Cranberry residents could see their property taxes go up in 2012.
At a budget workshop on Tuesday, the township’s board of supervisors considered raising real estate taxes from 10.65 to 13 mils to increase funding for the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company, Cranberry Public Library, and road maintenance.
On average, a homeowner’s real estate tax would rise to $356 annually from $292, an increase of $64, township manager Jerry Andree said.
Budget revenues are estimated at $16,495,134, with expenses estimated at the same amount.
If the proposal to increase the property tax is approved, it would be the first time the township has raised taxes in eight years. In 2004, officials raised property taxes by 1.5 mils.
Andree said the increase is needed to maintain Cranberry’s current level of service, restore some services the library lost in 2011, and support the first year in a three-year capital improvement project plan.
Included in those projects -- which combine state, private and township dollars -- is construction of the Northwest Connector, improvements to Route 228, and completion of the Commonwealth Drive Water Pump.
While 2012 rates for the Cranberry Highlands Golf Course are still undetermined, a proposal would increase seasonal membership at the Community Water Park by $5. No increases are planned for sewer, water or trash services.
“At the end of the day, that is what we have to do to provide for our residents,” Andree said.
Of the proposed 2.35 mil increase, 0.25 mil would be dedicated to the library. Andree said the funding would go toward updating the library’s collection, new carpets in the children’s section, and other facility improvements.
Because of statewide cuts in funding for libraries, as well as a reduction in funds from Butler County, Cranberry’s library in 2001 reduced the number of books it purchased, cut hours, and started charging fees for services that once were free.
The Fire Department
Another 0.25 mil would be reserved for the fire department to aid its five-year capital-improvement plan, including enhancement of training facilities, refurbishing an engine, and the eventual purchases of a new fire truck.
Andree said the amount of hours volunteers dedicate in service to the township is a bargain. He estimated the cost savings in having volunteers instead of a paid fire staff in Cranberry at $1.7 million.
At 1.87 mils, the majority of the proposed tax increase would be dedicated to funding the rising cost of road maintenance.
According to township figures, the cost of asphalt has increased 73 percent since 2004. In the same timeframe, the cost to pave a mile of road has increased by 87 percent. There also has been a decrease in state funding. State labor and wage regulations also affected the township’s road maintenance program.
Prior to 2012, Andree said, the township used money from its fund balance to maintain roads.
“It has been a sucking sound,” he said.
The proposed funding would allow the township to appropriate nearly $730,000 for 2012. Of that, $450,000 would be used for resurfacing and $289,000 would be used to replace road maintenance equipment.
The $450,00 also would be combined with other funding to create a resurfacing allowance of nearly $1 million – the annual amount the township said was needed to maintain the current high rating of it roads.
After questioning from board members, Andree said it would be more expensive to rehab the roadway in the future if the board deferred action.
“Roads are a No. 1 priority for this township, along with public safety,” he said.
Andree said real estate assessments in Butler County also played a role in the township’s proposal to raise taxes. Unlike in Allegheny County, where property values are being updated for 2012, real estate assessments in Butler County have remained the same since 1969.
While inflation has gone up 618 percent since 1969, the tax rate has never been adjusted for that increase, the township said.
What the Board Says
Supervisor Dave Root said he’d like to explore the numbers for cuts across all departments instead of a raise in taxes. Citing the situations of several out-of-work executives he knows who are struggling to hold on to their homes, he said he was hesitant to increase rates.
“I guess I’d have a real problem raising taxes right now with this economy,” he said.
He also questioned raising taxes after the township saved about $3.4 million by refinancing two sets of bonds in September. Vice-chairman Bruce Mazzoni said the money was funneled back into capital improvement projects, including upgrades to sewer and water lines.
On a question regarding the possibility of cutting back the township’s parks and recreation programs, Mazzoni said those are the things that attract home buyers to Cranberry Township.
While he didn’t like it, he called the possibility of raising taxes to maintain services a no-brainer.
I’m not a fan, but it’s a financial reality,” he said.
The budget will be up for tentative adoption at the Nov. 22 board of supervisors meeting. After that, it will be only display to the public for 20 days.
The board will vote on the budget’s final adoption at the Dec. 15 meeting.