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 31, 2020

 

General News

State extends deadline of property tax/rent rebate program 
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has extended to Dec. 31 the deadline to apply for its property tax/rent rebate program for seniors. Eligible applicants include those who are age 65 or older, widows and widowers age 50 and older, and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners or $15,000 for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded. The maximum standard rebate is $650, but supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners can boost rebates to $975. The program is one of five programs supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery, and it also receives funding from slots gaming. Application forms and assistance are available at no cost from Department of Revenue district offices, local agencies, senior centers and state legislators’ offices. See a full explanation of the program on the Department of Revenue website.

New mortgage refinancing fee delayed until Dec. 1
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced a delay of three months on a new fee that will make mortgage refinancing more expensive. Refinancing loans held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are likely to cost $1,000 to $1,500 more once the fees take effect on the new date of Dec. 1. Politicians, mortgage lenders, real estate agents and housing advocates oppose the fee, calling it a tax that comes as homeowners seek to take advantage of historically low interest rates and pull money out of their homes to pay for expenses during the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, the announcement of the refinancing fee came without warning with an effective date of Sept. 1. The heads of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have said the fee is necessary to pay for ongoing support for homeowners and renters during the pandemic and to offset future costs of delayed and delinquent loan repayments due to high unemployment and economic uncertainty.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/25/2020

What if you signed up for mail-in voting, but want to vote in person?
If you signed up for a mail-in ballot during the primary election, you may have selected the option to become a permanent mail-in voter. If so, you will receive a mail-in ballot for the general election when they are sent out around the end of September or early October. Permanent mail-in voters who wish to change back to in-person voting have two options: 1) Fill out a cancellation form (like this one on the Delaware County website), or 2) bring your mail-in ballot to the polling station and ask the election judge to spoil it so you can cast your vote at the polls. To check if you’re signed up for a mail-in ballot for the general election, visit the Pa. Department of State’s Mail Ballot Status page. If you are not set to receive a mail-in ballot, you will receive an error message after entering your information. If you are a mail-in voter, you will be able to track whether your ballot is pending, has been mailed or has been received by the county election office. If you send in your ballot but it has not been marked as received by election day, you can go to the polling location and cast a provisional ballot. To familiarize yourself with the voting machine at your polling place, visit our blog post: How to Use the New Voting Machines in 2020.

Coronavirus Best Practice: Make a plan to sanitize listings
Home sellers may be nervous about having buyers in their homes amid a pandemic. Realtor® Magazine recently ran an article about how to allay clients’ health concerns by making a plan to clean the listing after each showing. Communicating the cleaning plan to other agents can also reassure potential buyers. Read the full article with specific recommendations, like the “Rule of 3,” on how to minimize the risk of infection during a transaction. Also visit the Suburban Realtors® Alliance coronavirus page for more best practice tips.

Bucks County

Apartments approved for Oxford Valley Mall
Middletown Township supervisors unanimously voted to approve preliminary and final land development plans that will begin a major transformation of the Oxford Valley Mall. The plans call for 614 apartments in a pair of four-story buildings to be constructed on 20 acres of the 135-acre mall property. The two apartment buildings will have parking garages, fitness centers and eight acres of open space. The developer, Cornerstone Tracy, will make improvements to nearby intersections, and construct sidewalks to connect the complex to the mall and to sidewalks along nearby streets. There will also be shuttle bus service from the apartment complex to the SEPTA train station on Woodbourne Road. Supervisors said the apartments are a necessary step toward reinvigorating the mall.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/24/2020

Bucks County to charge delinquent property tax payers for costs of collection
Bucks County Commissioners have authorized the county Tax Claim Bureau to charge delinquent property tax payers 106% of the taxes owed. The extra 6% includes 5% toward the cost of running the bureau and 1% to the attorney handling the case. Prior to the change, the 5% was taken from the amounts owed to the municipalities and school districts. The new method will “return 100% of the taxes owed back to the municipalities and school districts,” said Michael Clarke, solicitor for the Tax Claim Bureau. The changes will also allow the county to place liens on not only the delinquent property but on all properties owned by a delinquent tax payer until the delinquent taxes are paid. Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo raised questions about residents in financial distress, and Clarke stressed that residents receiving financial counseling or assistance from the county would not be targeted. The purpose of the changes, Clarke said, is to have serial delinquents pay what is owed, so that municipalities and school districts are not left with revenue shortfalls.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times: 8/21/2020

