NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
$11B budget package passes state legislature

Bucks County
Bucks County releases preliminary budget

Chester County
Valley Township to consider vacant property registration ordinance

Delaware County
Delco 2021 budget calls for no tax hike, significant job cuts

Montgomery County
Schwenksville eyes 22% tax increase

Philadelphia County
City council passes bill to curb real estate scammers

 

News Briefs Archive August 24, 2020

 

General News

Think twice before you post on social media
Jim Goldsmith, legal counsel to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®, penned a piece for the association’s JustListed blog about the danger of uncivil posts on social media platforms. The recent shutdown orders that temporarily halted real estate activities led to vitriolic comments about the governor and other public officials. “I get it, but I also do not underestimate the weight that all civic leaders bear as they wend their way through best practices, emerging science and pressure from lobbyists and the many business interests all seeking relief,” Goldsmith wrote. “Real estate professionals use social media for marketing purposes among others. Posts include information about professional affiliations, professional designations and experience. I’ve not seen one yet that says ‘don’t contact me if you like/dislike a specific politician, party, gender preference, etc.’ So why publish unbecoming remarks that convey these very messages? Is it to change the minds of those holding different opinions? Weed out potential clients with differing orientation? These posts simply serve to anger or feed the rage depending on the predisposition of the reader.” Read the full column here.
Source: PARJustListed; 8/14/2020

NAR asks CFPB to extend qualified mortgage rule patch
NAR submitted a comment letter (PDF) to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) requesting an extended time period of at least one year to sunset the qualified mortgage (QM) patch and to implement the proposed replacement. NAR reasons that for the near future, lenders and the market must focus on the pandemic response. Furthermore, the government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) capital rule could raise costs for borrowers, which could hurt access to credit or destabilize the market, and therefore deserves more study. The recent ruling by the Supreme Court found that the CFPB's leadership is removable for cause by the president, making the future of this policy unclear, which could cause a costly burden for the market as participants would be forced to prepare for a rule that might be changed with a new administration. Finally, based on the implementation of the original QM rule, any change in the current process will take lenders roughly a year to comply.
Source: Nar.realtor; 8/7/2020

NAR urges Congress to support rental assistance
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has joined a coalition of real estate industry groups to seek relief for owners and tenants of multifamily properties. Since the pandemic unemployment assistance ran out, property owners are seeing more and more tenants struggle to make their rent obligations. NAR strongly urges Congress to support rental assistance to ensure families who are financially struggling as a result of the pandemic do not lose their homes. This assistance should be provided directly to housing providers to make their rent payments. This assistance will ensure that rental housing remains sustainable, and property owners are able to fulfil their financial obligations including mortgage payments, insurance, utilities and taxes.
Source: Nar.realtor; 8/7/2020

LIHEAP Recovery Crisis program ends Aug. 31
Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller reminded Pennsylvanians of the availability of assistance in paying certain utility bills through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Recovery Crisis program. LIHEAP helps with home energy bills, ensuring continuity of utility and other energy services for low-income Pennsylvanians. LIHEAP normally runs from November through April, but the Recovery Crisis program is running now through Aug. 31. Assistance is available for both renters and homeowners. Applications for LIHEAP Recovery Crisis assistance are available online here. More information about the Recovery Crisis program, including income limits, can be found here.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 8/17/2020

Bucks County

Lower Makefield supervisors approve sale of sewer system for $53M
Lower Makefield Township supervisors voted 3-1 to approve a deal to sell the township sewer system to Aqua America Pennsylvania for $53 million. The vote came at the end of a nearly six-hour meeting. Aqua representatives said rates will remain flat for three years and any future rate increase must be approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Monthly rates are projected to be about $71 through 2024, before rising to $86 in 2025 and $96 in 2028. The decision comes after nearly two years of investigation and exploration on whether the township should sell its sewer conveyance system, which services 11,800 customers in the township, and to exit the sewer business as expenses mount from the aging, unmaintained system. The next step will be to seek approval from the PUC for the sale and, once approval is granted, proceed to settlement, possibly next summer.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times & BucksLocalNews.com; 8/14/2020

Community donations provide laptops to Morrisville students
With the help of three local nonprofits, the Morrisville School District was able to secure enough laptops to support its 1:1 Chromebook initiative before students begin online instruction for the 2020-2021 school year. After hearing the district was short on devices, Morrisville Presbyterian Church raised more than $11,000 for the district. Another $15,000 was provided by the United Way of Bucks County, which awarded the funds through a grant to help the district address the shortage of devices for its roughly 1,000 students. The Morrisville Opportunity Educational Foundation donated $5,000 toward the purchase of Wi-Fi hot spots and other equipment to help close the digital divide. In the spring, the Bucks County Technical High also donated about 300 Chromebooks to the district to help students continue online learning during the pandemic. "It is actions like this that exemplify how a community works together to meet the needs of its students in such a very challenging time," officials said in a statement.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/18/2020

