to think our readers would be inquisitive enough to see what’s behind that claim, which we feel is important information for our customers and residents to know.

Now I realize that it may sound, at least to some people, as though we don’t take our work as a local government seriously enough.  After all, we have an important job to do.  But actually, we take our work very seriously; it’s just that we don’t take ourselves as seriously as they seem to in some other units of government.

Of course we realize some people might interpret our attitude as being borderline scandalous, and perhaps they’re right.  I admit that I’ve occasionally had my ear chewed off by folks who didn’t appreciate the manner in which we introduced the message.  But, those same people admitted that they read the information because of our non-traditional way of presenting it.  We believe our approach promotes engagement in our community and does so in a manner that is easier, faster and more entertaining than ever before.  I am proud to serve a community that is so engaged, vibrant and passionate about their local government. 

If you have ideas about how we can do better, I am always eager to hear from you at
Dec 10

The Fall of Sprawl; Now it’s Official

Posted on December 10, 2014 at 9:41 AM by Jerry Andree

It’s always comforting to get third-party validation for what you’ve been doing, particularly if what you’ve been doing is different than what everyone else is up to.  It means you’re not simply indulging in a fantasy of your own creation, but instead, that somebody outside actually sees value in what you’re doing. 

So when Cranberry recently received some flattering attention from PittsburghTODAY, a leadership project which grew out of a series of regional benchmark features begun by the Post-Gazette more than a decade ago, we found it very reassuring. 

Pittsburgh TodayIf you look in this month’s issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly, you’ll find an article by Julia Fraser, a research coordinator for the PittsburghTODAY project, that talks about Smart Growth in southwestern Pennsylvania and its arch nemesis, Suburban Sprawl.  Here’s what she said:  Sprawl is a bad form of development.  It’s expensive.  It’s environmental irresponsible.  It isolates communities.  And it erodes social institutions. 

Smart growth, on the other hand, is shorthand for public policies that promote connectivity, increase development density, make more efficient use of public resources, and place a value on pleasing aesthetics. 

For years, Cranberry has been depicted – unfairly, I should add – as the region’s poster child for suburban sprawl.  But what Ms. Fraser and the PittsburghTODAY project saw here was something different. 

“A closer look reveals evidence of the steps the Butler County municipality has taken to make amends for the fragmented development of its past, including miles of sidewalk and tree-lined streets, a dense downtown core connected to housing developments,” she said.  Her conclusion: Cranberry has “some of the most forward-thinking policies for smart growth found in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

In a part of the country where smart growth policies are not yet widespread, we’re delighted that she recognized our Board’s efforts to apply higher standards to Cranberry’s land use and infrastructure investments.  And we’re pleased that she saw our efforts as sustainable – something that sprawl-type development is typically lacking. 

At the same time, though, there were other reasons behind Cranberry’s approach to smart growth – reasons which the PittsburghTODAY study didn’t get into.  One of them was to foster economic growth.  Cranberry is not simply a bedroom community for people who work in Pittsburgh; we have a vigorous export economy, including major operations of world-class corporations whose employees commute here from all over the region.  Our daytime head count is significantly larger than our residential population.  That didn’t happen by accident; our policies helped to create it.

Our transportation system is also one that runs counter to most smart growth advocates.  Regrettably, Cranberry has no significant public transit service.  Nor do we have any rail service.  Commuting by car – and increasingly by foot and bicycle – are essential to our daily lives.  So is freight movement by 18-wheelers.  As a result, improving our highway connections and local road network are essential priorities here. 

Of course, every community is different.  What smart growth means for us may not apply in another municipality; everyone needs to find their own way.  But we were happy to read that Cranberry’s approach has attracted the attention of our region’s leadership.  We hope they’ll come back and visit us again sometime.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about Cranberry’s approach to development.  Write me at: