NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
PUC seeks comment on terminations and consumer protections

Bucks County
Middletown to consider anti-discrimination ordinance

Chester County
West Chester’s new budget reality — $9 million in cuts

Delaware County
County drafts housing plan

Montgomery County
Public input needed for Montco Pikes roadway plan

Philadelphia County
How will the repeal of the fair housing rule affect Philadelphia?

 

News Briefs Archive April 20, 2020

 

General News

Rep. Polinchock introduces bill to allow safe real estate transactions
State Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144), of Bucks County, has introduced legislation that would create a waiver to the governor’s Business Closure Order for all real estate-related activities that can adhere to social distancing practices and other mitigation measures defined by the Centers for Disease Control to protect workers and mitigate the spread of the virus. “Anticipating that the Governor would veto SB613, I have been working with the real estate and housing industry to come up with a smart, safe way for people to find shelter and purchase homes,” wrote Polinchock, a former chairman of both the Suburban Realtors® Alliance and the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®. He noted that Pennsylvania is the only state to shut down all real estate activities, while issuing some selective waivers on an ad hoc basis with no consistency. The bill, HB2412, has bipartisan support and has been referred to the state government committee.

Nearly 8,000 Realtors® respond to PAR’s call to action on SB613
In less than 24 hours, Pennsylvania Realtors® sent nearly 8,000 emails to legislators — a 24-hour record — asking them to support Senate Bill 613, as amended. The bill passed both houses of the General Assembly, but Gov. Wolf indicated he would veto it. The legislation would require Pennsylvania to follow federal guidelines regarding life-sustaining businesses instead of Gov. Wolf’s more restrictive list. In supporting the bill, the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® is not requesting a return to “business as usual.” Real estate professionals would follow guidelines developed using recommended guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
Source: PAR Just Listed; 4/15/2020

Updates on industry waiver request and amicus brief filing
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) received an official denial from the governor’s office on April 11 regarding its initial waiver request to reclassify real estate services as life-sustaining. PAR had filed a request for a waiver on March 20 after the shutdown was announced. PAR also received an update on a lawsuit in which it had filed an amicus brief of support. The suit was filed against Gov. Tom Wolf on behalf of several businesses that have been impacted by the arbitrary and unclear rules under the governor’s closure order issued last month. PAR’s brief specifically asked the court to consider an order that would reclassify real estate as a life-sustaining business. The association learned on April 13 that the state Supreme Court decided in favor of the state. Though the specific reclassification issues in the brief — and in another filed by homebuilders’ associations — were not explicitly addressed, those issues are no longer in front of the court since the underlying case was denied. PAR is continuing to assess whether further legal actions in some other venue may be prudent.
Source: PAR Just Listed; 4/15/2020

IRS extends deadlines for 1031, opportunity zone investors
Investors who have like-kind exchange or opportunity zone deadlines between April 1 and July 15 now have a little more time to close their deals. The IRS issued new guidance that granted all taxpayers, including “trusts, estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers” a filing extension until July 15. The National Association of Realtors® told its members the decision benefits investors who are involved in 1031 exchanges or opportunity zone investments. With 1031 exchanges, investors who have to either identify or close on a property between April 1 and July 15 now have until July 15. Read more here.
Source: Bisnow.com; 4/10/2020

PAR pushes for clarification on Department of State guidelines
The Pennsylvania Department of State issued additional guidance permitting limited in-person property inspections, appraisals, final walk-throughs and title insurance activities only for residential real estate resale transactions that were under agreement on or before March 18. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® believes there are inconsistencies in the guidance and is sending a list of them to the Department of State to gain further clarification.
Source: PAR Just Listed; 4/15/2020

Pa. tax deadline extension brings relief for taxpayers and disruption to lawmakers
With the coronavirus pandemic leading to layoffs, business closures and a record spike in unemployment claims, Pennsylvania has officially delayed the deadline for filing personal income tax returns to July 15. But the delay could put lawmakers in the difficult position of trying to pass a budget without knowing how badly tax revenues have been affected by the economic fallout of the crisis.
Source: WHYY; 4/14/2020

Map shows census self-response rates in communities
Census results shape the future of communities, as census data inform how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed for health clinics, school lunch programs, disaster recovery initiatives, and other critical programs and services for the next 10 years. The Census Bureau is challenging everyone to help ensure a complete and accurate count in 2020. Click here to view the response rate map and here for more information from the Census Bureau on increasing the response rate to benefit your community.

