NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Infrastructure reform among 2019 NAR policy priorities

Bucks County
Warminster tax hike must be approved by court

Chester County
Landscapes3 adopted by Chester County Commissioners

Delaware County
Cost of new middle school in Clifton Heights to be evaluated

Montgomery County
Norristown budget includes $1.8M deficit

Philadelphia County
City council downsizes new protections for renters in ‘Good Cause’ bill
 

 



 

News Briefs Archive August 6, 2018

 

General News

NAR applauds passage of flood insurance extension
The House and Senate both passed an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, and the “National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act of 2018” was signed into law by the president on July 31. NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall released the following statement, “We applaud lawmakers for taking this needed action to prevent disruptions to closings in thousands of communities across the country. Although the National Flood Insurance Program will be extended through November 30 when signed into law, the NFIP is in desperate need of reforms that will make it solvent and sustainable in the long term. The National Association of Realtors will continue fighting for these reforms as the next NFIP reauthorization discussions loom later this year.” Thank you to all of our members who urged the extension of the program for months. Nearly 125,000 Realtors® sent letters to their senators and members of Congress in support of the extension.
Source: Nar.realtor; 7/31/2018

NAR meets with GAO to discuss Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Staff from NAR’s federal advocacy team met with analysts from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to discuss the current state of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship and its impact on the real estate market. This meeting was a follow-up to a round of meetings that GAO held with NAR and other industry players in 2014 that resulted in a study. NAR staff emphasized to the GAO that while not perfect, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have done a good job of providing steady, stable and affordable credit to a broad market during very difficult times. Furthermore, preserving the benefits of the current system should be a primary goal of any reform efforts in the coming years. In addition to engaging with the GAO, NAR recently brought together a panel of industry experts to discuss the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. NAR will continue to actively engage in the discussion to protect the vibrant, national housing finance market.
Source: Nar.realtor; 7/27/2018

Bucks County

Bucks County unveils new public data portal
Bucks County Commissioners recently unveiled a new data portal — a Bucks County GIS platform for exploring the data of the county and other data that may be important to residents, the business community and visitors to the county. The online portal is divided into three main sections: initiatives, interactive maps and exploring data. 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 include: County Subdivision & Land Development, County Trails, Agricultural Preservation Program, Open Space Program, Municipal Economic Development, County Bridges and data about the opioid epidemic. Commissioner Chairman Rob Loughery said, “This open data initiative is not the solution to all issues that impact our Bucks County communities. However, we are confident that providing this means of access to government data … will result in meaningful benefits to both the county and the residents and businesses we serve.” Click here to access the Bucks County open data portal.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 7/30/2018

Warrington considers homestead exemption
Warrington Township officials are reviewing a possible exemption under Pennsylvania’s Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006 (Act 1) that would allow homeowners to exempt up to 50 percent of their home’s value when calculating local real estate taxes. Township Director of Finance Cassandra Williams told supervisors that the exemption amount is limited to half the median residential assessed property values in the township, which is just over $35,000 in 2018, and would amount to a maximum allowed exemption of $17,660. For a Warrington home at the median value, the tax bill at the current township rate would drop 50 percent, from $504 to $252. The township could opt to implement a lower amount for the homestead exemption. According to the law, the homestead label is not automatically given to every homeowner, rather it is up to every individual to register as a homestead with the county. The law also states that the sale of a home declared a homestead does not transfer the designation to the new owner, who must file with the county assessor declaring the property as a primary residence before the exemption can be applied. Warrington Township staff is researching the exemption in surrounding municipalities as part of its 2019 budget process.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/31/2018

Preliminary approval for Upper Makefield developments
Upper Makefield supervisors recently granted preliminary approval to two separate development plans in the township. The first subdivision proposal is for an 8.5-acre property at 282 Aqueduct Road with one existing home remaining on four acres and two additional lots of one acre each being created. The second project is at 485 Brownsburg Road that calls for subdividing the property so that a couple of new residential lots can be created. Both proposals were reviewed by the Upper Makefield planning commission who recommended that the supervisors grant preliminary approval. Supervisors granted a number of waivers for both projects after an engineer’s study showed that some intended improvements are not necessary for these small-scale projects. The board requested hydrogeologic studies to be conducted before signing off on final approval for both projects.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 7/30/2018

