NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Bill proposes state park entrance fees

Bucks County
Horsham water customers to receive PFAS reimbursement

Chester County
West Chester proposal would increase taxes by 32%

Delaware County
Nick’s House perseveres in long court battle

Montgomery County
Deed scam targets Montgomery County homeowners

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program now matching up to $1,500

 

News Briefs Archive August 10, 2020

 

General News

Pennsylvania to cover the cost of stamps for mail-in ballots
Pennsylvania will foot the cost of postage for voters to mail in ballots in November's general election, a move that Gov. Tom Wolf has made a priority as the coronavirus pandemic unexpectedly fueled high interest in voting by mail. The administration plans to use money from federal emergency coronavirus aid to cover the cost, which could run to several million dollars at 55 cents each for millions of ballots. Wolf's top elections official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, said paying for the postage is a way to make voting more accessible, safer and easier during the pandemic. Advocates also said it should help people get their ballots in faster and on time. Under the plan, voters who apply for and receive a mail-in or absentee ballot in the mail will also get a postage-paid ballot-return envelope. Each county will have options on how to carry that out, whether using stamps, a metered machine or a business-reply mail account linked to the state's, Boockvar said.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/31/2020

State Supreme Court tosses challenge to eviction ban
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the governor’s statewide moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, leaving in place an order that shields renters from losing their homes for failing to pay rent during the pandemic. Two months after agreeing to decide the issue, the state’s high court, without explanation, abruptly dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association and individual landlords that challenged the governor’s constitutional authority to prevent evictions of nonpaying tenants. The state’s moratorium was recently extended to Aug. 31, though advocates are pushing to make it indefinite. Landlords had been waging a legal fight against the moratorium, saying they are hard-pressed to keep up with taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and mortgage payments without the ability to enforce lease agreements. Wolf’s ban on foreclosures and evictions does not cover a tenant who damages property, breaks the law or breaches the lease in some other way aside from nonpayment of rent or overstaying a lease. Pennsylvania is using $175 million of its federal coronavirus relief money to provide rental assistance to eligible tenants and mortgage relief to homeowners, but landlords say a $750-per-month cap on payments will not be enough to cover their costs on many housing units, especially ones large enough to accommodate a family.
Source: AP; 7/31/2020

PA tax collections rebound but deficit still looms
Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office reported that tax collections were up 6.6% compared to the same time last year. The welcome boost to the state’s coffers was attributed to pent-up demand from shoppers, which buoyed sales tax revenues. Federal relief programs, such as enhanced unemployment benefits, helped cushion the blow of furloughs and layoffs. The coronavirus outbreak caused a decline in state tax revenues — money Pennsylvania relies on to balance its budget and fund crucial services. Tax revenues in the state were down more than 30% between April and June when compared to last year. The Independent Fiscal Office estimates that the coronavirus outbreak will cost Pennsylvania almost $5 billion in lost tax revenue through next June. Click here for more from Spotlight PA.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 8/3/2020

Bucks County

Hilltown delays vote on 194-unit, age-restricted development
Hilltown Township supervisors tabled until Monday, Aug. 24, a vote on a proposed rezoning measure that would clear the way for a 194-unit, age-restricted development. Lennar Construction is hoping to get zoning relief for the project proposed in the area of Swartley Road and Route 309. The plan is opposed by some residents. Supervisors opted to postpone the vote for a month so that more consideration could be given. Although the supervisors differ on what should be allowed, they all agree that the development could be a financial benefit for the township and Pennridge School District. The development could generate around $1.2 million in annual tax revenue for the school district and about $100,000 for the township without adding additional children to the school district.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/30/2020

Falls Township changes certification time frame requirement
Falls Township has changed the certification time frame requirement for required certifications from 30 days to six months. The township requires three types of certifications as part of the use and occupancy process: heating system certification; heating and fireplace flues/chimneys/vents; and sewer lateral inspection. Under the new guideline, these certifications will now be relevant for six months. “This is a common-sense suggestion that one of our members made to the township several months ago, and we are grateful that Falls has made this adjustment,” said Jamie Ridge, president of the Suburban Realtors® Alliance. Click here for the township’s updated Use and Occupancy Fact Sheet.