Bucks County

Mining lease agreement for Rockhill Quarry has been terminated
The lease agreement for mining at Rockhill Quarry between quarry owner Hanson Aggregates and R.E. Pierson Materials, the contract operator for the property, has been terminated. Mining operations have been temporarily halted since late 2018 when the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) confirmed positive tests of naturally occurring asbestos at the quarry. State Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-01) both issued statements confirming their commitment to making certain the quarry does not re-open. Hanson has also requested an extension to respond to comments requested by the DEP.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 4/9/2020

Tough decisions in Lower Makefield
The Lower Makefield Parks and Recreation Board announced that the township pool will remain closed for the 2020 season. Operation of the pool is revenue-driven, and no tax dollars are used for maintenance. Securing the future financial stability of the LMT pool was of utmost importance, said director Monica Tierney. Refunds will be issued for members who already signed up for the 2020 season. The township also announced that it is extending the due date for the most recent sewer bill from April 24 to May 24. The due date reflects the last day to pay before late fees are added. The township also is waiving all late fees for the first-, second- and third-quarter sewer bills for 2020. This includes the current bill and bills received in late June and late September. The amount to be paid is still due, said township manager Kurt Ferguson, but ratepayers will not incur any additional charges, fees or penalties.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 4/7/2020

Newtown Township extends ‘essential services only’ through April 30
Newtown Township has announced it will be extending the “essential services only” operation through April 30. This decision is made in the best interest of the residents of Newtown Township in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of employees and the general public. The following is a summary of precautionary actions implemented to date:

  • The Township Administrative Offices will be closed to the public through April 30 or as otherwise noted. The office can be reached by phone at 215-968-2800 or via email.
  • All code enforcement and building inspections will be suspended until Monday, May 4, or as otherwise noted.
  • All non-essential employees are working from alternate locations.
  • The Township Police and Emergency Service Departments will operate routinely. All non-emergency police requests for an officer to respond should be made by phone at 215-328-8524.
  • All non-essential board, committee and homeowner association meetings have been cancelled.
  • All park facilities, including restrooms, snack stands, basketball courts and skate parks, will be closed until further notice. All playgrounds and ballfields should be avoided and used discretionarily in accordance with the recommendations of the Governor's Office and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Organized sports are prohibited from utilizing the fields until further notice.
  • Residents should refer to the township website for updates and information at newtownpa.gov.

Chester County 

West Chester holds virtual meetings
To maintain transparency during the coronavirus crisis, local governing bodies such as West Chester Borough are holding virtual meetings to keep everyone up-to-date, continue business operations and enact emergency procedures as needed. “This platform allows anyone to attend and participate,” West Chester Mayor Dianne Herrin said of WebEx. Despite county, state and national emergencies declared last month, the borough remains able to maintain its regular meeting schedule via the platform, which is linked to its website, the mayor said. The virtual meetings are streamed live and recorded for future viewing. Since the crisis began, the borough closed its offices and all noncritical personnel began working from home to maintain social distance. The municipality laid off and furloughed employees who worked in parking, building and housing, public works, and administration departments due to reduced revenue. The West Chester Police Department furloughed two employees and instituted many hygiene and mitigation policies to protect law enforcement officers.
Source: Daily Local; 4/9/2020

Downingtown Borough meets in person with a Zoom component
In Downingtown, the government held its fourth consecutive virtual meeting, via Zoom, with the borough emergency management team, including Mayor Phil Dague, Police Chief Howard Holland, Borough Council President Anthony Gazzerro, Fire Chief Jack Law, head of EMS services Fred Wurster and Police Lt. Lee Powell. On April 1, Downingtown held its regularly scheduled first Wednesday meeting at Borough Hall. The agenda was limited to just the most essential business needed to keep the borough functioning and the meeting lasted just three minutes. Dague said Pennsylvania law mandates that all borough council meetings throughout the state must be held in person so that any member of the public who wishes to attend may do so.
Source: Daily Local; 4/9/2020