Elcon clears one hurdle for hazardous waste treatment facility
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that Elcon Recycling Services has cleared a key part of the application process to build a hazardous waste treatment facility in Falls Township. The DEP said that all necessary application materials were included in Elcon’s submission, something that Elcon failed to do on two previous submissions. With all of the necessary materials in hand, the application will “undergo a 10-month technical review which will include opportunities for public participation,” according to the DEP. Elcon plans to build a plant that would process between 150,000 to 210,000 tons of chemicals and pharmaceutical waste each year on a 23-acre site in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex. Those opposed to the facility fear that it could pollute the air or contaminate the Delaware River.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 7/31/2018

EPA meets with residents on water contamination at bases
Hundreds of residents and local officials attended a meeting hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Horsham as part of the agency’s summer tour to visit communities affected by water contamination from chemicals known as PFAS used on military bases. The daylong event began with the EPA, the Department of Defense and other agencies laying out their findings and plans to address the contamination. The collection of federal officials heard from state and local government representatives and community panels before beginning a public comment session. EPA officials said they are developing ways to assist states and communities dealing with contamination, including a “PFAS Management Plan” slated for release in the fall. Four years after the water contamination was discovered, residents are paying higher water bills due to remediation, dozens have reported cancers and other illnesses, and residents with tainted drinking wells are drinking bottled water supplied by the military while they wait for hookups to public water. Tim Hagey, general manager of Warminster Township’s public water system, said, “Our customers, our residents, our family has not caused contamination of the water supply, and they certainly shouldn’t be responsible for the cleanup costs.” For additional information – the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have been reporting on the issue and, as a public resource, have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available to subscribers and nonsubscribers on their websites — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/25/2018

Chester County 

East Fallowfield imposes new blight regulations
East Fallowfield has a new ordinance relating to blighted properties. It requires basic exterior property maintenance for all properties in the township. The ordinance does not allow unsafe structures or buildings, vehicles nuisances, or the accumulation of garbage on properties. Grass and weeds must be trimmed to a height of no more than 12 inches within 50 feet of an occupied building, driveway, or neighboring property or roadway. Animals must be housed in a manner that does not create a threat to the public health, safety, or welfare. Swimming pools must be surrounded by a fence at least 48 inches in height and have a gate or door that is self-closing. This ordinance applies to all properties within the township at all times. If a code enforcement officer finds that an occupied building or structure poses a threat to the health, safety or welfare of the occupants, it could result in the property being declared unfit for human habitation.
Source: East Fallowfield Township; 7/24/2018

West Chester Council mulls changes to parking rates
West Chester Borough Council decided to give away the first hour of parking, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Chestnut and Bicentennial garages. Based on a recent study done by a national group, Clark Elms, director of the parking department, recommended borough council consider changing meter rates in much of the downtown business district. Parkers could see rates vary from the current cost of $1.50 per hour to $1 for the first hour, $2 for the second hour and $3 for each additional hour. “The free hour in the garage is to encourage short-term parkers and to have street parking spaces turn over quickly so people can come and go,” Borough Manager Mike Perrone said. Parking Committee Chair Denise Polk hopes parkers will cut auto emissions in the business district and not circle while looking for parking spots. Council will discuss at the August meeting the new rates at meters that might go into effect on Market and Gay streets from Matlack to New streets.
Source: Daily Local; 7/27/2018

Neighborhood University to start in September
The West Chester Area Council of Governments has announced that another year of Neighborhood University is set to begin on Thursday, Sept. 6. This free program offers the opportunity to learn about local government, tour public facilities, and better understand available municipal services and resources. The goal is to provide residents with the tools necessary to be better advocates for their communities. Neighborhood University of Greater West Chester is open to any resident or business owner, age 16 or older, from one of the participating communities: East Bradford Township, East Goshen Township, Thornbury Township (Chester County), West Chester Borough, West Goshen Township, West Whiteland Township and Westtown Township. Local officials will cover topics including the structure of local government in Pennsylvania, public safety, county services, zoning and land development, multi-modal transportation, stormwater management, public works infrastructure, public finance and police services. Enrollment has begun and class size is limited. Sessions will be held on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. in various locations throughout the greater West Chester area. Once enrollment is confirmed, the course schedule and session locations will be distributed to participants. More information and an enrollment form can be found at www.nugwc.org.
Source: Daily Local; 7/27/2018

