Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs
Bucks sheriff sales go online
Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program
Brandywine Battlefield property purchased
Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline
Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords
SRA 2020 Annual Report is available online
This year has offered up unique challenges for the real estate industry. In response, the Suburban Realtors® Alliance refocused our priorities to remain attuned to critical local issues and the needs of our members. Highlights of our advocacy efforts are detailed in our 2020 Annual Report.
NAR urges against rushed actions on Fannie and Freddie
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) and coalition partners — the American Bankers Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Home Builders — sent a letter to the Treasury and Federal Housing Finance Agency, asking them to refrain from any rushed actions to end the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two entities currently finance the majority of single-family mortgages and are critical not just to supporting housing during the pandemic, but also for the future of homeownership. A rushed exit from conservatorship could jeopardize existing and potential reforms, raise costs, limit access, and preclude the GSEs from supporting the market in the next crisis.
Source: Nar.realtor; 12/15/2020
Falls to amend occupancy inspection guidelines
Falls Township supervisors will consider for adoption an ordinance that will amend Chapter 138, “Housing Standards General References,” of the township code of ordinances. The proposed ordinance would: update the inspection guidelines prior to a new owner occupying a residential dwelling; require a township inspection for a nonresidential property when there is a change of use; create a residential rental license permit program requiring all owners of rental properties to apply for and obtain a permit; expand the residential rental inspection program to require a township inspection upon initial application for a rental permit, when there is a new tenant or a maximum of every three years. The draft ordinance will be considered at a virtual meeting on Monday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m. Information for virtual attendance will be on the Falls Township website. Comments and questions can be submitted in advance to email@example.com. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance has requested a copy of the proposed ordinance.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/14/2020
Municipalities suffered losses in $2M fraud scheme
Three former executives of a Bucks County engineering firm are accused of a $2.1 million fraud scheme that victimized several municipalities. The former executives of Boucher & James Inc. were arrested for allegedly repeatedly billing municipal and other clients the cost of fictitious time and for covering up their scheme. Lower Makefield Township, a municipality of about 32,000 in eastern Bucks County, suffered the most significant losses — about $524,000 between 2009 and 2018. According to the criminal complaint, the following Montgomery County municipalities also lost money to the fraud: Springfield Township, $464,083; Souderton Borough, $77,782; Cheltenham Township, $62,572; Montgomery Township, $35,250; North Wales Borough, $10,999; and Jenkintown Borough, $3,673. Boucher & James provides services in land planning, civil engineering, landscape architecture, surveying and building code compliance to more than 30 municipalities in northeastern and southeastern Pennsylvania. The alleged theft and cover-up efforts were discovered by a managing director at the company, who found the overbilling was consistent and subsequently reported the findings to law enforcement. Since then, the company has cooperated fully with the investigation and repaid more than $851,000 in overbilled funds to clients. As part of a settlement with the Office of Attorney General, the company was not charged.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/15/2020 and Inquirer; 12/15/2020
Sellersville holds the line on taxes
Sellersville Borough Council voted to maintain the current tax rate in the 2021 budget. Finalized on Dec. 7, the budget keeps a tax rate of 27 mills. Twenty-four mills will support the $2.7 million general fund portion of the budget, including police, administration, public works and more. The remaining 3 mills are dedicated to support fire services. A Sellersville property assessed at $30,000 can expect a municipal real estate tax bill of $810 for 2021. A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. At the same meeting, borough council voted unanimously to hire Eileen Bradley as the new borough manager, effective Feb. 16. Bradley is replacing borough manager David Rivet, who is retiring.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/10/2020
BCCC offers free 12-week manufacturing training
Bucks County Community College is offering a free, 12-week training program for their metalwork and industrial maintenance programs. The free training is thanks to a grant from Bucks County. These pre-apprenticeship programs provide students the opportunity to learn new skills, which address the county’s growing need for well-trained, entry-level employees in local manufacturing jobs. More information is available on the college website.