PennDOT outlines Bucks projects
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) recently updated its 12-year program. The program is regularly reviewed and updated by the state transportation commission, and the current plan expects about $11.4 billion for state highway and bridge projects in the first four years. Multiple bridge replacements in Bucks County are planned, including $9.2 million for a bridge on state Route 663 in Milford Township, $22 million for a bridge on Buck Road, and another $10 million for a bridge on Worthington Mill Road. Over 90 projects in total are slated for Bucks County, including $52 million for intersection improvements, about $800,000 in pedestrian and curb ramp projects, and other work throughout the county. More information about the 12-year plan can be found online at www.talkpatransportation.com.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 8/21/2020

174-unit Hilltown project fails to win support of supervisors
A zoning change for a proposal called The Venue in Hilltown Township failed to win support from the board of supervisors at a recent meeting. The Venue, a 174-unit 55+ community at Route 309 and Swartley Road, required conditional approval for higher-density development than what the township zoning allows. The request sparked community uproar. The supervisors did not actually vote on the zoning change that property owner Wally Rosenthal sought for higher-density development. Chairman Jack McIlhinney made a motion to vote. That motion was not seconded by either Jim Groff or Caleb Torrice, so the matter did not proceed.
Source: WFMZ; 8/25/2020

Chester County 

Coatesville moves forward with new rail station, revitalization plan
The 2nd Century Alliance, a public-private partnership working to foster economic and community development in Coatesville, held a virtual event featuring updates from representatives of Coatesville Area School District, city administration, a local church, Brandywine Hospital and art provider Revival Productions. James Logan, acting city manager, said bids on construction of the Amtrak train station, in the works for about 20 years, are about to go out in the fall. It is hoped that a new train station will spark growth. Joe DiSciullo, chairman of the redevelopment authority, said construction could start as early as spring 2021. The 2nd Century Alliance hosts events regularly to keep the community informed of relevant programs and projects in the city.
Source: Daily Local; 8/22/2020

Developer says senior housing in East Vincent would be a boon
A developer asking East Vincent Township supervisors to change the township zoning to make it easier to construct a 212-unit age-restricted home project on 66 acres off Stony Run Road painted a rosy picture of the project’s benefits during a three-hour hearing. Conducted in-person and online, the hearing was consumed largely by testimony from Jon Benson of Artisan Construction, and the developers’ engineer, planner and financial analyst, who outlined what they see as the benefits of the project, called Stony Run at Kimberton. Public comments and questions were limited by the late hour but are expected to continue at the next supervisors meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. No decision was made on Artisan’s request. Benson said he has been working on the project for 18 months and it originally called for 400 units, but that was not looked on favorably either by the township, or by the Chester County Planning Commission. The project currently calls for 174 single homes and 38 twins on 66 acres north of Bridge Street, on the site of a working farm owned by Vernon Ruth and his family. The project would also include a clubhouse as large as 6,000 square feet, a pool, tennis and bocce courts, trails, and a fenced dog park open to the public. The project would be served by public water and sewer. Interior roads and stormwater facilities would be privately maintained by a homeowners’ association. The other 89.5 acres the developer owns, on the south side of Bridge Street, would be permanently preserved as open space “at no cost to the township,” Benson said.
Source: Daily Local; 8/22/2020

Five Chester County farms preserved in perpetuity
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced Thursday that the commonwealth’s Agricultural Land Preservation Board added 2,512 acres on 33 farms in 16 counties to the nation’s leading farmland preservation program. Five of those farms are in Chester County. The state’s $9.4 million investment purchases development rights for these farms to ensure they will remain in agricultural production permanently. All preserved farms are required to follow a conservation plan that addresses soil, water and nutrient concerns. The farms preserved in Chester County include:  

  • The 120.6-acre Earle Wickersham farm in Newlin Township, which provides fresh dairy and egg products to the local community
  • The Stephen E. and Jamie M. Esbenshade Farm, a 15-acre crop farm
  • The Michele Schofield, Joseph and Sonia DiPierro Farm, a 36-acre equine operation
  • The Earle H. Wickersham Farm, a 121-acre dairy operation
  • The George P. Wickersham Jr. Farm, a 121-acre crop and livestock farm