County conservation districts to consider priorities at joint meeting
A working group comprised of members of the Chester County Conservation District and the Delaware County Conservation District has scheduled an open house meeting to solicit input from local stakeholders on prioritizing local resource concerns. Input from the attendees may be considered in the application for federal conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The meeting will be chaired by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The meeting will take place on Thursday, Aug. 9, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the USDA-NRCS Coatesville Field Office at 525 Highlands Blvd., Suite 106, Coatesville. For more information, contact Beth Sassaman, Supervisory District Conservationist, Coatesville Field Office, USDA-NRCS, by phone at 610-466-7502, ext. 3, or email at Beth.Sassaman@pa.usda.gov.
Source: Daily Local; 7/27/2018

Delaware County

Delco OKs $115K risk assessment study on pipeline
Delaware County Council approved a $115,000 contract with G-2 Integrated Solutions to conduct a risk assessment on the Mariner East 2 and Adelphia pipelines. G-2 is a Houston-based firm that provides expertise in engineering, regulatory, field and technology services, and strategic consulting to pipeline operators, utility companies and other energy stakeholders. Delaware County Director of Emergency Services Tim Boyce said the company has worked for government and nonprofit groups as well. “It’s a good day for the citizens of Delaware County, and I appreciate everyone working together on this,” county Councilman Brian Zidek said. Sunoco Pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners Inc., is almost finished building a pair of pipelines — Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X — connecting western Pennsylvania to an export facility in Marcus Hook. When operating, they will carry about 700,000 barrels of propane, ethane and butane daily from the Marcellus and Utica shales to be stored, processed and then distributed locally, regionally and internationally. About 11.4 miles of the 350-mile lines are in Delaware County. The work is expected to begin within a week and is anticipated to take 14 weeks to complete. Eric Friedman of Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety said he was pleased with council’s action. His group has hired Quest Consultants Inc. to do its own risk evaluation, which is expected to be finished by the end of summer.
Source: Daily Times; 7/26/2018

County Historical Society aims to boost Chester's future with downtown move
The Delaware County Historical Society recently relocated to downtown Chester, hoping to contribute to a wave of revitalization in the city. The society’s new home is on the Avenue of the States, a downtown artery that starts at Ninth Street and ends at City Hall and that has seen a surge of interest from developers and investors in recent months. “Our goal is to try and instill some pride in Chester’s residents about where they live, and stress the importance of where they live, to help them develop ownership and a sense of being in the community,” said Laurie J. Grant, the society’s executive director. Chester is better known for its violence than its history, but longtime dwellers on and near its downtown streets say there’s more to the city than crime statistics portray. “People never cared before, but now they see things are changing,” said Linda Braceland, a developer who bought her first property on the avenue 13 years ago. “Slowly, people are saying, maybe this isn’t such a bad place.” The Delaware County Historical Society in June received a $30,000 grant from the Delaware County Council to help with deferred maintenance and capital improvements.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/23/2018

Chadds Ford adopts ordinance for inspection of commercial buildings
Chadds Ford Supervisors enacted a new life safety ordinance that authorizes the fire marshal to inspect public buildings — commercial and nonresidential — for safety issues. It establishes inspection frequency, regulates certain hazards, and establishes fees and penalties for enforcement. Inspections include looking for the presence and operation of emergency equipment, emergency exits, fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, and the proper storage of explosive and flammable materials. Fees will be set by supervisors’ resolutions. A fine of up to $1,000 per day may be levied against violators. Supervisors also adopted another ordinance establishing a new zoning district, the Village District (V). The ordinance affects business and residential properties in the village area of Route 1, Creek and Station Way roads. It sets up by-right and conditional uses.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 7/26/2018

