Questions raised about Cranberry reserve fund

A brief reference at a Cranberry Township supervisors meeting on Tuesday to a change in the proposed 2020 township budget sparked a debate about how much the municipality should have in a reserve fund.

Township manager Chad Findlay updated the supervisors on the tentative budget Tuesday. Entries in two accounts – employee hospitalization rates and legal services – were bumped up to account for increases in both areas.

That changed the tentative budget from $5,228,134 to $5,372,346. The additional costs would be funded through other township accounts including a reserve fund, said Findlay.

Township resident Andy Sentgeorge then presented a list of budget questions to the supervisors that focused on an explanation as to why the township’s operating reserve fund was “so high” at what he listed as $5 million.

Sentgeorge said he wanted to know what is considered “a normal, healthy general operating surplus” as a percentage of an annual budget, for a municipality; what plans are in place to use those “excess reserve funds”; is there a long-term strategic financial plan; why the township income “greatly exceeded our operating expense” on an annual basis; how does the township millage rate compare to other townships; and what would be the effect in dropping the township millage rate from 2.44 to 1.44 mills.

“It deserves discussion with the budget work going on now,” said Sentgeorge. “If it were not for the over $5 million excess, I wouldn’t be asking.”

While the supervisors did not answer his questions at Tuesday’s session, Findlay told Sentgeorge to meet with him to review the budget.

“We’ve held five public budget meetings and all those questions were answered,” said Findlay, adding that the tentative spending plan can be viewed by the public at the township building.

Resident Ed Barrett also questioned the surplus figure and said, “It’s our money.”

Findlay replied, “It still is.”

While expressing concern about the township budget, Sentgeorge was quick to add, “I am not casting aspersions but I’m curious…. Obviously, we have good management because things are working.”

Harold Best, chairman of the supervisors, said the reserve account needs to be substantial in order to address township needs.

“The storm damage and the studies and repairs on that – that’s a fair amount of money,” said Best. “We’re not just putting money away (for no reason).”

Matt McSparren, who will succeed Jerry Brosius as a supervisor in January, told the panel, “I think you’ve done a very good job in managing the township.”

The supervisors will adopt a final 2020 budget at their Dec. 26 meeting.

The tentative budget was approved by Fred Buckholtz and Best. Brosius, noting the reserve account “seems a little excessive,” voted no.

In other business Tuesday, Findlay said township crews have finished using the vacuum machine to collect leaves along township streets.

However, any resident who still has collected leaves may bag them and call the township office. The bagged leaves will then be picked up by truck.

Two hearings held

The supervisors voted to change the zoning designation for a section of Route 257 from light industrial to commercial. The area extends from the UPMC offices to Latshaw Motors and will extend back 450 feet from the highway.

Four property owners are affected.

In response to a question from Christopher Smith, owner of AC Rentals, as to whether his building that houses a light industrial business would be affected, township zoning officer Ben Breniman said he would be “grandfathered.”

“You would be a legal, non-conforming use and … as long as you continue to use it, there is no problem,” said Breniman, adding that should Smith sell the property, a new owner could obtain a special exemption to keep a light assembly business there.

In a second hearing, the supervisors approved an amendment to the township signage ordinance to allow signs in newly designated mixed use area.

The change was prompted by the rezoning of a portion of Route 322, land pegged for a retirement facility near UPMC Northwest and a go-kart track on Horsecreek Road.

There were no references to signage requirements for those areas. The amendment will apply to those locations.

In addition, restrictions for business signs as to size and location were also updated.