Farmland preservation has also been enhanced by Pennsylvania’s first-ever PA Farm Bill, enacted in 2019. The bill created the Agricultural Business Development Center to support business planning, marketing, diversification, risk management and transition planning. The bill also included a realty transfer tax exemption for the transfer of preserved farmland to a qualified beginning farmer.
Source: Daily Local; 8/21/2020

Chester County matches its 2010 census response rate
The latest 2020 Census response rates show Chester County has matched its final 2010 Census response rate of 75.6%. “The Census Bureau would like to extend our congratulations to the people of Pennsylvania for their high response rate,” said Fernando Armstrong, director of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Office. “Your response matters and will help your community get the accurate count it needs to secure federal funding for critical public services and political representation.” The Census Bureau’s online response rate map shows response rates by state, city, county and census tract. Households in Pennsylvania who have yet to respond can complete the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail. Households that do not respond to the census will receive a visit from a census taker who will help them respond.
Source: Daily Local; 8/21/2020

Delaware County

Census count in Delaware County lower than expected
As of last week, 69.7% of Delaware County had filled out the U.S. Census response form. “We’re nowhere where we need to be, particularly in communities like Chester,” Frances Sheehan, president of the Foundation for Delaware County, said. “We need people to fill it out because it is going to significantly impact funding for a variety of different services at the county level.” On the county website, people can fill out the census in 13 languages, while also seeing where the county stands in response rates. Residents who speak Spanish can call 267-453-7289 Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for information or help in completing the 2020 Census questionnaire. Information gathered from the census is used to determine how to distribute $675 billion in federal funds and grants for hospitals, schools, roads, public works and other programs. In 2010, $27 billion was directed toward Pennsylvania, then allocated based on census results. Census officials have said that, on average, for each person counted in the census, $2,000 every year for the next 10 years comes back to Delaware County. The information is also used to draw U.S. Congressional districts and for community planning purposes, such as when businesses are considering where to invest.
Source: Daily Times; 8/24/2020

Study makes the case for a health department in Delco
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently presented a 158-page report (PDF) on the need for a health department in Delaware County. In 2019, county council unanimously approved paying about $92,000 for the evaluation of the delivery of health and public health services in the county. The focus was initially on the assessment of health-related services in the county and changed —along with the composition of the council — to focus on the creation of a county health department. County council recently approved requesting proposals to conduct an economic impact study on the formation of a county health department that will report, among other items, the cost of establishment. “The health and safety of our residents is council’s top priority,” county council Vice Chairman Dr. Monica Taylor said. “The COVID-19 pandemic served as yet another example of how critical a county health department is to a densely populated county like ours.”
Source: Daily Times; 8/21/2020

Pandemic issues dominate Media council business
Media Borough Council’s August legislative meeting focused largely on borough issues impacted by the pandemic. Key among these was the economic health of the business district, comprised of a mix of retail stores, services and many restaurants. Reopened food venues offer regulated inside seating, takeout and outdoor dining. Al fresco dining has been a borough staple in the long-running Dining Under the Stars events on Wednesday nights. Council approved an amendment to the mass gathering permit to add Thursday evenings, with rain dates on Saturdays. The Media Business Authority reported significant impact on its budget, which is funded mainly by fees and permits from events, virtually all of which have been cancelled since spring. Finance Chair Peter Williamson proposed that council enhance its yearly contribution of $90,000 to the business authority by an additional $49,000 from the borough’s “economic development” budget. The council unanimously approved an ordinance requiring masks during mass gathering events, including Dining Under the Stars, and $3,000 for signage around the business district which will read “Media Mask-up.”
Source: Daily Times; 8/24/2020

Upper Prov finishes hearings on proposed group home
Upper Providence Township Council held the fourth and final session of the conditional use hearing on Clark’s Manor, a proposed group home at 2978 N. Providence Road. A group home is a permitted use in the residential district with the requirement that the applicant meets certain standards outlined in the township code. Residents opposed to the plan are represented by Abby Sacunus, an attorney whose home is also in proximity to the subject property. Clark’s Manor is planned for a stone home situated on 3.6 acres, purchased at the start of 2020 by Charles Widger of Berwyn. Widget wants to establish a group home for individuals with chronic mental health conditions. The attorneys were to submit their “finding of facts and conclusions of law,” which summarize their cases by Aug. 27. Council has 45 days to render a decision, and said the intension is to do so at the Sept. 10 meeting.
Source: Daily Times; 8/22/2020

Montgomery County

Pottstown, Montco housing efforts get $750K grant
Pottstown and Montgomery County will benefit from $750,000 in grants from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) that will be used for blight remediation, housing counseling and anti-homelessness efforts. Funding will go to several agencies:

  • Pottstown Borough Land Bank, to acquire properties for rehabilitation and resale, as well as grants to provide critical repairs to eight households;
  • Genesis Housing Corp., to increase housing counseling staff;
  • Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Development, to help end and prevent homelessness in the county.