Slipping reserves drop Upper Darby schools’ bond rating
The Upper Darby School District didn’t receive top marks on its latest bond rating opinion from Moody’s Investor Services. District Chief Financial Officer Patrick Grant reported at a July 24 school board committee meeting that the rating has shifted from a high-quality Aa3 rating, down one spot to an upper-medium grade A1. The downgrade was attributed to declining reserves and rising costs that revenues will not match. “The negative outlook on the district’s A1 underlying rating reflects Moody’s belief that the district’s financial position will remain pressured due to rising costs associated with special education, pension contributions and charter school costs,” said Grant. Using a portion of fund balance to supplement district budgets is not uncommon, but the amount that has been used in the last few years has been more substantial. For 2016-2017, $6.5 million in fund balance was committed to the budget for a rare year in which taxes were not raised. Another $7 million was committed for 2016-2017 and $6.88 million was agreed to for use in the 2018-2019 school year budget. The total fund balance at the end of the current school year is projected to be $9.6 million.
Source: Delaware County News Network; 7/30/2018

County conservation districts to consider priorities at joint meeting
A working group comprised of members of the Chester County Conservation District and the Delaware County Conservation District has scheduled an open house meeting to solicit input from local stakeholders on prioritizing local resource concerns. Input from the attendees may be considered in the application for federal conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The meeting will be chaired by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The meeting will take place on Thursday, Aug. 9, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the USDA-NRCS Coatesville Field Office at 525 Highlands Blvd., Suite 106, Coatesville. For more information, contact Beth Sassaman, Supervisory District Conservationist, Coatesville Field Office, USDA-NRCS, by phone at 610-466-7502, ext. 3, or email at Beth.Sassaman@pa.usda.gov.
Source: Daily Local; 7/27/2018

Montgomery County

Jenkintown reviews progress of Concrete Infrastructure Program
Jenkintown Borough Council received a five-year progress report on the borough’s Concrete Infrastructure Program. The program was introduced in 2013 to address noncompliant sidewalks lining borough-owned streets and state roads, and was designed to improve walkability in the borough, including curb ramps and other accessible features. Six hundred forty-one properties have been brought up to PennDOT compliance during the process, officials said. Borough Manager George Locke said the borough has invested $500,000 in the project, with the large majority of the costs covered through grant funding. Locke also reported that the project is on schedule to be completed by 2023. In other news, the borough council approved a motion to officially adopt the Jenkintown 2035 Comprehensive Plan, a long-range planning process for the borough’s growth and development.
Source: Times Chronicle; 7/30/2018

Lower Merion Township partners with ‘Curb My Clutter’
Lower Merion Township is the first community in Pennsylvania to partner with Curb My Clutter, a service that enables residents to easily schedule curbside collection of many unwanted items via text message. The service is mostly free, but it does charge for disposal of certain items. According to Township Manager Ernie McNeely: “Lower Merion Township is proud of our efforts to reduce our environmental impact and save taxpayers’ money. It’s not often we get to announce a program that does both. That’s exactly what we found with Curb My Clutter. With their curbside collection program, residents get a convenient way to reduce their household clutter, taxpayers save disposal fees, and most importantly, clothing and electronics stay out of the waste stream.” For more information on waste management and recycling, visit www.curbmyclutter.com/lmt and the township’s Refuse and Recycling Division.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 7/30/2018

Demolition to make way for mixed-use building in Souderton
The building at 160 N. Main St. in Souderton Borough will soon be demolished. The owners, father Gaetano “Guy” Chiaro and son Giuseppe “Joe” Chiaro, initially planned to renovate the 100-year-old building, but an inspection determined there was too much termite damage. Plans for the new building are underway, according to Joe Chiaro. “We are definitely looking for two to three commercial spaces and some apartments on the top.” Chiaro said it’s all a part of resurgence in Souderton — a new restaurant will soon open in the former train station, the North End Market is planned for next year on Main Street and there are plans to reopen the Broad Theater next year. “Me and my father, we’re glad to be in town. We waited 15 years, but it looks like it’s happening now,” said Chiaro.
Source: The Reporter; 7/31/2018

