NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
New nationwide flood model says U.S. is unprepared

Bucks County
Neshaminy School District passes budget with tax increase

Chester County
County to help fund two affordable housing projects

Delaware County
Springfield schools increase taxes by 2.25%

Montgomery County
Lansdale to adopt comprehensive plan

Philadelphia County
Small Philadelphia landlords can apply for loans to offset missed rent due to pandemic

 

News Briefs Archive December 16, 2019

 

General News

SRA’s 2019 annual report is online
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance’s (SRA) annual report for 2019 is available on the SRA website. The report highlights our efforts to stay ahead of real estate issues in our four-county area, distribute relevant weekly news briefs, maintain and improve our municipal database, and provide effective advocacy for our 12,000-plus members. The SRA’s core service continues to be helping the members of the Bucks County, Montgomery County and Suburban West Realtor® associations in their interactions with local governments at the municipal level.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae baseline loan limits set to increase
On Nov. 26, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) published the 2020 conforming loan limits for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The baseline (national) limit will increase to $510,400 from $484,350 in 2019. In high-cost areas, the limit will go up to $765,600 (from $726,525). The loan limits are based on FHFA's Housing Price Index, which increased by 5.38% since last year — the baseline maximum conforming loan limit in 2020 will increase by the same percentage. In Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, the loan limit for one unit will be $510,400. To look up the loan limit in your area, click here. The new limits take effect on Jan 1, 2020. FHA is expected to publish its loan limits in early December, which should mirror the FHFA limits.
Source: National Association of Realtors; 11/27/2019

PFAS water contamination not widespread, state says
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said that a first round of drinking water samples tested for the toxic chemicals known as PFAS did not indicate widespread contamination. The administration said one of 96 sites sampled in the first round tested above the federal health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion for two PFAS chemicals. The chemicals are used in products like nonstick cookware, carpets, firefighting foam and fast-food wrappers. The administration said that the outlier site is a manufacturer of electrical resistor components in Centre County. Otherwise, test results provided by the administration said PFAS chemicals were not detected in two-thirds of the sites sampled, and the remaining sites showed concentrations well below the federal health advisory level.
Source: Daily Times; 12/6/2019

Report highlights Pa. transportation challenges
Pennsylvania was listed as having subpar transportation infrastructure for highways, bridges and public transit in a 2018 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card. A task force of 10 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives went to work assessing the ASCE report card and issued a report titled “Build to Lead” in November. The task force forecasts a looming crisis in the state’s transportation infrastructure. The report found that the re-structuring of the gasoline tax and hiking of license and vehicle registration fees meant to increase funding for transportation infrastructure have proven inadequate to the state’s growing needs, and the lag in repairs and upgrades could threaten economic growth. Click here for the article.
Source: Pottstown Mercury: 11/30/2019

Bucks County

Bensalem approves 600 housing units for Drexel shrine property
Bensalem Township Council voted 3-2 to approve final land development plans for a mixed-use project on the 44-acre property along Bristol Pike where St. Katherine Drexel formed an order of missionary nuns. As part of the proposal, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament’s historic motherhouse will serve as the administrative headquarters for the nuns, as well as a community center with shops and other amenities for residents. The approval allows developer Aquinas Realty Partners to divide the property into six lots. The motherhouse and chapel will be on one lot. The second lot will have 80 memory care and assisted-living units. The third lot will have 175 independent-living units. The fourth lot will have 260 active-adult apartments for residents age 55 and older, in three separate buildings. The fifth lot contains the cemetery of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, while the sixth will have 90 two- and three-bedroom townhomes. Len Poncia, president of Aquinas Realty, estimated the project should take about two years to complete, with homes ready for occupancy in 2022 or 2023.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/5/2019

DA investigation finds no criminal activity in Lower Southampton zoning department
The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office spent a year investigating the Lower Southampton Zoning Department after an outside consultant’s report found numerous fee and escrow discrepancies under the leadership of a previous zoning and code enforcement officer. District Attorney Matt Weintraub said, “The discrepancies between zoning fees and escrow amounts appear to be more a result of incompetence and poor bookkeeping by Ms. [Carol] Drioli, as opposed to criminal activity.” The Keystone Municipal Services report found a high number of common “irregularities” in 26 zoning projects, including: misplaced or missing land development plans, missing inspector signatures, missing inspection reports, missing permit applications, and numerous projects improperly issued permits without going through the land development process. The report led to a public demand for answers and the supervisors’ request to have the district attorney’s office investigate the zoning operations under Drioli. The report also led to a review of department operations by both the state Bureau of Occupational and Industrial Safety and the state Department of Labor and Industry. Both reviews recently concluded, and the Bucks County Courier Times has filed Right-to-Know requests with the township as well as an appeal before the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records to obtain information about the final outcomes of the investigations. It is estimated that fee discrepancies cost the township between $60,000 and $75,000 from 2012 to 2017.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/9/2019

