Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Biden administration extends forbearance and foreclosure protections
Big developments move forward in Bucks
Phoenixville to consider repeal of per capita tax
Media’s open space, parks and recreation survey closes soon
Lower Merion ranked among best places to live and work from home
‘Once-in-a-generation’ anti-poverty plan sends $4.5M to community groups
Study: Poor districts are funding cyber charter schools
A study of enrollment trends in Pennsylvania cyber charter schools between 2002 and 2014 found that poor districts disproportionately funded the state’s cyber charter schools, which reliably produce low test scores and graduation rates. The study, published in the American Journal of Education, found that the school districts that are losing the most students to cyber charter competitors are also the least able to afford it. According to the researchers, the trend jeopardizes public school quality across the state. Click here for the full article.
Source: Pennsylvania Capital Star; 8/20/2019
How much are your school taxes increasing? A district-by-district look
Fifty-three of the 60 school districts in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties have raised taxes for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, according to an Inquirer analysis. The average increase is about $100 per household, or 2%, and continues a trend. In the past 10 years, on average, taxes have risen close to $1,000 per household, or nearly 25%, the Inquirer’s analysis showed. Increases in 48 school districts have exceeded the rate of inflation; rates were double inflation in eight districts. School officials say they are waging a constant battle against rising expenses, particularly for mandated costs for pensions, special-education programs and charter-school payments. School taxes in Pennsylvania make up the largest share of property tax bills; counties and municipalities also levy property taxes, but at lower rates than school districts. Compared to other states, Pennsylvania relies more heavily on local property taxes to fund its schools. And those taxes are often unpopular — especially among seniors living on fixed incomes. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/14/2019
Sellersville to routinely inspect rental properties
Starting in 2020, residential rental properties in Sellersville Borough will be subject to routine inspections by the borough. A new ordinance empowers the borough to perform periodic inspections of rental properties, at a minimum of once every three years. The ordinance requires a rental property manager if the property owner lives more than 30 miles away. The ordinance also defines family unit, and enacts a number of other responsibilities for owners and tenants. Owners must: keep the property in good, safe condition; comply with all applicable codes; and be current on payment of real estate taxes, water/sewer fees and trash fees. Tenants are prohibited from allowing people other than those identified on the lease to reside in their unit and are obligated to maintain the “peaceful enjoyment” of their surroundings. Borough Manager David Rivet said, “The rental property inspection ordinance was prompted by discussion from the borough’s Revitalization Committee, which believed that certain landlords were not properly caring for their rental properties.”
Source: Bucks County Herald; 8/15/2019
Typo leads to tax break in Pennsbury
Pennsbury School District taxpayers are getting a break thanks to a typo on the printed tax bills. The millage rate for 2019-2020 was expected to increase from 167.54 mills to 171 mills. However, the bills were calculated with a final millage rate of 170. The error means an expected tax revenue loss of $895,000 for the school district. District Business Manager Christopher Berdnik said the error may have occurred due to a typo that was not corrected because, “the spoken tax motion did not include the actual millage rate,” and the “budget resolution itself did not include a copy of the PDE 2028 general fund budget form, which includes a detailed calculation of real estate taxes.” Berdnik reported that the district will close the unexpected budget gap with better-than-expected collection rates and increased property value assessments. The district will also review procedures to make sure such a mistake does not happen again.
Source: Levittownnow.com; 8/16/2019
BCWSA offers $16.4M for Warrington sewer
The Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority has offered to purchase the Warrington Township sewer system for $16.1 million, plus legal and engineering fees and other costs as part of the agreement. Since February, Warrington has held a series of public meetings after receiving two unsolicited offers from BCWSA and North Wales Water Authority at the start of 2019. Warrington supervisors approved a $17 million sale for its public water system to North Wales at the end of July. Warrington Township held a meeting on August 20 to discuss the offer, and decided to hold at least one more public meeting before taking a vote. More information can be found at www.warringtontownship.org.
