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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 December 25, 2017

 

General News

Tax Reform Heads to the President
Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed tax reform legislation, paving the way for the bill to go to President Donald Trump for his signature. NAR worked with members of the House-Senate conference committee to help educate them on how to improve the final bill. After the vote, President Elizabeth Mendenhall issued the following statement: "The results are mixed. We saved the exclusion for capital gains on the sale of a home and protected the mortgage interest deduction for second homes. Many agents and brokers who earn income from personal services will also see some significant new benefits in their business.” Although the final tax reform bill is far from perfect, it is better for homeowners than previous versions, according to NAR. REALTORS® generated over 300,000 emails and telephone calls to members of Congress over two Calls for Action and held in-person meetings with legislators, all of which helped shape the final product. Here is a breakdown of provisions which will have a direct impact on real estate:

-Capital gains exclusion. In a significant win for current and prospective homeowners, current law is left in place on the capital gains exclusion of $250,000 for an individual and $500,000 for married couples on the sale of a home. Both the House and the Senate had sought to make it much harder to qualify for the exclusion.

-Mortgage interest deduction. The maximum mortgage amount for households deducting their mortgage interest has been decreased to $750,000 from the current $1 million limit. The House bill sought a reduction to $500,000.

-State and local tax deductions. Both property taxes and state and local income taxes remain deductible, although with a combined limit of $10,000. Both the House and Senate bills sought to eliminate the state and local income tax deduction altogether.

-Pass-through entities. The bill significantly reduces the effective rate of tax on business income earned by independent contractors and income received from pass-through entities. This change will lower the taxes of many real estate professionals.

Enactment of the bill does not end NAR’s effort to reduce the negative impact on homeowners. “REALTORS®’ work on tax issues will continue," says Mendenhall.
Source: Nar.realtor; 12/20/2017

Incorrect assessments help some, hurt many
Inaccurate property assessments leave many property owners either paying more or less than their fair share of property taxes. Incorrect assessments are common throughout Pennsylvania because years or decades pass between countywide reassessments. Delaware County was recently ordered by a judge to revalue all of its properties because they are so over- or underassessed. An analysis by the Inquirer and Daily News of sales and property records and state data shows that more than 210,000 homeowners in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties could be overpaying their taxes, thereby helping to subsidize the tax bills of an equal number that are underpaying. Pennsylvania does not require its counties to perform regular reassessments, although the International Association of Assessing Officers recommends they be done annually. Close to two decades have passed since appraisals were completed in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, and Bucks County’s last assessment was in 1972. A legislative task force formed a year ago to address the fairness of Pennsylvania’s property assessment system. According to task force member state Rep. Kate Harper (R-61), a “self-assessment tool” is being developed with objective criteria that county assessors and taxpayers can use to compare counties and figure out whether reassessment is needed. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/17/2017

Happy Holidays from the Alliance
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance office will be closed on Monday, Dec. 25, Tuesday, Dec. 26, and Monday, Jan. 1, in observance of the holidays. The office will be open on Friday, Dec. 22, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Friday, Dec. 29, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members requiring information about municipal real estate regulations or Alliance policy statements should consult the website. Furthermore, the next edition of the weekly News Briefs will be sent on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018.

Bucks County

Warminster tables proposed rental property inspection and licensing ordinance
After receiving input from the Suburban Realtors® Alliance, Warminster Township has agreed to table a proposed ordinance that would impose harsh new requirements governing residential rental licenses, including issuance and inspection guidelines. The ordinance had previously been scheduled for a hearing and adoption vote at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 21. The SRA will continue to closely monitor any ordinance that impacts residential resales and rental properties in Warminster and all other municipalities in our region.