Historic Castle Rock Farm preserved
Landowner Peter Giangiulio and his family recently worked with Natural Lands to ensure the permanent preservation of Castle Rock Farm, a historic homestead that sits on 54 acres on Northbrook Road. The Chester County property is located within two municipalities, Pocopson and West Bradford townships. Natural Lands said it received funding to underwrite the preservation of Castle Rock Farm from multiple organizations: Chester County’s Preservation Partnership Program; Mars Foundation; the Marshallton Conservation Trust; the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program; West Bradford Township; and the Giangiulio family. “West Bradford Township is pleased to be a partner in this important piece of preservation,” said Township Manager Justin Yaich, noting that since the township’s open space referendum in 2017, West Bradford has worked diligently to preserve as much valuable open space as possible. Several already-protected properties surround Castle Rock Farm. The recent conservation easement ensures people can never develop the property, consequently preserving the pastoral, scenic views along West Branch Brandywine Creek, Natural Lands said in a press release. Chester County’s protected open spaces, like Castle Rock Farm, offer far more than pretty views, Natural Lands said. Open space contributes to the local economy, protects key watersheds and increases property values.
Source: Daily Local; 4/14/2020

Chesco leads state in U.S. Census responses
As of April 11, Chester County is leading the state with the highest U.S. Census response rate of 58.3%. The total Pennsylvania response rate is 49.1%, and the national average is 47.9%. The areas with the current lowest response rates in Chester County include:

  1. West Chester Borough (19382) – 28.3%
  2. Coatesville (19320) – 34.0%
  3. Coatesville (19320) – 34.4%
  4. Coatesville - South (19320) – 35.7%
  5. Coatesville (19320) - 6%
  6. Sadsbury Township (19365 & 19320) – 42.1%

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the census call centers have reduced staff. This means some people are not getting through to the call center. The Census Bureau is working on ways to mitigate the issue. People who do not receive a census invitation with the ID, such as those with P.O. boxes, can still complete the census online. Questions can be directed to chescocensus@chesco.org or left as a message at 610-344-6285.
Source: Chester County; 4/14/2020

Parkesburg considers changes to planning commission
Parkesburg Borough Council will consider an ordinance replacing and repealing Ordinance No. 235. The new ordinance will establish the planning commission as a five-member board with four-year terms. The ordinance will be considered at a meeting on Monday, April 20, at 7 p.m. at the Parkesburg Borough Hall, 315 W. First Ave., Building 1.
Source: Daily Local; 4/14/2020

Delaware County

Upper Darby approves controversial sewer inspection ordinance
Upper Darby Township will require homeowners to have their sewer lines inspected before selling. By a 7-4 vote, the township council passed its ordinance in an attempt to prevent fresh water from entering and overwhelming the municipal sewer system through dilapidated pipes. Realtors® called the new ordinance ineffective at solving the township’s problems, and untimely given real estate challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Sewer pipe inspections cost a few hundred dollars and repairs can cost thousands, which would put a strain on sellers and could make selling homes more expensive and difficult, especially as the pandemic disrupts the housing market. The law requires inspections of sewer laterals, the pipes that connect homes to the main sewer system, when owners transfer property or change its use. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance called Upper Darby’s ordinance a Band-Aid, estimating that the approach means the township will inspect 1% to 2% of sewer laterals each year. Jamie Ridge, the Alliance’s president, accused the Upper Darby council of rushing through the ordinance during a public health crisis as buyers and sellers already are struggling to complete settlements. The meeting streamed live online and by phone, and the public could leave comments by phone or email. More than 30 Upper Darby Realtors® sent emails to council members requesting they delay action on the ordinance until the pandemic is over and a more comprehensive sewer maintenance solution can be developed, including studying where the bulk of infiltration into the sewer system originates.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/16/2020