Solebury opens survey on library funding
Solebury Township is conducting a survey to gather feedback on the possibility of increasing the township’s contribution to the free library of New Hope and Solebury (FLNHS). The current Solebury Township contribution to the FLNHS is $120,000, and the library has requested an increase to $170,000. Solebury will allow a total 10-day survey response period ending on Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 3:30 p.m. Click here for the online survey. A community forum is planned for Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, at the high school auditorium to gauge public opinion about the potential funding increase. Visit the library website here.
Source: Solebury Township e-news; 12/9/2019

East Rockhill looks to keep taxes steady
After an almost 20% tax increase in 2019, East Rockhill Township officials have introduced a proposed 2020 budget of $4.1 million that maintains the current tax rate, sewer rate and streetlight assessment. East Rockhill supervisors increased the township millage rate in 2019 from 10.325 mills to 12.235 mills because additional cash flow was needed to fund a legal battle with Rockhill Quarry. The township has budgeted $150,000 for legal expenses related to the continuing litigation. If approved without change, a property assessed at the township average of $40,000 can expect a municipal real estate tax bill of about $490. Supervisors will receive public comment on the budget and then vote to approve or deny it at the Thursday, Dec. 19, meeting at 7 p.m. at the municipal building, located at 1622 N. Ridge Road, Perkasie.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/5/2019

Chester County 

West Marlborough to increase earned income tax
The West Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors will consider the adoption of an ordinance amending the Earned Income and Net Profits Tax (Ordinance No. 2012-13) by increasing the rate levied by the township from 0.50% to 0.75%. The additional revenues would allow the township to maintain a balanced budget. It is expected that the tax increase will raise approximately $50,000 in additional revenue annually over the current rate. The proposal will be considered at a meeting on Monday, Dec. 30, at 7 p.m. at the West Marlborough Township Building, 1300 Doe Run Road, Coatesville.
Source: Daily Local; 12/9/2019

Kennett Township levies new tax to help Kennett Library
The Kennett Township supervisors have opted to levy a temporary tax to help the Kennett Library build a new facility in Kennett Square. The new tax in the preliminary proposed 2020 budget would impose a 0.15-mill increase for six years. Township Manager Eden Ratliff said this would amount to a roughly $36 increase for the average homeowner in the municipality. The new state-of-the-art library will cost $15 million. If the funds can be raised, construction will commence in 2021, with the opening expected sometime in 2022. Plans are now full steam ahead after the Kennett Square Borough Council approved modifications to the library design. All the township supervisors said they were loath to raise taxes, but imposing one intended only for the library’s capital campaign was the best option. The supervisors plan to adopt the proposed budget at a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 30.
Source: Daily Local; 12/92019

New Garden gets grant to improve Toughkenamon
In an effort to advance the newly adopted 2018 Comprehensive Plan, New Garden Township applied for and was awarded a grant through the DVRPC Transportation and Community Development Initiative to fund the engineering component of a streetscape and transportation improvement plan in the village of Toughkenamon. Township officials have formed a committee to guide the streetscape plan, identify ways to improve transportation and mobility in the village, and enhance aesthetics, housing diversity and investment. The committee has worked for 10 months toward the creation of a final plan that will enable a mixed-use business corridor along Newark Road, Baltimore Pike and Main Street that is focused on sidewalks, ADA considerations, safe routes to public transportation, crosswalks, pedestrian amenities, landscaping, a park and overall beautification of the village.
Source: Daily Local; 12/9/2019