No tax increases for about half of county municipalities
At least 28 Bucks County municipalities have passed or plan to pass a 2018 budget that does not increase the municipality’s property tax rate. It will mark at least the fifth consecutive year without a municipal tax hike for about 40 percent of those towns. However, many of the municipalities are relying on using surplus money from their fund balance to maintain the current tax rate, a practice that is not sustainable according to municipal administrators. When reserves start shrinking, officials often look at raising taxes or selling off assets. Bucks municipalities reporting no tax increase to date for 2018 include: Richland, Warminster, Bensalem, Bedminster, Bridgeton, Bristol Township, Falls, Haycock, Lower Southampton, Middletown, Quakertown, Tinicum and Warwick. Municipal property taxes typically make up the smallest portion of a total property tax bill. School taxes usually make up the largest portion with county taxes somewhere in the middle. Bucks County’s tax rate is expected to remain at 23.2 mills for 2018.
Source: The Intelligencer; 12/18/2017

State Rep. Scott Petri to step down
Pennsylvania state Rep. Scott Petri (R-178) will resign at the end of the year to begin a new role as executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). Petri has represented the 178th district, which includes New Hope, Solebury, Upper Makefield, Wrightstown and Northampton, for 15 years. Petri’s hiring by the PPA comes weeks after Pennsylvania State Auditor Eugene DePasquale released a scathing report that characterized the PPA board of directors as an “absentee landlord” that allowed former Executive Director Vincent J. Fenerty Jr. to take advantage of his position for personal profit. Petri said there is a lot of work to be done to clean up the inner workings of the PPA and restore its reputation. A special election will be held to fill Petri’s seat, with the date selected by the speaker of the house. It will need to be completed before the May 15, 2018, official primary.
Source: The Intelligencer; 12/19/2017

Quakertown votes to close Tohickon Valley Elementary
The Quakertown School Board narrowly voted 5-4 to close Tohickon Valley Elementary school and disperse the students to four other district elementary schools. Two new board members tried to table the vote on the closure and possibly consider renovations to Tohickon Valley. According to Board President Steaven Klein and member Ronald Jackson, closing the school was part of a two-year plan to cut the district’s $4.7 million deficit. Renovating Tohickon Valley would mean maintaining and filling vacant positions when the district is trying to eliminate costs, said Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards. The closure will save $1.7 million annually in staff, operating and transport expenses.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/18/2017

Milford Township maintains same tax rate for 40 years
Milford Township supervisors recently adopted a $5.5 million budget that holds the line on taxes. The local income tax rate will remain at 1.75 percent — with 1 percent to fund Quakertown Community School District; .50 percent to the township’s general fund and .25 percent toward open space preservation. The real estate tax rate will remain at 2 mills. According to Supervisor Tom Courduff, the tax rate in Milford has been the same for the past 40 years.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/18/2017

Chester County 

County commissioners approve budget plan with potential salary hikes
The Chester County commissioners have adopted the 2018 general budget, which contains $526.1 million in expenses and revenues. The budget maintains the county’s current real estate tax rate of 4.369 mills. A mill is worth $36.7 million to the county, or $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The millage package is broken down into four separate categories: 2.876 mills for general fund expenditures; 1.222 mills for debt service; 0.184 mills for library expenditures; and 0.087 mills for parks. In presenting the budget last month, Chief Operating Officer Mark Rupsis stressed, as county officials have in the past, that not only is the property tax rate in the county among the lowest in the region, but that its financial stability remains strong. The county has maintained a top rating from each of the three most prominent bond rating services in the country and will continue to do so, he said. The commissioners also approved a plan that may see more money going into the pockets of its non-union employees. Acting as the county Salary Board, the three commissioners voted to increase the range of salaries by 2 percent beginning next year. Salary increases could come early next year, however, if the commissioners decide to make them part of the employees’ annual performance review, Rupsis said.
Source: Daily Local; 12/14/2017

Chandler Mill Preserve opens to the public
The Chandler Mill Nature Preserve and Interpretive Nature Center is now open to the public, The Land Conservancy (TLC) for Southern Chester County has announced. Residents can now hike along the perimeter trails or relax next to the historic Chandler Mill Bridge. The unique oasis is located within Kennett Township’s largest contiguous corridor of permanently protected lands. “This is an example of a successful public-private partnership that will result in a community asset for generations to come,” said Gwen Lacy, executive director for TLC. In 2015, Kennett Township officially took ownership of the historic Chandler Mill Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, to avoid it being demolished and replaced by a road-widening project. This closed the bridge to vehicular traffic and earmarked it for use as a pedestrian trail and ambulance access bridge. Since that time, TLC has raised over $1.7 million in grants, outright donations and in-kind materials to purchase the former Walnut Hill Bed & Breakfast for its headquarters and to create the Chandler Mill Interpretive Nature Center and Preserve at the base of the bridge.
Source: Daily Local; 12/15/2017