Source: The Intelligencer; 8/19/2019 and 8/21/2019
EPA recognizes Bucks Superfund site for excellence in reuse
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently presented its Excellence in Site Reuse Award to Heritage Conservancy in Doylestown, in recognition of outstanding work at the Croydon TCE Superfund Site. The EPA is commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, which launched in 1999 with the goal of returning formerly contaminated lands to long-term sustainable and productive reuse. The Croydon TCE Site was listed on the National Priorities List in 1986 due to elevated levels of volatile organic compounds detected in groundwater. Remediation efforts included connecting residents to public water and clean-up of contaminated groundwater. Heritage Conservancy acquired 80 acres of the Croydon TCE Site in 2016 and operates a preserve that is one of the last remaining coastal flood plain forests in Pennsylvania. Returning Superfund sites back to productive use has resulted in dramatic changes in communities by improving the quality of life, raising property values, and providing needed services to communities. Click here for more.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 8/15/2019
Commissioners order pipeline safety evaluation
Chester County Commissioners have instructed the county’s Department of Emergency Services (DES) to oversee a comprehensive independent evaluation that identifies all the hazards and threats of Energy Transfer’s Mariner East pipeline, and that also reviews and validates Chester County’s emergency preparedness plans for those hazards and threats. “This evaluation will be so much more than a Mariner East risk assessment of the type that is being undertaken by other local government entities in the region,” said Commissioners Chair Michelle Kichline. “It will review the ‘science’ of Mariner East and model every possible public safety impact of the ME1 and ME2 pipelines, and then thoroughly determine Chester County’s emergency preparedness capabilities to meet those impacts.” DES will take the lead on the independent pipeline safety evaluation, with input from other county departments that have pipeline interests, including the Water Resources Authority, conservation district, health department and planning commission. Initial steps include a search for national or international experts who will provide a summary “statement of work” that will guide the request for proposal process.
Source: Chester County; 8/24/2019
Rep. Williams discusses options for fair education funding
State Rep. Dan Williams (D-74) hosted a House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing on fair education funding at The Spackman Center in Coatesville. Williams requested the hearing to discuss ways to improve the allocation of educating funds for school districts throughout Pennsylvania. Testifiers and lawmakers examined how money impacts education, how well-resourced schools generally perform better on achievement tests, the best ways to adequately fund schools, and why senior citizens are concerned about an increase in property taxes. “Today’s hearing allowed many voices to be heard, voices of folks who are invested in our youth, who care about making sure our schools are properly funded and that those funds are fairly distributed,” said Williams, a member of the Children and Youth Committee whose district includes Coatesville. “It’s vital that we continue to have an open dialogue with our residents, including our seniors whose property taxes fund their local schools, as well as with educators, policy directors and fellow lawmakers. All of us share in a desire to do what’s best for our next generation.” The committee heard testimony from Pam Brown, president of PSEA Southeastern Region, Henry Assetto, school board member at Coatesville Area School District, Tomea Sippio-Smith, K12 policy director for Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Reynelle Brown Staley, policy director for Education Law Center, and local senior citizens. The hearing is part of a series being held across the commonwealth.
Source: Daily Local; 8/16/2019
Downingtown Borough Council appoints new member
Downingtown Borough Council members recently appointed Lauren J. Van Dyk as a new member, filling a vacancy created by Patricia McGlone, who resigned after she retired and moved out of the borough. Van Dyk has served on the Downingtown Borough Planning Commission since 2016. “My passion and background has, for many years, been community planning, urban planning and developments, and helping local businesses,” Van Dyk said. “I was able to apply my professional background and my education to the town I live in, which is pretty cool. I always encourage people to go to their planning commission meetings and get involved because that’s really where the rubber meets the road in the terms of development and what your town looks and feels like.” Van Dyk earned her master’s degree in community and regional planning from Temple University in 2015. She began working with the Chester County Food Bank in 2018 as the volunteer coordinator. Prior to that, she worked as the community planner for the Montgomery County Planning Commission, where she would advise locally elected officials and civic groups in various municipalities about planning and land use issues in accordance with best practices and local or state requirements.
Source: Daily Local; 8/15/2019
Public hearing held on Comitta’s pipeline safety legislation
State Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-156) held a Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee hearing on H.B. 1568, which would establish the Pipeline Safety and Communication Board. Comitta requested the hearing to address how the state legislature can help Pennsylvanians affected by the Mariner East pipeline in Chester County and other pipelines throughout Pennsylvania in the future. “I appreciate Chairmen Barrar and Sainato for holding a hearing on this important bill. Public safety is paramount along the pipeline as it is with any infrastructure project,” Comitta said. “Timely, accurate and actionable information is key to ensuring public safety. House Bill 1568 would establish regular dialogue among state agencies, the industry, legislators, county and local EMS and the public.” Video of the hearing can be viewed at www.pahouse.com.