Source: Bucks County Community College
Morrisville School District to sell closed school
The Morrisville School Board recently agreed to sell the long-shuttered Manor Park Elementary School to Alpha Career Institute for $600,000. Alpha is a Texas-based company that specializes in offering certified nursing certificates. It plans to use the facility for medical training and tutoring. If the sale goes through, the school district can use the proceeds for paying off debt or for long-term capital projects or equipment.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/2/2020
County adopts budget with tax hike
Chester County Commissioners unanimously approved a 2021 budget that includes a modest property tax increase. The $604.3 million budget — including $513.2 million in operating expenses and $91.1 million in capital costs — raises the tax rate from the current 4.369 mills to 4.551 mills. The commissioners said they will stay on top of the county’s expenses in 2021, and are prepared to take action depending on the budget positions of the state and federal governments. The budget addresses deficits caused by the pandemic as well as requests for additional library and parks funding. The new millage rate is broken down into four categories: the county general fund, the parks fund, the library tax and overall debt service. According to figures provided by Chief Financial Officer Julie Bookheimer at a budget presentation in October, the proposed hike will result in a $734 annual tax for an average property in the county, based on a single-family home with a market value of $357,000.
Source: Daily Local; 12/12/2020
New round of funding for revitalization in Coatesville
Coatesville’s 2nd Century Alliance announced that two private donors — Hickory Bark and Knox Equipment Rental — will each make a six-year contribution commitment of $50,000 per year to boost the city’s downtown revitalization. As part of a five-point, city-wide revitalization strategy, the 2nd Century Alliance places a high priority on the redevelopment of the downtown commercial core. In 2018, the group was approved for a Neighborhood Partnership Program grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The grant is a Pennsylvania tax credit incentive whereby private donors contribute to a not-for-profit agency, in this case the 2nd Century Alliance, in exchange for state corporate tax credits. The funds support a fulltime downtown manager, a façade improvement grant that is already showing results, and a clean/safe/green program. The grant also supports marketing and educational support for downtown businesses.
Source: Daily Local; 12/10/2020
Second round of Main Street Preservation Grants to help small businesses
Chester County Commissioners approved a further $10 million in funding to support small businesses and agricultural enterprises impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Available under the Chester County Main Street Preservation program, grants will be administered by the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC). “Preserving Chester County’s main street businesses is crucial to our economy, and the fact we are able to approve a second round of grants is really substantial,” said Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. Initial eligibility requirements for the Main Street Preservation grants include businesses that have been active and for-profit since 2019 or earlier, with 2019 revenues of $5 million or less. The businesses must operate in Chester County and be open and operational at the time of grant disbursement. The application period closes on Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 5 p.m. Successful applicants will be notified by mid-January. More information can be found on the CCEDC website. The grant funding comes from CARES Act funding received by Chester County government.
Source: Chester County; 12/10/2020
Municipalities get funding to preserve land
The Brandywine Conservancy awarded $40,000 through its Brandywine Creek Greenway Mini-Grant Program to support park, open space and trail projects in seven municipalities:
The Brandywine Creek Greenway program involves 27 municipal partners in Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania, and recently expanded to include New Castle County and the City of Wilmington in Delaware. The vision is to create a 40-mile-long conservation and recreation corridor along both branches of the Brandywine that stretches from the Christina River in the City of Wilmington to the Pennsylvania Highlands in Honey Brook Township. The Brandywine Creek and its network of parks and trails form the western limit of Circuit Trails, a regional trail network of the greater Philadelphia region.
Source: Daily Local; 12/14/2020
Newtown Township passes inspection ordinance with amendments
The Newtown Township Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance 2020-06 amending the property maintenance code by adding Article II, “Property Transfer Certifications.” The update requires sellers of residential property to comply with certain requirements regarding carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, electrical outlets, sprinkler systems (when already present), sidewalks, sump pumps, etc. For nonresidential property, there would be additional requirements regarding exits, fire extinguishers, sewer laterals, etc., prior to the transfer of property. The ordinance also requires that a property owner provide a certification of the property zoning to the buyer. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance urged the board to include language bringing the ordinance into compliance with the state Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act, and the ordinance was amended to include language referencing that law.