Middletown Township unveils MTGo for resident service requests
Middletown Township announced a new, online citizen request portal. The portal allows users to enter requests for a variety of services, including: animal problems; code violations/complaints; disposal services; dumping and vandalism problems; fire marshal and emergency services; parks, roadside and township property problems; street, sidewalk and drainage; and utilities and services. Users have the option to upload a photo with each service request to better illustrate the issue. Click here to access MTGo.
Source: Middletown Township; 8/2020

Plumstead to define short-term transient rental
Plumstead Township supervisors have scheduled a virtual public hearing to consider a draft ordinance that would add a definition for “short-term transient rental” and include it as an accessory use to all residential uses. Plumstead had been poised to adopt the proposed ordinance at a July 14 meeting, but it was tabled. The proposed ordinance establishes regulations for short-term transient rentals, including an annual inspection and permit, and prohibits short-term transient rentals without a permit. The public hearing is set for Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 7:30 p.m. Public comment will be taken by email during and before the meeting, by phone during the meeting, or as part of the video conferencing. Those who wish to participate in the meeting via video conferencing or telephone must pre-register with the township. A registration link will be provided on the township website on Sept. 1.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/17/2020

Chester County 

Nonprofit, district judge collaborate on eviction prevention program, as moratorium nears end
The moratorium on evictions is set to be lifted in Pennsylvania on Aug. 31. Based on high unemployment rates, Chester County may face a wave of evictions, placing an enormous burden on social service agencies and the community at large. Jennifer Lopez, executive director of Friends Association for Care and Protection of Children, has developed a collaborative response to the eviction crisis — an Eviction Prevention Court pilot program that will address the impact evictions have on vulnerable populations. “Having a safe place to call home is one of the most essential elements of society,” Lopez said. “No program in Chester County currently provides both financial assistance and legal representation to prevent evictions. Working together with landlords and tenants in crafting solutions, we will enhance the stability of not only households facing eviction, but also the community as a whole.” Judge Jeffrey Valocchi of Magisterial District Court 15-4-02 has agreed to implement the pilot in hopes that a collaborative process will provide community-wide benefits: For more information or to support the county’s first Eviction Prevention Court, visit the Friends Association website.
Source: Daily Local; 8/15/2020

Acting city manager named in Coatesville
Coatesville City Council named James Logan acting city manager after the retirement of Michael Trio. Logan has served as Coatesville’s assistant city manager for two years, and he assumes the new position effective immediately. As acting city manager, Logan said his responsibilities will include overseeing administrative staff, as well as police, fire and public works departments. He will also be involved in implementing and managing legislation, and he will advise city council. Logan has previously held positions in the Chester County Economic Development Council, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, and the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board. Logan plans to ensure residents are informed about pandemic response and to continue community and business revitalization. In 2017, Coatesville’s median income fell $20,000 short of the Pennsylvania median and $60,000 short of the Chester County median. “I don’t know if I have a silver bullet for that, but I know one of the things we have to encourage in Coatesville is home ownership,” Logan said. In Coatesville, 60% of residents are renters, and Logan hopes to create opportunities for these individuals to purchase quality, affordable homes. He also sees workforce development as a key aspect of boosting the local economy and median income.
Source: Daily Local; 8/14/2020

Chester County municipalities receive sewer and water grants
More than $2.6 million in grants was awarded by the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) to communities in Chester and Delaware counties for sewer and water line replacements, sewage system and plant upgrades, and stormwater management. In Chester County, grants were awarded to:

  • West Goshen Sewer Authority, about $910,900 for sewer line replacements and improvements
  • Kennett Square Borough — $343,300 for replacement of a water main
  • East Goshen Municipal Authority — about $152,900 for sewage treatment plant upgrades
  • Schuylkill Township — $300,000 for the Paul Lemen Drive stormwater improvements
  • West Whiteland Township — $300,000 for sanitary sewer collection system rehabilitation and infiltration reduction project
  • Borough of Phoenixville — $650,000 for wastewater treatment plant upgrades
  • Downingtown Municipal Water Authority — about $457,900 for the groundwater well treatment facility
  • Oxford Borough — $416,000 for water service system upgrades

The CFA was established in 2004 as an independent agency of the Department of Community and Economic Development to administer Pennsylvania’s economic stimulus packages.
Source: Daily Local; 8/18/2020

