NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Registration is open for PAR’s Public Policy Training

Bucks County
Falls Township offers DocuSign, updates forms

Chester County
Kennett township manager: Fired workers weren’t directly involved in scandal

Delaware County
County begins sending new assessment notices, announces 10-day review window

Montgomery County
Developer discusses 279-unit mixed-use building in Ardmore

Philadelphia County
Philly offers assistance program for first-time homebuyers

 

News Briefs Archive December 23, 2019

 

General News

Happy Holidays from Suburban Realtors® Alliance
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance office will be closed on Dec. 24 and 25, and Jan. 1, in observance of the holidays. The municipal database and other resources will continue to be available online at www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com. The next edition of the weekly news briefs will be sent on Jan. 3, 2020.

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.

NAR supports group of credit scoring and student loan bills
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) sent a letter of support to House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and ranking member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) for a group of bills impacting federal policy in credit policy and student loan debt.

  • R. 2445would promote flexibility within the qualified mortgage rule on verifying sources of income and debt used to estimate borrowers' ability to repay.
  • R. 5332 would increase consumer access to free credit scores, create higher standards for vetting credit information, and institute a reliable method for contesting and correcting inaccurate information.
  • R. 5294would require schools to confirm student loan needs, counsel students on private student loan debt, and inform students of unused federal student aid eligibility. It would also require servicers to provide borrowers with more accurate repayment options, set minimum standards for loan transactions, and establish standards for reporting credit information. Finally, it would give consumers more tools to enforce these credit reporting and loan servicing standards.
  • R. 4545would extend certain federal student loan protections to private student loans, namely requiring discharge of private student loans in the case of permanent disability and exempting any tax liability accrued from discharge.
  • R. 5287would bar debt collectors from collecting on certain federal student loan debt when the borrower would not be required to make payments under an income-driven repayment plan.

Source: National Association of Realtors; 12/9/2019

Bucks County

County passes $452M budget with tax increase
Bucks County Commissioners approved a $452.6 million budget for 2020 that includes a one-mill tax increase over the current rate of 24.45 mills. The increase equals a $36.50 hike for residents paying the average tax bill of about $880 a year, and it will bring in about $8 million in revenue to the county. The county will also draw nearly $7.6 million from its $33.18 million fund balance to fill a nearly $16 million deficit. David P. Boscola, the county’s director of finance and administration, attributed the budget increase to “workforce” expenses, the wages and benefits for the county’s almost 2,400 employees. The county hired 25 new workers from late 2018 through 2019 and their salaries will impact the 2020 budget. Other large expenditures for next year include $93.15 million for housing and human services, up 4.4% since this year, and $58.38 million for health services, up 4.6%. The county is also purchasing new voting machines and scanners to meet a state mandate.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/18/2019

Zoning fight over Bucks farm spurs ‘agritourism’ bill
A zoning dispute between a Hilltown family and township officials inspired state Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144) to introduce an “agritourism” bill. House Bill 2093 would prevent a local government or zoning hearing board from imposing certain restrictions on local farms. “Agriculture is an incredibly important part of Pennsylvania’s economy and culture, but there are many issues facing the industry — both in Bucks County and throughout Pennsylvania,” Polinchock said. He said farmers are being hurt by local restrictions that limit things like pumpkin-carving contests and hayrides. HB 2093 would allow farms to build structures and engage in agritourism and product marketing without local interference. The bill is currently in the state House Local Government Committee.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/4/2019

County commissioners approve $5.2M purchase of new voting machines
Bucks County Commissioners approved a $5.22 million purchase of voting machines and scanners that will provide a paper trail to verify votes cast. The state mandated that counties have machines ready, and voters and poll workers trained in their use, by the primary election on April 28, 2020. Commissioners Chairman Rob Loughery and Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia voted to accept the contract from Boston-based Clear Ballot Group Inc. The price includes the machines, software to run them and related services. Commissioner Charley Martin cast the lone no vote against the contract, stating he favored another manufacturer’s model. The county will order 617 scanners that will read hand-marked and machine-generated ballots and 386 machines for those who are unable to hand-mark their own ballots. There are 306 voting locations in Bucks County.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/4/2019