Delco ordered to turn over assessment records
The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) has entered a final determination directing Delaware County to turn over certain records relating to a countywide reassessment of property values. The agency made the ruling in response to a request from a Delaware County citizen, Michael Marcavage of Lansdowne. The reassessment was mandated by a court ruling in 2017, and the county contracted Tyler Technologies to administer the assessment process.  Tyler is being paid $6 million for their work on the countywide reassessment, which is expected to become effective for the 2021 tax year. The county began mailing out “tentative” assessments earlier this year. Marcavage submitted a request to the county on Feb. 18 under the Right-to-Know Law seeking copies of tentative assessment change notices sent to property owners at certain addresses, according to the order filed March 30. He alternatively sought a copy of an excel spreadsheet or other electronic document for Collingdale, Lansdowne and East Lansdowne that was used to generate information in the letters, the order says. The OOR decision is binding, but the county may appeal the decision to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.
Source: Daily Times; 4/10/2020

Pipeline waivers awarded in error
An email from Sunoco/Energy Transfer spokesperson Lisa Coleman stated that Sunoco was granted additional waivers and could restart construction of some sections of the Mariner East pipeline. Gov. Tom Wolf had declared a halt to non-essential work March 19. On March 25, Sunoco was granted 17 waivers to restart construction. Fifteen waivers were then approved in Chester and Delaware counties, including within the Pottstown Pike/Route 100 roadway rights-of-way, near the Target, and beneath the busy highway, in West Whiteland Township. Late Wednesday afternoon Coleman issued the following release: “The Department of Community and Economic Development notified us Tuesday evening, April 7, that the latest approvals we received for additional construction activity in Pennsylvania were delivered in error and that our waiver requests remain under review by the Commonwealth. We are working as quickly as possible to get clarification on the situation and will update you as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, we continue the construction-related activity that was exempted and/ or previously approved by the Commonwealth, which allows us to safely secure, stabilize and move equipment as needed to prevent potential impacts to safety and the environment.”
Source: Daily Times; 4/9/2020

Ridley assures citizens services are being provided
Ridley Township Board of Commissioners President Bob Willert is assuring residents that just because the township administration office is closed doesn’t mean municipal services have stopped. “Trash is still being collected, the police department is out there, and all our police officers have protective gear, crime goes on,” he said. “We caught three guys breaking into cars, and they were arrested. And our residents can call the township office if they have a problem, such as a sewer back-up. They can leave a message. The phones are being checked every hour. Our people are working from home.”
Source: Daily Times; 4/13/2020

Montgomery County

$142M ‘green energy’ plant proposed in Pottstown
A proposal to build a $142 million "green renewable diesel production plant" on Keystone Boulevard was recently unveiled to Pottstown Borough Council. The project is the first to be considered under the KEEP (Keystone Employment and Economic Plan) initiative for Keystone Boulevard. It is a joint plan between the borough and West Pottsgrove Township that has been in the works for seven years. The plan seeks to attract light industrial, office and residential uses to the 255 acres along the Schuylkill River in both municipalities, and thus to help fund the extension of Keystone Boulevard to the Grosstown Road interchange with Route 422. According to Borough Manager Jason Keller, the proposal for the plant at 451 Keystone Blvd. is the first to come in under the umbrella of that plan. The proposed plant would create diesel fuel from cellulose items like paper, cardboard and wood pallets in a closed-loop atmosphere using a process called "thermal decomposition" that is undertaken in the absence of oxygen. The end result is a bio-diesel product and a bio-char product, which is much like fireplace ash and would comprise fully 20% of the plant's revenue stream. Borough staff is also recommending a change to the borough's zoning. The current zoning "did not anticipate such a use, and this is cutting-edge technology," Matthew Hovey, the borough's assistant solicitor, said. He recommended creating a new category for a "gasification facility.” When up and running, the plant would generate $39,000 a year in wage taxes for Pottstown, along with about $551,000 in property taxes, according to Terry Planton, CEO of SEP-1, the development company looking to build the plant.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/13/2020

Cheltenham Township names interim manager
The Cheltenham Township Board of Commissioners announced the appointment of Terry Fedorchak as interim township manager. Fedorchak brings nearly 40 years of municipal experience to Cheltenham Township as the board begins to identify candidates for the permanent township management role. Board President Daniel B. Norris said Fedorchak is “an experienced problem-solver who cares, and possesses the leadership needed to oversee a smooth transition process.”
Source: Cheltenham Township; 4/7/2020