Chesco commissioners to Wolf: Shut down pipeline
All three Chester County Commissioners sent a joint letter to Gov. Tom Wolf urging him to suspend pipeline construction following a 10,000-gallon spill of drilling mud at Marsh Creek Lake. The spill was discovered on Aug. 10 and is the latest incident involving the controversial pipeline project that has alarmed local residents and officials. The commissioners wrote: “Sunoco’s activities traverse Chester County and are in close proximity to residential dwellings, various public assembly areas, and environmentally sensitive and historically significant places. Sunoco conducts its activities — including its HDD operations — pursuant to permits and other approvals issued by the commonwealth. For years, the county has been engaged in an effort to have Sunoco act in a safe and protective manner. Obviously, this has not yet occurred. We need your assistance to safeguard the health and well-being of Chester County and its residents. We call on you to suspend Sunoco’s authority to construct and operate [Mariner East 2]. This suspension should remain in effect unless and until independent third party experts, not hired by Sunoco or employed by DEP, are given complete access to the site to conduct an honest evaluation as to whether Sunoco’s installation methods are in fact safe, as well as to allow them determine whether or not the water is noxious or harmful.”
Source: Daily Local; 8/17/2020

Delaware County

Delaware County posts assessment rolls; appeals due by Sept. 1
Delaware County has posted the 2021 property assessment rolls, based on the comprehensive reassessment. Property owners have until Sept. 1 to file an appeal, and no fee is required to do so. Appeal forms may be downloaded from the county treasurer’s website (PDF) or requested by phone at (610) 891-5695. Read more about the reassessment on the Suburban Realtors® Alliance website.
Source: Delaware County; 8/17/2020

Delaware County municipalities receive sewer and water grants
More than $2.6 million in grants was awarded by the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) to communities in Chester and Delaware counties for sewer and water line replacements, sewage system and plant upgrades, and stormwater management. In Delaware County, grants were awarded to:

  • Brookhaven Borough — about $406,800 for sewer line replacements
  • Chadds Ford Township — $361,250 for sewage system upgrades
  • Southwest Delaware County Municipal Authority — about $279,000 for replacement of sewer lines in Aston and Chester townships
  • Chester Township — $182,000 for stormwater management

The CFA was established in 2004 as an independent agency of the Department of Community and Economic Development to administer Pennsylvania’s economic stimulus packages.
Source: Daily Times; 8/18/2020

Upper Darby trash collection returning to normalcy
Trash collection in Upper Darby is expected to be back on track soon following disruptions caused by a reported COVID-19 outbreak among sanitation workers and other employees, according to Mayor Barbarann Keffer. “We are contracting with a second professional waste disposal company for additional support,” Keffer said in a message issued over Delco Alert. Keffer asked that residents help temporary staff by placing only household trash at the curb. Yard waste, bricks and bulk items like sofas, mattresses and appliances will not be collected until regular staff returns. “We are in the middle of a pandemic, compounded with multiple other events that have stretched us as a community,” Keffer said. “We’re all doing our best to act quickly, decisively and safely to move forward and get through this together.”
Source: Daily Times; 8/18/2020

County drafts housing plan
The Delaware County Planning Department (DCPD) recently completed its draft Delaware County Housing Plan. The plan examines housing in the county and outlines a path toward quality housing for all residents. The draft is available for public review and comment on the planning department website will continue until Sunday, Aug. 23. When approved, it will be officially adopted as a component plan of the county’s comprehensive plan, Delaware County 2035, which establishes a long-range vision for the county and sets goals to be met through zoning and other land use and development tools. The draft housing plan is the product of a collaboration between the DCPD and the county’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the agency responsible for the ongoing distribution of federal housing funds and planning for affordable housing. The plan examines the existing housing stock, housing needs, and trends likely to influence housing needs in the future. The plan outlines actions the county and its municipalities can take that are in line with the broader goals of Delaware County 2035. Following the public review period, the plan will be officially adopted by county council in the fall of 2020.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 8/10/2020

Montgomery County

Norristown Waste Authority to seek public input on sewer sale
The Norristown Municipal Waste Authority recently tabled a resolution that would have continued a process to sell the borough’s sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania, and plans to announce a date to hear public input on the proposed sale. The topic has spurred several rallies opposing the sale, with organizers citing possible rate increases and a lack of public notice as their motivation. Concerned residents felt that Norristown Municipal Council pushed through the potential sale of the sewer authority without conducting a thorough analysis. Council President Derrick Perry maintained that council members had researched the significance of the $82 million sale and how the funds could be used. “Council has not looked at this as only a sewer authority issue: It is about the overall sustainability of Norristown,” he said. Ultimately, Perry said, the sale will help with economic development and infrastructure to support that development, in addition to tax relief for residents and quality of life improvements for residents, while increasing property values and upgrading dilapidated municipal facilities. The municipal council plans to involve the community in discussions about what to do with proceeds from the sale if it moves forward. 
Source: Times Herald; 8/14/2020