No tax hike in West Goshen for 8th straight year
For the eighth year in a row, West Goshen Supervisors adopted a township budget with no property tax rate increase. With a property tax rate of 2 mills, the general budget contains revenues of $16 million and a surplus of $179,000. Sewer fees of $65 per quarter and trash fees of $85 per quarter will stay the same. The earned income tax will remain at 1 percent, with half of that levy added to township coffers and the other half destined for the West Chester Area School District. Supervisor Ray Halverson also noted that the township’s general fund reserves, in case of an emergency or rainy day, total more than $10 million. As part of the budget packet, Township Manager Casey LaLonde wrote that the township was able to preserve the millage rate due to “prioritized spending and modified major capital plans.” Lalonde also said the township will have a $1 million surplus for 2017, based on real estate transfer taxes and a building permit applied for by the Chester County Hospital.
Source: Daily Local; 12/17/2017

Bryn Coed Farms effort nears deadline
A deadline is approaching to raise funds to create a publicly accessible nature preserve at the Bryn Coed Farms property in Chester Springs. The Natural Lands organization, which signed an ownership agreement in June for the 1,505-acre property in the heart of northern Chester County, is committed to raising $5 million by Dec. 31 to complete the purchase and establish a 500-acre preserve within its boundaries in West Vincent, East Pikeland and West Pikeland. The organization’s leader said this week that it is still short of its goal by about $250,000. “More than 600 households have shown their support for this project by making a gift to the campaign for Bryn Coed Farms, and some have made a second gift — all of which have brought us within striking distance of our $5 million goal,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands. In June, Natural Lands announced an agreement of sale for the property, once owned by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts and most recently to heirs of the Ludens Cough Drop fortune. At the time, the organization said that a 500-acre preserve there would be open to the public, featuring hiking, equestrian and recreational trails. Although the campaign fell short of the goal of raising $5 million from individual donors, officials said it would continue through the year to raise the final amount. For more information about Bryn Coed Farms, visit the website.
Source: Daily Local; 12/17/2017

Chester County Urban Centers forum focused on parking
Representatives from Chester County’s 15 boroughs and the City of Coatesville attended the recent Urban Centers Forum, which focused on ways to address parking challenges, opportunities and strategies. The “Parking Lessons Learned” forum is a component of Chester County’s economic development strategy, known as VISTA 2025. Municipal officials, staff members, main street managers and consultants for the county’s 16 urban centers attended the forum, including representatives from the City of Coatesville and the following boroughs: Atglen, Avondale, Downingtown, Elverson, Honey Brook, Kennett Square, Malvern, Modena, Oxford, Parkesburg, Phoenixville, South Coatesville, Spring City, West Chester and West Grove. Officials from townships that have train stations were also invited, since the forum focused on parking issues. The Chester County Department of Community Development, the Chester County Planning Commission, and the Chester County Economic Development Council have hosted these workshops as part of an ongoing effort to support the 16 urban centers in promoting revitalization and assist with future growth and development initiatives.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission; 12/19/2017

Delaware County

Residents get Route 322 expansion update
Construction is underway to widen Route 322 to four lanes to alleviate the hassles that drivers have experienced for decades. The highway, opened in 1954, remains one of the main thoroughfares through Delaware County, connecting Route 1 to I-95, ferrying commuters who travel from Chester County and west to the airport, Philadelphia and shore locations. Thanks to funding from the Act 89 Transportation Plan, the Commonwealth is investing more than $1.6 billion in infrastructure upgrades over the next 10 years. The Conchester Improvement Project will invest more than $315 million over the next five years. The first phase, Section 101, which stretches from Baltimore Pike to Clayton Park Drive, is currently underway with an expected end date of late 2020. The project will construct two lanes heading east and west separated by a curbed grass median. At the Baltimore Pike intersection, turn lanes and upgraded signals will be added, as will upgrades to Evergreen Drive, Spring Valley Drive, Fellowship Drive, Station Road, Cambridge Drive, Merion Drive and at the intersection of Mattson Road and Featherbed Lane.
Source: Daily Times; 12/17/2017