Former Kennett Township manager stole $3.2M, DA says
Kennett Township’s former manager, Lisa Moore, was arrested and charged with embezzling $3.25 million in taxpayer funds over a seven-year period. The Chester County District Attorney’s office said Moore used the money to fund a “high life” that included designer clothes, trips to Europe and expensive jewelry. Moore was arraigned before District Judge Albert Iacocca of Kennett Square on multiple counts of theft, forgery and dealing in unlawful proceedings, and released on $500,000 bail, unsecured. Moore joined the township in 1997 as a receptionist and ascended to become the township’s first-ever manager in 2010. She was fired by township supervisors in May after an announcement that township accountants and the district attorney’s office were investigating financial improprieties discovered through suspicious bank transactions. The township is holding a public meeting (PDF)  on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at the Red Clay Room to discuss the matter.
Source: Daily Local; 12/11/2019

Delaware County

DELCORA receives county approval to set up ratepayer trust fund
Delaware County Council approved DELCORA’s motion to set up a Rate Stabilization Trust as a result of its sale to Aqua Pennsylvania. On Sept. 17, the board of DELCORA — the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority — unanimously approved a $276.5 million merger with Aqua Pennsylvania Wasterwater Inc. after a nine-week due diligence period. A large portion of the proceeds of that sale are anticipated to be placed into a Univest trust to stabilize rates for ratepayers for approximately 10 years. Tom Wyatt, one of the attorneys representing DELCORA, said the authority interviewed three trust companies, settling on Univest because of its commitment to protecting the ratepayers’ interest and its understanding that the trust was to take no risk. The sale proceeds will first be used to pay off outstanding debt, officials said, and the remainder will be placed in the trust geared toward treasuries to stabilize customer rate increases. They said that, through the sale, ratepayers are expected to save an average of $1,400 through 2029.
Source: Daily Times; 12/4/2019 and 12/6/2019

County council unveils $358M budget
Delaware County Council approved a $358 million proposed budget for 2020 that does not include a tax increase. The proposed tax rate remains at 5.4 mills, or $540 for a $100,000 home assessment. According to County Executive Director Marianne Grace, 48% of the county’s revenue comes from taxes, anticipated to be $171.8 million in 2020. The reserves stand at $64 million, and a minimum of 10% of general fund revenues is required to be set aside, which would be approximately $26 million. Read the full budget proposal on the county website (PDF).
Source: Daily Times; 12/9/2019

Clifton planners hold hearing on controversial U.D. school plan
The Clifton Heights Planning Commission took a more informal approach in front of a packed house as they entertained Upper Darby School District’s plan to build a new middle school in the borough. The meeting was to solicit information from borough officials and the community for the preliminary land development application to build a 147,000-square-foot school for $65 million at 217 N. Springfield Road. Some of the changes in the latest proposal include prohibition of cars turning left onto Sycamore Avenue from the drop-off lane behind the school, moving the tot lot closer toward Wyncliffe Avenue, and arranging for appropriate delivery of carnival apparatus for community events on the fields. The topic that drew the strongest response from the public was the use of the athletic fields. KCBA Architects Principal Mike Kelly said there are 7.5 acres of staggered, sloping athletic spaces, which will be reconfigured to a leveled 7.5 acres of fields.
Source: Daily Times; 12/11/2019

Glenolden updates U&O code in response to SRA lawsuit
In response to a federal lawsuit filed by the Suburban Realtors Alliance (SRA), Glenolden Borough Council voted Nov. 19 to bring its use and occupancy ordinance into compliance with Act 133 of 2016. “Glenolden is finally doing the right thing, and this is a big victory for sellers and buyers in the borough,” said SRA president Jamie Ridge. “Unfortunately, it took us asking them repeatedly for three years, then filing a federal lawsuit to get to this point.” The lawsuit claims Glenolden violated state law by refusing to issue a use and occupancy permit to a property owner following a resale inspection, requiring that repairs be made within 30 days, and withholding $5,000 in escrow. Despite the new ordinance, the SRA plans to continue pressing the lawsuit and will keep an eye on Glenolden for any future infractions. Read more about the lawsuit on the SRA blog.