Radnor sets revenue-neutral property tax rate
Radnor Township, like most communities, will see total revenue drop at the end of 2020 more than was expected when officials passed the budget one year ago. “We missed our numbers from our original budget for 2020 by about $7 million this year, which is a big chunk of our budget, and I am deeply concerned about how we are going to fund that gap,” said Jack Larkin, president of the township commissioners. With less tax revenue coming into the township, the board will review several line-item expenses, such as the funding the township currently provides to nonprofit organizations. Bill White, township manager, said the township has also made cuts, such as suspending security and technology upgrades at the township building. As part of the budget, the board had to set the property tax millage rate, a calculation complicated by Delaware County’s comprehensive reassessment. Under state law, the millage rate would have to be changed to be a revenue-neutral figure. Once the revenue-neutral tax rate is established, the township could then, under the law, increase the taxes by 10%. The new millage rate will come in at 2.2837.
Source: Daily Times; 12/15/2020
State-appointed receiver questions Chester’s fiscal stability
Chester’s state-appointed receiver, Michael Doweary, said the city’s $53.6 million 2021 budget would be supported by $52.4 million collected in revenue and $1.1 million in cash carried over from 2020. The budget is a 3% reduction from the $55.5 million 2020 budget. The largest expenses were employee salaries at $15.3 million and pension costs at $10.8 million, and the largest sources of revenue were earned income tax revenue at $15.7 million and casino revenue at $12 million, although it’s unknown how Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 restrictions announced last week will impact those numbers. The budget pays the 2021 allotments for the city’s three pension plans — $8.5 million for police, $1.1 million for fire and $1.1 million for officers and employees — but as of Jan. 1, 2021, the city will still owe approximately $36.7 million in past pension payments and fees related to them. Doweary said a 1% distressed pension earned income tax should be levied upon city residents. In the past two years, the tax has been levied upon commuters, and funds had been used for purposes other than the pension. He also wants to roll back the salary increases for the mayor and two council members, noting that prior to 2020 the two impacted council members and the city controller made $35,000 each and the mayor made $41,000. At the beginning of this year, the two council members and the controller had their salaries increased to $60,000, and Mayor Kirkland’s salary increased to $75,000. In a status update filed with Commonwealth Court, Doweary alleged that the Chester Stormwater Authority offered to reduce fees for the Philadelphia Union in exchange for a piece of land. He also said City Hall is top-heavy and elected officials there have not contributed to the city’s fiscal stability.
Source: Daily Times; 12/13/2020
Ridley Park looks to set millage
Ridley Park Borough has passed its 2021 budget, and has advertised an ordinance that authorizes the borough to levy a tax of 5.36 mills. Officials had previously stated at the Nov. 17 meeting that, “There is no tax increase, but you will see a decrease in millage due to the county reassessment.”
Source: Daily Times; 12/10/2020
North Penn assessment appeals may end up in court
The North Penn School Board has started discussions on the 2021-2022 school year budget with two significant property assessment appeals looming. District CFO Steve Skrocki reported that two properties, including one of the biggest taxpayers in the district, could soon be headed to court over their assessed property values. Property assessment appeals — either when the school district feels a property’s assessment is too low, or when the property owner feels it is too high — can usually be resolved with a settlement where the property owner and school board agree on a new value. Skrocki said two such appeals have been assigned to a judge to mediate the cases, and “the judge pretty much demands appraisals be done as part of the negotiation process.” The district initiated an appeal of the property value for the “North Wales Crossing” shopping center at 782 Bethlehem Pike. The assessed value for that property is $3.8 million, and district administrators have proposed a contract with Integra Realty Services to perform an appraisal. The second appeal is for the Montgomery Mall, with the mall owner seeking a lower valuation. The mall has three parcels under appeal that are assessed at roughly $81.6 million — which generates about $2.1 million in real estate taxes for the school district on an annual basis. The district has proposed a contract with Capital Valuation Partners, a firm that specializes in appraisals of malls. Both cases are scheduled for mediation in January.