Centennial chooses new superintendent
The Centennial Board of School Directors voted to approve Dr. Dana Bedden as the next superintendent of schools. The district began its search in April following the resignation of Dr. David Baugh. Bedden comes to Centennial from the Boyertown Area School District, where he served as superintendent since 2018. He has over 27 years of experience in administrative and educational leadership.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/30/2020

County's data portal offers wealth of information
Bucks County Commissioners continue to add valuable information to the county’s data portal. The portal is a geographic information service (GIS) platform for exploring data that may be important to residents, the business community and visitors. The online portal is the central location for county coronavirus information. It also includes county initiatives, interactive maps, documents and a “find and explore data” section. Interactive maps include: parcel viewer, floodplain viewer, pipeline locations, public transportation, parks and recreation locations, election polling locations, and medication collection box locations. Information about county initiatives includes: community planning, proposed subdivision and land developments, county trails, agricultural preservation program, green spaces, Great Places open space program, county bridges, recycling information, lead-based paint hazard removal grant program and data about the opioid epidemic. Click here to access the Bucks County open data portal.

SRA survey: Tell us your experience working in Falls Township
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) wants to hear from Realtors® who have conducted business recently in Falls Township. “Falls has undergone a lot of administrative changes in the past year, and we had hoped to see improvements there,” SRA president Jamie Ridge said. “Unfortunately, we continue to hear very concerning stories from our members about basic government functions related to real estate.” The survey responses will provide a broader view of the situation in Falls to help the SRA craft an appropriate response to the ongoing issues. The online survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Participants’ names will not be shared with the township. Complete the survey on the SRA website by Aug. 31.

Chester County 

County makes legal moves before PUC hearings
The Chester County Commissioners approved the appointment of a new law firm to handle its case before the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in which it is seeking to halt construction and operations of the two Mariner East gas transmission pipelines through the heart of the county. In appointing the Bucks County firm of Curtin & Heefner to handle its case before the PUC, the county will now draw on the resources of attorney Mark Freed, who has been a part of the litigation surrounding Sunoco’s pipeline operations in the region for years. Freed is a Chester County resident and an elected supervisor in Tredyffrin. Freed is the attorney who represents Uwchlan before the PUC in the action seeking to force Sunoco to develop and implement safety and community notification policies for emergencies along the Mariner East pipelines, and he previously represented state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) in his battles against the company over the pipeline. The commissioners also formally approved hiring Nicole McCauley Forzato, a state deputy attorney general, to replace retired solicitor Thomas Whiteman and work alongside the new outside counsel in preparation for two weeks of hearings before the PUC.
Source: Daily Local; 7/31/2020

Good Works nonprofit that repairs homes hits milestone
Good Works, a nonprofit that repairs homes for low-income families throughout central and northern Chester County, recently celebrated the completion of repairs to a 1,000th home. “We complete 50 homes annually,” said executive director Bob Beggs, “and each ceremony is bittersweet because of the deep relationships that form between the families and the volunteers who serve.” Good Works has operated for 32 years. Beggs said the COVID-19 crisis continues to affect local families, forcing people to quarantine in dangerous, substandard homes. Good Works staff has worked through the virus, addressing the life-sustaining and urgent needs of desperate homeowners. The backlog of requests for assistance continues to grow.
Source: Daily Local; 7/28/2020

Chesco home to many ‘best places to live’
Chesterbrook is the best place to live in the United States, according to new rankings recently published by Niche.com, a website that reviews schools and neighborhoods. Niche ranked places across the country based on several factors, including the cost of living, quality of local schools, employment rates, crime statistics and housing trends. Chesterbrook, a community of about 4,700 people located in Tredyffrin Township, got the highest rating in the public schools, housing, “good for families,” jobs, and health and fitness categories. Additionally, Chesterbrook ranked first among the list of best places to raise a family in Pennsylvania, as well as the list for best public schools in Pennsylvania. Behind top-ranked Chesterbrook on the state level, Berwyn placed sixth, Devon ninth, and East Whiteland Township 10th.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 7/28/2020

Parkesburg comprehensive plan meeting is Aug. 13
There will be a special Zoom meeting of the Parkesburg Borough Council and Parkesburg Borough Planning Commission on Thursday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. The purpose of the joint meeting is to facilitate a presentation by the Chester County Planning Commission on the final draft of the borough’s comprehensive plan. For details on how to participate, contact the borough via email at admin@parkesburg.org. 
Source: Daily local; 8/4/2020