Source: Daily Local; 8/22/2019
Radnor BOC discusses storms, flooding
Stormwater was on the Radnor Board of Commissioners agenda again after a major storm on Aug. 7. The township also experienced major flooding in 2018. Commissioner Jake Abel had asked for an update on the township’s response to flooding from heavy storms, and he suggested having mechanical arms to close flooded streets, removing parking from streets that are known to flood, and investing in a vehicle for first responders that can navigate flooded streets for rescues. These “low-cost” programs could help residents and first responders, he said. Abel also praised the program to allow people to get hang tags for their cars to park in township lots for free during rain events. Radnor will be putting up signs to show how deep water is in areas like underpasses that flood.
Source: Daily Times; 8/16/2016
Media to amend chicken ordinance
Media Borough Council heard a presentation on draft ordinance for an “amendment pertaining to the regulation of chicken coops, etc.” Following an isolated occurrence of a chicken coop attracting vermin, the borough felt the relevant ordinances needed clarity. The board concurred it was necessary to create standards that could include, among others factors, property size, construction and inspection. An associate ordinance will address pest-control measures related to earth disturbance. The discussion of the ordinance amendment will first go before the Community Development Committee, where public involvement is welcome. Visit www.mediaborough.com for meeting information.
Source: Daily Times; 8/19/2019
Mapping manholes and historic sites in Chadds Ford
Chadds Ford Township supervisors received an update on a mapping project that pinpoints historic sites, manholes and storm sewers in the township. The work is the project of Jonathan Sharp, a Chadds Ford resident doing an internship for the township. Sharp made his presentation during the Aug. 14 supervisors’ meeting. He said he’s using Geographic Information System mapping (GIS) with Google Earth and the Landsat Copernicus satellite. Sharp was able to bring up satellite image of the Earth, then home in on Chadds Ford. Once zoomed in, the 146 historic sites initially showed up as push pins of different colors, with each color representing a residence, a public building or other type of structure or site. Sharp is also cataloging the 217 manholes under the jurisdiction of the Chadds Ford Sewer Authority, as well as the storm drains on township roads. Mapping and cataloging these locations, he said, would make it easier to find them if there’s a problem. Whether the information will be available to the general public is yet to be determined. Supervisors Chairman Frank Murphy said he wants to have a conversation regarding privacy before a decision is made.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 8/15/2019
New public information officer debuts in Radnor Township
Molly Gallagher has joined the township administration as public information officer. Gallagher has a background in business development and public relations. She worked for professional services firms in tax, accounting and interior design industries. Gallagher said, “I’d like to focus on economic development. I’ve been tasked with building an entire department.” The public information officer position, which was created in the 2019 budget, has the primary responsibility to provide information to the public and media as necessary.
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 8/25/2019
Ardmore theater redevelopment proposed
Developers have their eye on the historic Ardmore Theater. The latest proposal received by Lower Merion Township has developers wanting to demolish the back portion of the building and construct a seven-story, 18-unit complex, said Christopher Leswing, director of the township building and planning department. The developer proposes keeping the theater’s façade on the Lancaster Avenue side and creating a retro design in keeping with the 1920s roots of the building. Residents in the area are concerned about overdevelopment in Ardmore, and worry that the area will lose its “quaint, community feel” as more mid-rise buildings are constructed. The theater is in the Ardmore Historic District, so changes to the outside of the building must be deemed appropriate by the Historical Architectural Review Board. The Lower Merion commissioners will have the final say in whether the complex is constructed.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/20/2019
County planners offer training course
The Montgomery County Planning Commission is again offering “The Course in Zoning,” which covers topics like the relationship of zoning to comprehensive plans, key terms used in zoning and how they are applied, critical issues in drafting a zoning ordinance and map, procedures for adopting and amending ordinances, and basic zoning administration. The course will be on Tuesdays, Sept. 10, 17 and 24, in the Upper Merion Township Building from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Click here for more information.
Source: Montgomery County Planning Commission; 8/14/2019
Plymouth Township hires firm to oversee Covanta facility
Plymouth Township Council voted unanimously to appoint an environmental law firm, as well as an environmental engineer to provide an independent review of the operations of the Covanta Plymouth Renewable Energy facility. Two recent plant malfunctions and subsequent odors believed to stem from the Covanta plant led to council’s decision. Law requires Covanta to self-report to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection any incidents involving emissions beyond a predetermined threshold. Plymouth wants to ensure that Covanta’s reporting is accurate. Jordan Yeager, of the law firm Curtin and Heefner, was appointed to serve as special counsel. Yeager will help council find an environmental engineer to work on the township’s behalf by September.