A press release from state Rep. Joe Ciresi (D-146) said the grant was awarded through the PHFA board in cooperation with Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement.
Source: Times Herald; 8/21/2020

Proposed ordinance would dissolve Norristown sewer authority
Norristown Municipal Council will consider a proposed ordinance that requires the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority to convey the sewer system and all property and assets of the authority to the municipality under the provisions of the Municipal Authorities Act. A full copy of the proposed ordinance is available for inspection online. The motion to advertise the proposed ordinance was a last-minute addition to a recent work session agenda and drew a heated discussion among members of council. The public hearing to consider the proposed ordinance will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Norristown Municipal Hall, 235 E. Airy St. Click here for the full article.
Source: Times Herald; 8/24/2020

Petition calls for livestream of Limerick supervisors meetings
Limerick Township supervisors were informed of a citizen petition seeking action to force the supervisors to live-stream township meetings. The petition reads, “We the people of Limerick Township, in the interest of a more open and transparent local government, request the township meetings to be televised or live-streamed.” Vice Chairwoman Kara Shuler said the matter will be on the agenda for the next meeting. Supervisor Patrick Morroney has asked repeatedly that township meetings be broadcast in some manner so that they can be recorded, as well as to protect residents who want to participate but are at increased risk if exposed to the coronavirus. Rather than wait until the next meeting, Morroney made a motion to have the meetings live-streamed. No supervisor seconded the motion. Morroney has been rebuffed in the past over trying to get the supervisors to enforce the township’s requirement that masks be worn inside the township building. Morroney has been told by Chairman Tom Neafcy that three supervisors need to agree to put it on the agenda for formal consideration and, to date, none have been willing to do so.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 8/20/2020

Hospital developers ask Douglass Township for higher building
A hearing in Douglass Township involving a proposed hospital at the corner of Route 100 and Grosser Road was held outside the Gilbertsville firehouse. The unusual location was to accommodate a crowd safely during the pandemic. Developers want to build an 85-bed hospital on four floors with a maximum height of 65 feet. The Route 100 overlay district that guides development of the site allows for a hospital to be built, but the height limit is 45 feet. If the supervisors refuse the height change, the hospital will still be built with the same square footage, but the footprint will be larger. The hospital is a by-right use for the property. Developer’s attorney Frank Bartle said allowing the taller building will allow the project to be moved closer to Route 100 and further away from nearby residences. The supervisors made no decision on the developers' request to change the height restriction in the ordinance, and said they will consider a decision at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 21.
Source: Pottstown Mercury & Digital Notebook Blog; 8/21/2020

Philadelphia

Philly school board rejects tax break for former refinery site
The Philadelphia School Board failed to approve a 10-year extension of the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) designation for a former South Philadelphia refinery site that is to be rebuilt into a massive logistics hub. Businesses in Keystone Opportunity Zones pay little to no state and local business taxes through an assortment of credits, waivers and abatements. Hilco Redevelopment Partners, a Chicago firm that bought the 1,300-acre Philadelphia Energy Solutions site out of bankruptcy in June for $225.5 million, pressed the city to extend the property’s KOZ status, which was granted in 2014 and was set to expire in 2023. Hilco has said the tax breaks are important to its project, which will require hundreds of millions of dollars for environmental cleanup before the property can be rebuilt. Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, said the Kenney administration was disappointed by the vote but intended to try again after talking with board members to try to address their concerns.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 8/21/2020

Inquirer series highlights tenants’ rights in Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Inquirer has launched a series about tenants’ rights in Philadelphia. The series includes articles and resources for such topics as breaking a lease, landlord entry and bugs and rodents. Each article provides information pertinent to tenants and landlords.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

 
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