Delaware County

Rutledge finances force out Keffer as administrator
Upper Darby Mayor Barbarann Keffer is no longer the administrator for Rutledge Borough after financial woes associated with COVID-19 forced the elimination of that position, according to a letter sent to residents. “Keffer joined the borough in the spring of 2018 at a moment when the borough was simultaneously grappling with unresolved matters from years past and a desire to restructure the operations of our borough moving forward,” the letter reads. “As a council, we relied on her extensive experience in municipal government and her support of council operations to quickly put those issues to rest, to establish a new foundation for our everyday operations.” Keffer noted that both the administrator position and her mayoral role are part-time jobs. Keffer said that she parted ways with Rutledge on good terms, and received a letter of reference from Mayor Kevin Cunningham and Borough Council President Heidi Sentivan. Rutledge is facing a 2% to 8% shortfall in its 2020 budget, almost entirely due to limited hall rentals, and might have to tap into its reserve funds without significant changes in the second half of the year. Borough bookkeeper Lisa Seal now takes on the additional role of borough secretary, while Jen Mickle will act as the borough administrative assistant and assistant secretary. The borough remains fiscally sound and will work to maintain that stability, according to the letter sent to residents. The borough office continues to be open by appointment only.
Source: Daily Times; 7/30/2020

Brandywine Creek Greenway mini-grant program launched
The Brandywine Conservancy announced the launch of the Brandywine Creek Greenway’s (BCG) new Mini Grant Program for 2020-2021. The program will fund small projects that improve parks, open space and community trails, and will advance priority conservation and recreation projects. It is funded by a recent grant of $40,000 from the Pennsylvania DCNR Community Conservation Partnership Program Environmental Stewardship Fund, administered by the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. Eligible applicants include Pennsylvania nonprofit organizations with tax-exempt status, municipalities, counties and some educational institutions. For questions about the BCG Mini Grant Program, contact the Brandywine Conservancy’s Meredith Mayer by telephone at 610-388-8351 or via e-mail at mmayer@brandywine.org.
Source: Daily Times; 7/28/2020

Three Upper Chi fire departments join forces
Three Upper Chichester fire companies — Boothwyn, Ogden, and Reliance Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 — have joined forces and are now operating out of Boothwyn Meetinghouse Road station. “This has been in the works for years,” said Craig Small, Upper Chichester’s interim fire marshal. In 2018, after hearing from fire companies, the township requested a study of the fire service by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. Firefighters have been cross training with each other leading up to the merger. Firefighters will be dispatched as Upper Chichester Fire Departments Company “10.”
Source: Daily Times; 8/4/2020

Financial aid available to small businesses in Chester
The window remains open for city businesses with five employees or fewer to take advantage of federal pandemic relief funding through the Chester Economic Development Authority (CEDA). CEDA is administering loans of up to $5,000 through its Microenterprise Grant Program to qualifying businesses. The deadline for applications has been extended to Aug. 14 to provide time for further applicants and ensure they meet the program criteria, according to William Morgan, a city councilman and the city’s finance director. “We don’t want to reallocate the money anywhere else. We want to make sure the money is given to those people in need,” Morgan said. Eight businesses applied as of Thursday for the $50,000 worth of funding, he said. The program is open to businesses that qualify “as a commercial enterprise that has five or fewer employees, one or more of whom own the enterprise,” and that was in operation as of March 1, according to the grant application. Applicants must be in good standing with all city taxes, licenses and related ordinances. If the business is owned by an individual, that person must have low to moderate income. For a business of more than one individual, 51% of the employees must have low to moderate income.” Officials have not specified a funding disbursement date after the extended deadline. Forms and full requirements are available on the city website. For information, contact CEDA director of community development Jo Ann Ruark at 610-447-7854 or jar@ceda.cc.
Source: Daily Times; 8/4/2020

SRA survey: Tell us your experience working in Upper Darby Township
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) wants to hear from Realtors® who have conducted business recently in Upper Darby Township. “With the recent passage of a sewer lateral inspection, Upper Darby’s use and occupancy resale process has become more complex and expensive,” SRA president Jamie Ridge said. “Since that time, we’ve heard even more stories about township staff who won’t schedule U&O inspections or in some cases don’t even respond to our members’ applications, calls and emails.” The survey responses will provide a broader view of the situation in Upper Darby to help the SRA craft an appropriate response to the ongoing issues. The online survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Participants’ names will not be shared with the township. Complete the survey on the SRA website by Aug. 31.