Rep. Malagari, Sen. Collett announce grants to improve sewer systems
State Rep. Steve Malagari (D-53) announced more than $2 million in grants awarded to municipalities in his legislative district to help upgrade water, sewer, storm sewer and flood control infrastructure projects. Grant recipients include: Franconia Sewer Authority ($590,584); Hatfield Borough ($670,277 for sinkholes and $423,106 for sanitary sewer repairs); and Lansdale Borough ($323,570). State Sen. Maria Collett (D-12) also worked on the grant funding for Franconia and Hatfield, as well as other municipalities and organizations, including the North Wales Water Authority ($882,761), Ambler Borough ($355,093), Borough of Hatboro ($200,000), Horsham Water and Sewer Authority ($298,000) and the Upper Southampton Municipal Authority ($289,000). The funding comes through two grant programs — H2O PA, and PA Small Water and Sewer — run by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.
Source: North Penn Now; 8/18/2020

Lower Merion seeks bamboo hearing officer
The Township of Lower Merion is seeking an individual to serve as a hearing officer to hear appeals associated with Township Code Chapter 59, “Brush, Grass and Weeds,” as it related to the regulation of bamboo. The bamboo hearing officer will be responsible for hearing appeals from bamboo violation notices issued by township staff and preparing findings and a recommended order to be considered by the board of commissioners when ruling on the appeal. Hearings will be scheduled as needed, and an average of two to four hearings per year are anticipated. The officer must have a legal background with experience in the field of real estate law. The compensation for the position is $150 per hour. All applicants will be considered, with a preference for those having a principal residence in the township. Interested individuals should submit a letter of interest and resume by mail to Jody L. Kelley, township secretary, 75 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, PA 19003, or by e-mail to jkelley@lowermerion.org by Friday, Sept. 11. For further information email Kelley or call 610-645-6145.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 8/18/2020

Take the survey: Pottstown’s High Street Corridor Study
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission is conducting a survey to gather feedback about Pottstown’s High Street corridor, which is the area's primary small business commercial corridor and thoroughfare. Multimodal access, efficient traffic circulation and beautification along the corridor are important to the livability and economic vitality of the Pottstown region. The High Street Corridor Study will identify multimodal design improvements for High Street between the western boundary of West Pottsgrove Township (Quarry Road) and the eastern boundary of Lower Pottsgrove Township (Rupert Road). Click here for more information about the study and the survey.
Source: Pottstown Borough; 8/11/2020

Philadelphia

Trash pickup woes are delaying street repairs, recycling continues to lag
Philadelphia’s struggle to keep up with trash and recycling collection amid the coronavirus pandemic has led to a different problem: keeping up with street repairs. The Philadelphia Streets Department has reassigned about half of its highway crew members to assist with trash and recycling collection, spokesperson Keisha McCarty-Skelton said, creating a backlog in street repair work. Crews are continuing to repair potholes, but larger repairs, such as cave-ins and ditches left by construction, are being delayed. The city remains behind schedule with trash and recycling pickup. The streets department announced that trash pickup is only one day behind schedule this week but that recycling pickup remains significantly delayed. Delays are likely to continue as the city struggles to hire temporary workers to supplement sanitation crews. City officials announced in late July that they would hire 120 temporary workers from the existing list of civil service laborer applicants — a process that was expected to take four weeks. Philadelphia is not the only city that has fallen behind on trash pickup due to staffing shortages and increased volume of household waste during the pandemic. A large number of workers calling out sick remains an issue, Philadelphia officials said, as does a 25% increase in trash volume. Recent storms have also slowed collections.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/18/2020

Proposal for Philadelphia-to-Reading rail line gets a new push
Berks Alliance, a group of Berks County community leaders committed to restoring train service between Reading and Philadelphia, recently unveiled the results of a preliminary study called “Restoring Passenger Rail Service to Berks County.” The $80,000 study concluded that now is the time to bring back the train. The cost estimate is $356 million, including purchase of the trains and paying Norfolk Southern for the right-of-way costs for its tracks, and associated upgrades. The annual cost to operate the train is estimated at $20 million. The group is eyeing a goal of having six trains running in 2025. The train would stop in Reading, Pottstown, Royersford, Phoenixville and Norristown. Stops could also include Wyomissing and Birdsboro. From there, it would head to Philadelphia, stopping at Temple University, Jefferson Station, Suburban Station and 30th Street Station. At 30th Street, the train would connect to train service to New York, Baltimore and Washington. John P. Weidenhammer, chairman of Berks Alliance, said the train would take an hour and 22 minutes to run from Reading to 30th Street, accounting for all stops. Jim Gerlach, former congressman and now president and CEO of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, said connecting a commuter train to New York and Washington opens up additional financial and service opportunities. “A lot of people would love to see a regional rail,” Gerlach said. “It’s an exciting project that can and should be done.” Click here for the full article.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 8/4/2020

 
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