After hearing a few residents' complaints, Cranberry Township supervisors voted, 4-1, Tuesday to move forward with a budget for 2012 that includes a 2.35-mil increase in real estate taxes.
Supervisor Dave Root voted against the proposed budget.
If the budget receives final approval next month, it would raise real estate taxes from 10.65 mils to 13 mils and 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.
At 1.85 mils, the majority of the increase would go to support roads, including resurfacing and the purchase of heavy equipment to maintain local highways. The township’s library would receive 0.25 mils to help restore some services lost by statewide funding cuts for libraries and a reduction in funds from Butler County. The remaining 0.25 mils would be used toward the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Department’s five-year-capital-improvement plan.
If approved, it would be the first time the township has raised taxes since 2004, when officials raised property taxes 1.5 mils.
Celeste Bullian was one of three residents Tuesday who spoke out against the proposed increase. After officials said they faced decreased funding from the state and federal government, Bullian questioned if that affected the creation of 2012’s budget.
“Did you take that into consideration and cut anything from this year’s budget?” she asked. “No.”
While she is a fan of the library, Bullion said she believes user fees should fund the library in the current economic climate. She also recommended Cranberry postpone plans for sidewalks.
“I beg the board to be responsible,” she said. “If not, shame on you.”
James Wood and Terry Moore, who was defeated in the May primary race for the township’s Board of Supervisors, also spoke against increasing taxes. Among Moore’s suggestions for cutting back expenditures was to reduce staff salaries and to end support for the clubhouse at the Cranberry Highlands Golf Course. Root said the township uses $95,000 from the general fund to pay the bond issue at the clubhouse.
Moore also questioned diversity studies and initiatives the township has in place for new residents. He said welcoming people to Cranberry should be left to residents.
“Our residents are the greatest welcome wagon for anyone coming to the area,” he said.
Andree said the increase was needed to maintain services, particularly with roads.
According to township figures, the cost of asphalt has increased 73 percent since 2004. In the same time, the cost to pave a mile of road has increased 87 percent. There has been a decrease in state funding. State labor and wage regulations also affected the township’s road maintenance program.
Without an increase in real estate taxes, Andree said the township would have to cut a service or postpone resurfacing of the roads, a prospect he said could lead to more expensive repairs in the future.
He added the township could not continue to use money from the fund balance to sustain local highways.
“We are at the point now where we can’t make any across-the-board cuts,” he said.
Supervisor vice-chairman Bruce Mazzoni said he feared taking no action would lead to the township taking on a deficit. Fellow supervisor Dick Hadley said he believed the budget took a balanced approach to addressing the township’s needs.
“Our No. 1 priority is the financial health of this community,” Mazzoni said.
On the flip side, Root said he thinks there still are areas were the township could make cuts. In particular, he noted the $78,000 the township pays to Delta Development, a service the township uses to help find grant opportunities.
“We could do more of that on our own,” he said.
He proposed ending the supervisors’ annual $4,000 salary -- a savings of $20,000 -- and restructuring the payment system for the Cranberry Highlands clubhouse.
He also took issue with property taxes, which he called regressive. He said the taxes often hurt those who have the least amount of money, particularly older people on fixed incomes. Even an annual increase of $64 could make a difference to elderly residents, he said.
“It really cuts into their income on what they have to live on, because other things are going up, too,” he said.
While 2012 rates for the Cranberry Highlands Golf Course are still undetermined, the budget would increase seasonal membership at the Community Water Park by $5. No increases are planned for sewer, water or trash services.
The budget will be on display to the public for 20 days. The board votes on its final adoption at the Dec. 15 meeting.