Source: The Reporter; 12/14/2020
Municipalities suffered losses in $2M fraud scheme
Three former executives of a Bucks County engineering firm are accused of a $2.1 million fraud scheme that victimized several municipalities. The former executives from Boucher & James Inc. were arrested for allegedly repeatedly billing municipal and other clients the cost of fictitious time and for covering up their scheme. Lower Makefield Township, a municipality of about 32,000 in eastern Bucks County, suffered the most significant losses — about $524,000 between 2009 and 2018 — according to the criminal complaint. The following Montgomery County municipalities also lost money to the fraud: Springfield Township, $464,083; Souderton Borough, $77,782; Cheltenham Township, $62,572; Montgomery Township, $35,250; North Wales Borough, $10,999; and Jenkintown Borough, $3,673. Boucher & James provides services in land planning, civil engineering, landscape architecture, surveying and building code compliance to more than 30 municipalities in northeastern and southeastern Pennsylvania. The alleged theft and cover-up efforts were discovered by a managing director at the company, who found the overbilling was consistent and subsequently reported the findings to law enforcement. Since then, the company has cooperated fully with the investigation and repaid more than $851,000 in overbilled funds to clients. As part of a settlement with the Office of Attorney General, the company was not charged.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/15/2020 and Inquirer; 12/15/2020
Norristown forms stormwater advisory committee
Norristown municipal officials unanimously authorized the formation of a stormwater advisory committee. As part of an ongoing effort to comply with state programs, the 10-member advisory committee will be charged with stormwater mitigation efforts in Norristown. According to Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones, stormwater mitigation efforts are substantial and usually not covered in a budget. Creation of a stormwater utility is a proactive measure that allows for the designation of funds and grant opportunities.
Source: Times Herald; 12/11/2020
Taxes steady in Whitemarsh Township
Whitemarsh Township supervisors recently adopted a 2021 budget that holds the line on taxes and fees. The supervisors also welcomed Kevin S. Barron as finance director. Barron has worked in municipal finance for 31 years, most recently in Caln Township.
Source: Whitemarsh Township
City offers some BIRT tax refunds to beleaguered business owners
The City of Philadelphia has set up a process for companies to receive their tax refunds months early. For the first time, businesses can apply now for refunds from the Department of Revenue by amending 2019 tax returns, rather than waiting until April 15 to submit tax returns. Philly has the nation’s highest wage tax and stands alone in how it taxes business income. Of the nation’s 30 biggest cities, 11 impose a tax on either profits or revenue, according to a 2016 Pew report. The city is alone in taxing both. The city’s Business Income and Receipts Tax (BIRT) taxes both profits (6.25%) and sales (1.415% per $1,000), making it one of the most burdensome taxes. Businesses pay this levy even if they suffer losses, because the city taxes every dollar, even before expenses. Under this relief, the city will allow businesses to essentially ask for a refund of prepaid taxes, based on income from the prior year. Money refunds, however, won’t arrive for six to eight weeks, according to the Department of Revenue’s statement. To amend a 2019 BIRT return, contact a tax professional, or use the City of Philadelphia’s eFile/ePay website. For technical questions, businesses and accountants can contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For payment plans and other questions, call 215-686-6600 or email email@example.com.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/7/2020
Tiny-house villages coming to Philly
The City of Philadelphia committed to establishing two tiny-house villages to accommodate unhoused Philadelphians as part of the agreement that closed the homeless encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in October. The city has selected a site in West Philadelphia and is considering another in the Northeast, on which the villages can be built as part of the pilot program. Along with the villages, the city said it also would provide 25 vacant homes in various neighborhoods for people experiencing homelessness. The Philadelphia Housing Authority pledged another 25. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/12/2020