MontcoStrong Small Business Gift Card Network
The MontcoStrong Small Business Gift Card Network is a collaboration between all the chambers of commerce that serve Montgomery County along with the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council and the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board partnering with the Montgomery County Commerce Department. Support local restaurants and shops by buying gift cards during the COVID-19 shutdown. You'll help them get the cash they need now, so you can enjoy their business later. Click here for more information.
Source: Montgomery County; 4/3/2020

Philadelphia

Painful cuts to city services anticipated as Philly faces coronavirus’ staggering costs
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the city can expect deep and painful budget cuts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The initial $5.2 billion budget he proposed in March will be scrapped and a new budget proposal will be delivered to city council by May 1. The city expects to enter fiscal year 2021, which starts on July 1, with “low or no fund balance.” Prior to the catastrophe, Philadelphia anticipated having a fund balance of $352 million. The $2 trillion stimulus enacted by the federal government provided an infusion of funding for states, of which Pennsylvania received $5 billion. It is unclear how much of that will be allocated to Philadelphia, and city policymakers are not banking on additional aid from Washington D.C. The pandemic’s impact on Philadelphia’s revenues has been immediate. The hotel tax, amusement tax, liquor-by-the-drink tax, and use and occupancy taxes have all basically been zeroed out. With unemployment surging, wage taxes — which comprise roughly 45% of the city’s annual revenue — have taken a hit. But many of those who are still working are also no longer contributing to city coffers. Forty percent of the city’s wage tax collections come from commuters, but this essential levy is not assessed on those who work from home. In fiscal year 2019, for example, commuters brought in $640 million. “There is potential for permanent shifts to work from home for some, creating a large and lasting negative impact on city finances,” according to a memo from the Mayor’s Budget Office titled “COVID-19 Fiscal Impacts.” Meanwhile, costs have unexpectedly risen. Testing sites, protective equipment, stepped-up cleaning protocols and quarantine facilities all cost money the city hadn’t planned on spending. “The projections are grim,” Council President Darrel Clarke warned. He quoted the administration’s warning that the city will have to enact “several hundred million dollars of reductions” compared to earlier budget proposals. Numerous councilmembers say that they have been told to expect “deep cuts” to services and operating departments. None have seen details. Mass furloughs of non-essential workers are expected. At the state level, Gov. Tom Wolf has already begun laying off thousands of public employees. Councilmember-at-large Allan Domb said that if aggressive steps aren’t taken, he understood the city could be between $200 and $400 million “in the hole” next year. “My messaging is that we can’t tax our way out of this,” said Domb. “This could be an opportunity to revisit our tax structure. This is a tremendous opportunity to figure out how to help existing owners of businesses expand and create more good-paying jobs. If we don’t do this now, what would be a good time to do it?”
Source: Plan Philly; 4/8/2020

Pandemic could lead to foreclosure surge, but help is just a call away
Philadelphia’s housing assistance hotline (215-344-HOME) is available to provide assistance to anyone who is worried they may face foreclosure, including the thousands of city homeowners who have lost their jobs recently or seen their hours reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic. Job losses have soared in the past month, with more than 1.3 million new unemployment claims filed statewide since March 15. Across southeastern Pennsylvania, large employers have temporarily laid off several thousand workers, according to notices filed with the state Department of Labor and Industry. Philadelphia Legal Assistance, a nonprofit that runs the housing hotline, provides free civil legal services to low-income city residents. Most foreclosure activity is frozen at the moment. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court halted foreclosures through at least April 30, and the Federal Housing Financing Agency last month ordered a 60-day suspension of foreclosures for mortgages backed by the government-sponsored corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which represents most of the mortgage market. Locally, a sheriff’s sale scheduled for April 7 was postponed until June 2. But the automatic freezes will end eventually, and the resumption of foreclosures has the potential to hit Philadelphia particularly hard. While the number of families who own their houses has steadily declined over the past 30 years, the city still has a strong culture of homeownership, including among low-income families who are more vulnerable in economic downturns.
Source: Plan Philly; 4/15/2020

 

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