Bristol Township manager resigns
Bristol Township Manager William McCauley submitted his resignation to council on Dec. 1 but will continue to work for the township as a consultant for the next six months. McCauley began with the township in 2012 and immediately went to work reducing a $750,000 deficit, said Council President Craig Bowen. Bowen said McCauley brought the deficit under control and, since then, lowered taxes twice. Bowen listed examples of Bristol’s progress during McCauley’s tenure, including: 125 miles of roadway resurfaced, the installation of 4,400 LED street lights, $2 million in traffic upgrades, the Wistar Road bridge rebuilt, the beautification of Route 13, the acquisition of land for a park on Cedar Avenue in Croyden, and construction of a $6 million new community park with an amphitheater, spray park and multiple ballfields. “Our township was a financial disaster. He’s leaving our township in great shape,” Bowen said. Deputy Township Manager Randee Elton is serving as interim manager until a replacement manager is hired.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/9/2019

Sellersville to implement a fire protection tax
Sellersville Borough Council recently voted to implement a new three-mill fire protection tax in 2020. As a result, the borough’s real estate tax rate will increase from 24 mills in 2019 to 27 mills in 2020. A mill is equal to $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value, so a property assessed at $30,000 can expect a municipal real estate tax bill of $810 in 2020. The tax increase is expected to raise $116,000 to support fire protection next year.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/12/2019


Chester County 

Crebilly developer Toll Brothers loses in court
Toll Brothers again lost in court concerning development at the 322-acre Crebilly Farm site in Westtown. Commonwealth Court affirmed Common Pleas Judge Mark Tunnell’s ruling against the builder, while stating that Toll had failed to meet the requirements for a conditional use application to build 319 homes. Only one aspect of the case, concerning the Route 926 and New Street intersection, was reversed in favor of Toll from the Common Pleas court’s decision.
Source: Daily Local; 12/13/2019

 Over $40K in grants awarded for local historical projects
Chester County offices and historical societies have received over $40,000 in funding from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). The grant recipients include:

  • East Bradford Township: Awarded $10,000 to prepare design guidelines based on the State Historic Preservation Office’s recommendations
  • Borough of West Chester: Awarded $25,000 to conduct a historical resources inventory and to create a historic resource atlas
  • Chester County Historical Society: Awarded approximately $7,000 for improving the preservation of and accessibility to historically significant records

Source: Daily Local; 12/11/2019

 Looming 14% tax hike falls to 1.5% in Phoenixville Borough
A 2020 tax hike advertised as a whopping 14% increase was reduced to 1.47% after the borough’s total assessed property valuation was updated to be $8 million more than forecast. Phoenixville’s 2019 assessed property valuation was $795 million. Borough Manager E. Jean Krack said lower-than-expected premiums for the borough’s health, liability, and worker compensation insurance also contributed to budget savings. The general fund budget of $13.7 million will require a property tax rate of 6.23 mills, up from 6.14 mills this year. Both the budget and the millage rate were adopted unanimously by the council. Sewer bills will increase 16% in the 2020 budget, from $5.60 to $6.50 per 1,000 gallons, largely due to the $4 million transformation of the wastewater treatment plant.
Source: Daily Local; 12/13/2019

East Whiteland gives update on King and Sproul intersection
The consensus of the East Whiteland Board of Supervisors is that no changes will be made to the King and Sproul roads intersection based on recently released traffic counts and the minimal impact that recommended solutions would have to improve traffic conditions at the intersection. The township had been considering multiple options, including a roundabout, to improve the intersection.
Source: East Whiteland Township; 12/13/2019

Delaware County

Preliminary budget shows tax hike looming in Eddystone
Eddystone Borough’s preliminary presentation of the 2020 budget at its regular December meeting showed a possible two-mill increase to meet estimated general fund expenditures of $4.29 million. The current millage rate is 9.1 mills. A two-mill increase would mean an additional $110 to $115 for the average household to fund the proposed budget. The sewer fee presented was $345 per unit. The borough does not have a separate trash collection fee. Final adoption of the budget will take place on Monday, Dec. 30, at 6 p.m.
Source: Daily Times; 12/12/2019