Montgomery County

Comprehensive plan meeting scheduled in Abington
Abington Township’s appointed comprehensive plan development team will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 6 p.m. to discuss its work. The township’s comprehensive plan, Vision2035, is a document that guides future initiatives, policies, projects and growth within the township, including land use, transportation of people and goods, housing, township facilities and utilities, and natural and historical resources. Community participation is critical in developing the plan and ensuring it is reflective of the community's needs and wants. Click here for meeting information and more about Vision2035.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/2/2020

New county initiative focuses on planning to help with recovery from COVID-19 restrictions
Restart Montco, an initiative developed by the Montgomery County Planning Commission, looks at how planning can help communities recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. It is organized into six general categories: economic and businesses; government regulations and zoning; transportation; housing; public meetings; and open space and recreation. The public is invited to join a series of online forums related to each topic to share information, related experiences and success stories. Visit RestartMontco to view all resources and be a part of the conversation.
Source: Montgomery County; 7/21/2020

Grant moves Pottstown Plating site closer to reuse
The Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County received a $76,500 state grant to assess the former Pottstown Plating Works property at the corner of South Washington Street and Industrial Highway. The assessment will include soil samples, groundwater samples, vapor intrusion evaluation and reporting, and is a necessary step toward the remediation and redevelopment of the 3.89-acre site. The grant was one of three new projects funded by the Industrial Sites Reuse Program, which is designed to foster the cleanup of environmental contamination at industrial sites, thereby bringing blighted land into productive reuse.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 8/4/2020

Widening of bottleneck in Towamencin becoming a reality
Towamencin Township officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the long-awaited widening of a bottleneck on Forty Foot Road at Tomlinson Road. The bottleneck widening has been discussed since late 2015 to complete the last remnant of a roadway widening begun in the early 2000s from Sumneytown Pike north to Welsh Road, on the border with Hatfield Township. Towamencin received a $1 million grant from PennDOT's Multimodal Transportation Fund grant program for the widening, which was matched by an $825,000 grant from the state's Department of Community and Economic Development in 2017, and an $800,000 contribution from developer PSDC.
Source: The Reporter; 7/31/2020

Philadelphia

Grassroots group placing homeless families in PHA properties; PHA wants them out
Homeless families have recently taken over properties left vacant by the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) and are being supported by the same activists who have set up homeless encampments on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and outside PHA’s North Philadelphia headquarters. It is a response to the intersecting problems of homelessness, lack of affordable housing and family separation. Philadelphia has the highest rate of family separation of any big city, with homelessness as the second most common reason, after substance abuse. PHA argues that squatting is an unconventional and illegal solution that is unfair to the 40,000 families on a waiting list for fewer than 500 properties that come available each year. Adding to the problem, says advocate Jennifer Bennetch, is PHA’s strategy for its portfolio of nearly 4,000 properties. PHA said its aging units require repairs that outweigh available capital funding and that there are fewer than 600 vacant properties waiting for rehab or sale. Investigations of these vacant properties found that some required only modest repairs to become habitable. Bennetch and other volunteers try to teach the new residents the basics of home maintenance. “It’s mutual aid, not a charity,” she said. “We let them know what they’re doing, what could happen.” PHA has identified about 20 units with squatters, including some PHA had planned to ready for occupants, and has made attempts to remove some families. PHA’s chief executive, Kelvin Jeremiah, said he has come to appreciate the group’s advocacy. “I think that in the last three weeks they have done a masterful job in conveying what is a desperate crisis for affordable housing in the city,” he said. “Unlike many big cities across the country, we don’t receive any funding from the city or the state.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/5/2020

Advocates call for expanded internet access in the city
As Philadelphia public school students prepare to begin the school year online, advocates are renewing their calls for expanded internet access across Philadelphia. They urged Philadelphia-based cable giant Comcast to open up more hotspots, increase internet speeds and extend a deal that provides free access to low-income residents. Comcast isn’t the only provider capable of extending coverage to students in need, but it has borne most of the public criticism. Comcast has taken several steps since the pandemic began to expand internet coverage. Its public Wi-Fi hotspots — previously available only to Comcast internet subscribers — are now free and have seen dramatic usage spikes, according to the company. The company’s reduced-cost internet program for low-income users — known as Internet Essentials — is now free for the first 60 days. CEO Brian Roberts and his wife donated $5 million to help the district purchase laptops for students who didn’t have computers at home. Last week, the School District of Philadelphia announced it would begin the 2020-2021 school year online — and would remain 100% virtual through at least mid-November. The district estimates that about 5% of its 125,000 students lacked reliable internet access during virtual school in the spring. Superintendent William Hite said the district was working with internet providers to remedy the situation, and vowed recently that all students would have internet access when the fall term begins.
Source: Whyy.org; 8/4/2020

 
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