Pottsgrove School Board president resigns
Matt Alexander has submitted a letter of resignation to the Pottsgrove School Board, for which he served as president, because he moved out of the district. Alexander served on the school board for five years and said he is most proud of moving the administration to a system of setting goals that are measurable, completing the renovation and expansion of Pottsgrove High School, and adopting a budget this year that does not raise taxes. The school board will next meet on Tuesday, Aug. 14, when it will vote on accepting the resignation. Alexander was reelected in 2017 and whomever the school board chooses to fill the vacancy will serve until the next local election cycle, which is November 2019. Board members will have 30 days from the day they vote to accept the resignation to choose a replacement for Alexander’s seat in addition to electing a new board president.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 7/31/2018

EPA meets with residents on water contamination at bases
Hundreds of residents and local officials attended a meeting hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Horsham as part of the agency’s summer tour to visit communities affected by water contamination from chemicals known as PFAS used on military bases. The daylong event began with the EPA, the Department of Defense and other agencies laying out their findings and plans to address the contamination. The collection of federal officials heard from state and local government representatives and community panels before beginning a public comment session. EPA officials said they are developing ways to assist states and communities dealing with contamination, including a “PFAS Management Plan” slated for release in the fall. Four years after the water contamination was discovered, residents are paying higher water bills due to remediation, dozens have reported cancers and other illnesses, and residents with tainted drinking wells are drinking bottled water supplied by the military while they wait for hookups to public water. Tim Hagey, general manager of Warminster Township’s public water system, said, “Our customers, our residents, our family has not caused contamination of the water supply, and they certainly shouldn’t be responsible for the cleanup costs.” For additional information – the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have been reporting on the issue and, as a public resource, have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available to subscribers and nonsubscribers on their websites — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business. 
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 7/25/2018

Philadelphia

Philly Fed compiles list of city's tax-aid programs for homeowners
Philadelphia may be the poorest big city in America, but it also has an unusually high percentage of homeowners. Before the Great Recession, more than 60 percent of the city’s households owned the places where they lived. Now, more than 52 percent do, which is still substantially higher than cities as disparate as Seattle, Baltimore, Atlanta and Chicago. For low-income homeowners, the sting of added costs is very real. When the Kenney administration’s reassessment sent property-tax bills soaring in some neighborhoods, the political backlash was profound. That pain was a big part of what sunk Mayor Jim Kenney’s ambitious budget proposal to maintain the recent progress, and funding levels, of the Philadelphia School District. The city’s political class has taken the troubles of low-income homeowners seriously and set programs in place to help them. Earlier this year, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia highlighted those programs when they found that few city homeowners were being displaced by reinvestment, or gentrification, in their neighborhoods. Find a list of the programs offered in the city here.
Source: Plan Philly; 7/27/2018

Old homes, high poverty make Philadelphia housing less than affordable for some
In cities such as Boston, New York and San Francisco, affordable housing is increasingly scarce. Across the United States, most lower-income households spend more than half of what they make each month on housing costs, according to “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2018,” a report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. But in Philadelphia, it’s not just a shortage of affordable housing that’s causing the crunch. Instead, poor-quality houses and an unusually high poverty rate — about 400,000 Philadelphians are living in poverty — tilt the equation so that demand far outstrips supply here, making affordable homes hard to obtain and difficult to manage. To the uninitiated, the data in the Joint Center for Housing Studies’ annual report, released in June, might seem alarming. Among other statistics, the report states that affordable units for low-income renters both nationwide and in the 11-county Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington region have become 50 percent more scarce over the past 10 years. The data point to a regional deficit of 117,132 affordable rentals. However, observers intimately acquainted with the local housing market were quick to alleviate concerns the data in the Joint Center’s report might raise. Philadelphia is the most affordable city in the Northeast Corridor, aside from Baltimore, said Kevin Gillen, a housing expert and economist at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. For housing to be considered affordable, the level of household income going toward costs such as mortgage payments, utilities, maintenance, and property taxes should be less than 35 percent, Gillen said. In Philadelphia, that figure hovers around 34 percent, just below the moderately unaffordable cut-off. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 7/25/2018



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