 Chester moves forward with budget plan, real estate tax hike
Chester City Council passed a series of tax ordinances related to the preliminary 2020 budget — including a hike in the real estate tax. With the city’s tax rates in place, the council prepared to vote on the budget on Wednesday, Dec. 18. The preliminary 2020 General Fund Budget, passed at council’s Nov. 27 meeting, is set for $55.7 million, up 2.3% from 2019. If passed as is, it will mark the city’s fourth consecutive balanced budget. Real estate taxes are set for a 10% increase to 32.7712 mills, up from 29.792 mills, with the library tax staying flat at 1.5 mills. It is the city’s first real estate tax hike in nearly a quarter-century. “It was what we needed to do in an effort to comply with our Act 47 recovery plan so that we can exit in a timely faction,” said the city’s chief financial officer, Nafis Nichols. The city is currently in an exit plan to emerge from financially distressed status under Act 47 by 2021 or face potential state receivership. The 2020 budget will mark the last time the city uses its assessment ratio of 25% of fair market value. Council passed an ordinance last month bringing the city’s ratio in line with the county starting Jan. 1, 2021. Chester is the only municipality in the county using its own assessment ratio. Delaware County’s Common Level Ratio, set by the state Department of Revenue, is set for 56.4% in 2020.
Source: Daily Times; 12/13/2019

 William Penn schools get $1M boost in state funding
Approximately $1 million in state education grant money is heading to William Penn School District classrooms. State Sens. Tim Kearney (D-26), of Swarthmore, and Anthony Williams (D-9), of Philadelphia, secured a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Job Training and Education Program fund. The money will be used to purchase 240 Chromebooks for students in grades 7-12, 60 interactive televisions for classrooms in grades 7-12, and an English Language Arts Curriculum Technology Package for students in grades K-6. State Reps. Joanna McClinton (D-191), Maria Donatucci (D-185), of Philadelphia, and Mike Zabel (D-163), of Upper Darby, collaborated to get $500,000 more in block grant funds. The district is currently the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state, alleging that the state is not upholding its constitutional duty to adequately and equitably fund public education. That case is expecting to go to trial next summer in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
Source: Daily Times; 12/13/2019

 Concord OKs budget, buys land
Concord Township Council passed its budget and announced an agreement of sale for another three acres of land for open space. The acreage is located off of Bethel Road, across from Valleypoint Church. It adjoins the Garnet Valley Greenway, a proposed trail in the PECO right-of-way, which would connect the township park on Smithbridge Road with Clayton Park. Concord has now protected more than 300 acres of land for open space. The $4.39 million budget is balanced and calls for no tax increases. Millage rates total 0.981 mills. Of that amount, 0.117 mills are for the Rachel Kohl Library, 0.166 are for fire hydrants, 0.265 are for open space and 0.466 are for the general fund, which includes fire protection.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 12/4/2019

Montgomery County

Montco commissioners adopt budget with no tax increase
In a 2-1 vote, Montgomery County Commissioners adopted a $428.4 million budget with no tax increase for 2020. Commissioners Val Arkoosh and Ken Lawrence voted in favor of the budget, with Commissioner Joe Gale opposing it. The chief financial officer for the county, Dean Dortone, presented the budget and explained that there is a planned $8.9 million deficit in the budget that will be covered using money from the general fund reserve. Despite dipping into its savings, the county will maintain $79.8 million, or 19% of the overall budget, in the reserve fund, which provides a safeguard against revenue shortfalls or unanticipated expenditures. Dortone and RJ Griffin, a capital projects manager with the finance department, unveiled updates to the county’s online budget transparency tool that gives residents a detailed look at different aspects of the budget. The 2020 Montgomery County operating and capital budgets and the transparency tool are available on the county’s finance page at www.montcopa.org/93/Finance.
Source: Main Line Times; 12/13/2019