Source: Times Herald; 8/9/2019 & 8/16/2019
Full-day kindergarten to begin in North Penn
Last fall, the North Penn School Board voted to implement full-day kindergarten starting in the 2019-2020 school year. On Tuesday, Sept. 3, the plan becomes a reality. Superintendent Curt Dietrich said 25 new teachers have been hired for the students. According to Dietrich, total student enrollment in the district is roughly 13,000, comparable to prior years but with a slight bump in the kindergarten total.
Source: The Reporter; 8/20/2019
Free six-week training course to fill the skills gap for Montgomery County manufacturers
The Montgomery County Workforce Development Board, with support from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Manufacturing Alliance (SEPMA), will offer free manufacturing boot camps to individuals interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing. The camp officially begins on Monday, Sept. 16, but information sessions are happening now, and applications will be accepted through Monday, Sept. 9. For more information and eligibility requirements, click here. “Historically, the manufacturing industry has been viewed as blue-collar, union driven and male-dominated,” said Jennifer Butler, executive director at MontcoWorks, Montgomery County’s Workforce Development Board. “The truth is, manufacturing has become an integral part of every other industry and can offer unique and viable career pathways for anyone.”
Source: Montgomery County; 8/2019
In Philly, two-thirds of the landlords won’t take affordable housing vouchers
The housing voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, was ushered in by the federal government in the 1970s to help low-income families secure good housing in the private market, apart from public housing projects. Experts who’ve studied the program say that, for decades, it merely reconcentrated poverty — largely because the rental assistance was not sufficient to allow families to leave poor areas. Observers are hopeful that new voucher rules instituted by the federal government last year, which may increase voucher amounts in certain neighborhoods, will make it easier for tenants to find more and better options. Yet, one key problem remains: In Philadelphia and across the country, many landlords don’t want to rent to Section 8 tenants. Two Philadelphia voucher-holders have filed complaints with the city Human Relations Commission, saying that they were denied housing by landlords because they would be paying with Housing Choice Vouchers — an action prohibited in Philadelphia. The complaints, if successful, could send ripples across Philadelphia’s housing market — where it has become increasingly routine for landlords to reject some of the 15,200 residents who receive monthly vouchers from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which administers the federally funded voucher program. In Philadelphia, 67% of landlords polled would not accept vouchers, according to a recent study. Denials in Philadelphia were more frequent in higher-income neighborhoods. Nearly 7% of landlords were unsure of their voucher policy. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/14/2019
Philadelphia’s rowhomes and new construction
As novice developers rush to get into the construction game, more existing rowhouses are being structurally compromised. So far this year, six occupied homes in Philadelphia have been reduced to dust, up from just two in all of 2018. The Department of Licenses (L&I) and Inspections doesn’t track less-serious incidents, so no one knows exactly how many other houses have suffered serious damage yet remain standing. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that such incidents are becoming more common. Collapsing rowhouses are nothing new in Philadelphia. Unlike cities where people live in large apartment houses or, conversely, in freestanding single-family homes, Philadelphia’s tightly packed rowhouse neighborhoods are particularly vulnerable to disturbances, from heavy rain to new construction. One factor that has also dramatically increased the risk of collapse, according to L&I Commissioner David Perri: Developers are now cramming bigger buildings and more units onto rowhouse-sized sites. Single-family homes become duplexes, triplexes even quad-plexes. Most of this new housing is concentrated in just a few highly desirable neighborhoods. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/16/2019
Rebate programs aim to make solar more affordable in Philadelphia
Less than 0.4% of Philadelphia’s energy mix comes from solar power, and Mayor Jim Kenney needs to pick up the pace to reach his administration’s clean-energy goals. It could be hard to do with state policies that lack incentives for the industry to flourish and a federal tax credit that starts to scale down next year. Two bills just signed into law in the city will make going solar more affordable for both home and business owners in the city, for a limited amount of time. A rebate program will offset the cost of installing solar panels by 20 cents per watt on residential properties and 10 cents per watt on commercial properties. For a typical Philly rowhouse with a 5-kilowatt solar system, that means $1,000 in savings. That’s on top of discounts the city offers through its group buying program, Solarize Philly. A second measure offers incentives to commercial building owners to install solar panels on their properties by allowing them to finance them — and other renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects — through their property tax payments. The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program, better known as C-PACE, is used in over 30 states and was adopted in Pennsylvania last year. Philadelphia is the first city in the state to implement it. To reach its climate goals, Philadelphia needs to reduce emissions coming from electricity generated by fossil-fuel power plants. Such emissions now account for 39% of those coming from the city’s built environment. Click here for the full article.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 8/15/2019