Aston taps Devuono as assistant township manager
Aston Commissioners recently appointed Joseph Devuono as assistant township manager. Devuono resigned his positions as township treasurer/tax collector and chairman of the Aston Republican Committee to accept the job. “This board felt the best fit to address the needs of the residents was to hire from within our current personnel rather than bring in someone not familiar with the issues we are dealing with at this time,” James Stigale, president of the board of commissioners, said of Devuono’s appointment. “We felt this was the smoothest transition so to not lose time with the firehouse and public works construction, as well as many other issues.” Commissioners have also begun accepting applications in the search for a new township manager, as the current township manager, Bill McConville, recently announced his desire to step down within the next few months. Georgianna Devuono, who has been serving as assistant tax collector, was appointed to fill her husband’s position as tax collector until the next election, and commissioners appointed Kathleen Lynch as township treasurer.
Source: Daily Times; 12/7/2019

Montgomery County

Upper Merion hikes taxes for first increase in nine years
The Upper Merion Board of Supervisors approved a $46.57 million general operating budget for 2020 that includes the first tax increase in nine years. The millage rate for property owners will rise to 2.79 mills. The increase amounts to about $49 more for a home assessed at the township average of $150,000. The operating budget represents the costs in the day-to-day running of the township and includes the general fund, the library fund and the liquid fuels fund. Township Manager Anthony Hamaday cited staffing needs, township growth and planning for the future as reasons for the budget increase. For more budget information, visit the budget section of the township website.
Source: King of Prussia Courier; 12/6/2019

Conshohocken to add house number requirement to rentals
Conshohocken Borough Council will consider a proposed ordinance that will amend residential rental permits by requiring the installation and maintenance of house numbers to the front and rear of a residential rental property. The proposed ordinance requires separate identification of each unit for structures with separate entrances for multiple units, and requires placement of applicable house numbers on structures blocking visibility of the rear entrance, where applicable. The house numbers required by the ordinance must be installed before a residential rental license may be issued or renewed. The proposed ordinance may be reviewed at Borough Hall, 400 Fayette St., during normal business hours. It will be considered for adoption at a public meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall.
Source: Times Herald; 12/4/2019

Bridgeport posts proposed budget
The Borough of Bridgeport has posted its proposed 2020 budget, with expenditures totaling $5.18 million, for inspection online at www.boroughofbridgeport.com. A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at Borough Hall, 63 W. 4th St., on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m., possibly followed by a vote on adoption.
Source: Times Herald; 12/3/2019

Lower Merion school enrollment expected to continue increasing
A recent study commissioned by the Lower Merion School District (LMSD) and conducted by the Montgomery County Planning Commission predicts school district enrollment will break 9,000 in the next year or so. The study shows LMSD enrollment was at 5,250 students in the late 1980s, and by the mid-2000s enrollment jumped to more than 6,750. For the 2020-2021 school year, LMSD expects 191 additional students to enroll, bringing total enrollment up to 8,991 in September. Enrollment is expected to continue to rise by 161 and 126 in the following years, and then the increase is expected to slow down each year. The continued growth factors cited included the reputation of the district, an increase in the number of families choosing public schools over private schools, an increase in new home construction, more students coming from older apartment units, and a change in existing housing stock as younger families move into homes that had been occupied by families that no longer had kids in the school system.
Source: Main Line Times; 12/3/2019

Philadelphia

City council approves bill to provide low-income residents with wage tax relief
In an effort to curb Philadelphia’s poverty rate — the highest in the nation — city council unanimously passed Councilman Allan Domb’s wage tax relief bill, which would allow low-income individuals to be reimbursed the city’s portion of the wage tax. “This bill will impact the lives of at least 150,000 Philadelphians who have been stuck in poverty,” Domb said. The bill would allow a family of four earning an income of $34,250 to receive about $810 annually. A single adult earning about the same income with three children would receive about $880 annually. The amounts would increase significantly if the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA) portion of the wage tax expires in 2024. Philadelphia implemented the first wage tax in the country in 1939. The current rate of 3.87% is the second-highest among the top 25 largest cities, only slightly behind New York City. The bill was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Jannie Blackwell and Maria Quinones-Sanchez. Several organizations publicly supported the bill, including Community Legal Services, Campaign for Working Families, Benefits Data Trust, the Reinvestment Fund and Ceiba. The wage tax refund will be effective as soon as it is signed by Mayor Jim Kenney.
Source: Councilman Allan Domb; 12/9/2019

41% of Philly area renters live in houses that need repair
Philadelphia has many dwellings that were built at least 50 or 100 years ago. That means both homeowners and renters of limited means may struggle to access safe, healthy and physically adequate housing. The Philadelphia Fed’s latest estimates show there were just 30 affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in the region in 2016. Forty-one percent of renter households reported needing at least one repair, but that figure masks substantive racial and economic disparities in access to adequate-quality housing. Across renters and homeowners, roughly half of black and Hispanic households reported repair needs, compared to about one-third of non-Hispanic white households. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/3/2019

 

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