 Pottstown passes budget with tax increase
Pottstown Borough Council adopted a $45.6 million budget for 2020 that includes a roughly 3.83% tax increase. The total millage for 2020 is 13.161 mills, a 0.486-mill increase over last year and much less than the borough’s last two budgets, which brought 11% and 9% tax hikes, respectively. The budget projects revenues and expenditures both to be $45.6 million, a decrease of about $3.3 million from the 2019 budget total. Borough officials say the decrease is largely driven by a reduction in assessments. Borough finance director Janice Lee reported that the total assessed property value of Pottstown was $764 million at the start of 2019, but now stands at $761 million. Borough Manager Justin Keller said that the borough is “cautiously optimistic that these [assessment] challenges are starting to level off.”
Source: WFMZ; 12/10/2019 & Pottstown Mercury; 12/6/2019

 Taxes steady in North Wales
North Wales Borough Council unanimously approved a $3.9 million budget for 2020 that does not increase taxes. The tax rate will remain at 5.001 mills. Borough Manager Christine Hart has warned that a small increase could be requested in 2021 to keep up with growing personnel costs and relatively flat revenue.
Source: The Reporter; 12/13/2019

 Upper Moreland School District announces board vacancy
Upper Moreland Township School District has announced a school board vacancy following the resignation of Brian Davis. The board is seeking resumes from qualified residents who wish to serve a two-year term that would end the first Monday of December 2021. Cover letters and resumes should be submitted to Matthew M. Lentz, board secretary, at the Upper Moreland Township School District Administration Building, 2900 Terwood Road, Willow Grove, PA, 19090, by Jan. 3, 2020, at noon. No electronic submissions will be accepted. For more information, visit the district website.
Source: The Intelligencer; 12/9/2019

Philadelphia

City council makes it harder to demolish buildings in six historic Philly neighborhoods
City council passed a bill introduced by Councilmember Mark Squilla that will regulate the razing of buildings in conservation districts. The legislation would prevent the Department of Licenses and Inspections from granting demolition permits unless they are accompanied by building permits. That means a property owner can’t just knock down an old house, clearing the land for theoretical future development, unless they have a proposal for what they’ll actually do with the lot. In the past, neighborhoods that received the designation of a “conservation district” only had restrictions as to the material and scale of new construction, not demolition. There are currently six conservation districts in the city, covering neighborhoods like East Falls, Wissahickon, Queen Village, and Overbrook Farms.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/10/2019

Kenney signs law requiring green tune-ups for Philly’s biggest buildings
Philadelphia buildings spew more pollution than cars in the city, producing 74% of local emissions. A new law aims to change that with new efficiency requirements for office towers, industrial buildings and other large, commercial buildings. The new regulation will require all nonresidential buildings over 50,000 square feet to either get tune-ups that bring their energy and water systems to their highest efficiency, or submit a certification of high-energy performance to the city. The mandate will cut carbon pollution by nearly 200,000 metric tons — the equivalent of taking 40,000 automobiles off city roads, according to the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability. “The science is clear, it’s unmistakable. We need to act faster and with more urgency to respond to the global climate emergency and avoid catastrophic climate change,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “With the help of City Council, we are implementing the important and necessary steps to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Accords, as the federal government continues to stand on the sidelines.” A pilot tune-up on the Juvenile Justice Center in West Philadelphia cost $12,000 and saved $24,000 in energy use over less than a year. Alex Dews, director of Green Building United, said building owners will save up to three times what they spend in the assessment. The cost of the assessment varies between 5 to 8 cents per square foot, depending on the type and size of the building, according to the trade group. Philadelphia’s buildings are greener today than six years ago, according to the city’s report. Buildings that meet the criteria for energy-efficiency labels, such as LEED and ENERGY STAR, have increased by 53%, but there’s still plenty of room to improve. The three building sectors with the largest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions are college-university buildings, offices and multifamily buildings, according to the report.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/10/2019

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