Meehan calls for pipeline risk assessment study
U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-7) of Chadds Ford, is asking Gov. Tom Wolf to conduct and publicize a risk assessment of the Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline currently under construction in parts of the county. “Constructed safely, pipelines have the potential to generate good-paying jobs and benefit the energy economy in Pennsylvania,” Meehan said in a Dec. 12 letter to the governor. “However, over the past several months I have taken numerous meetings with constituents alarmed about the potential safety implications of the construction and operation of the ME2 pipeline.” The pipeline would bring natural gas liquids, including propane, ethane and butane, from Marcellus shale areas in Pennsylvania and neighboring states to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex for refining and sale. About 11.4 miles of pipeline is being routed through private and public property in Thornbury, Edgmont, Middletown, Aston and Upper Chichester. Residents in those municipalities have decried the route of the pipeline, however, which in some cases skirts school properties and divides residential areas. One group, which has adopted the moniker “The Middletown Six,” has taken a complaint to enforce zoning regulations before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which heard arguments in October. Meehan said it was “reports of undisclosed leaks of drilling fluid and unauthorized methods of drilling” that prompted fears from his constituents and motivated his letter to the governor.
Source: Daily Times; 12/19/2017

Haverford signs off on budget, tax hike
Haverford Commissioners have adopted a $43.3 million final budget for 2018, with minor changes from the preliminary draft adopted on Nov. 20. The final budget retains a 2.4 percent increase in real estate taxes, changing rates from 7.993 to 8.185 mills. The change is equivalent to an additional $33 for the average property assessment of $175,000, with total annual taxes going from $1,399 to $1,432. It’s the second straight year taxes are going up in the township; last year’s tax increase was 2.67 percent. Annual trash collection and sewer fees will remain at current rates, $197 per year and $4.70 per 1,000 gallons of water used, respectively. Commissioner Larry Holmes said the final budget reflects a $106,000 change in revenues and expenditures. Of those funds, $100,000 is committed to improvements at Nitre Hall and other township-owned historic properties.
Source: Daily Times; 12/18/2017

Chadds Ford OKs loop road, opts out of allowing mini casinos
After 27 months of bureaucratic back and forth, Chadds Ford Township supervisors gave final approval for the Hillman Drive extension. Once built, the full loop road around the intersection of Routes 1 and 202 will be complete. The construction will take up to nine months once started, according to Chuck Olivo, the engineer who developed the plans for The Henderson Group, owner of the Chadds Ford Business Campus, through which Hillman Drive runs. Henderson is paying for the project, so no tax money is involved. Henderson first presented the plans on Sept. 18, 2015, and there was pushback from the start. The most vocal opposition came from residents of The Estates at Chadds Ford. Their lone access point is Evergreen Place, which intersects with Hillman Drive. There was also opposition from some residents of Painters Crossing Condominiums. There are still some details to be worked out, but the project can now move forward, with the work being done in phases. See a map of the extension here. In other business, the Chadds Ford supervisors voted to opt out of allowing mini casinos in Chadds Ford. Pennsbury, Birmingham and Concord had already done the same. A new state law allows for large casinos to set up smaller, satellite casinos, but municipalities have the option of prohibiting them through a resolution.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 12/7/2017

Montgomery County

County commissioners approve $403 million budget
Montgomery County commissioners unanimously approved the 2018 budget with no tax increase. The budget was presented by county Chief Financial Officer Dean Dortone and includes $403.2 million in expenditures, and approximately $407 million in projected revenues. Real estate taxes account for almost half of the budget’s operating revenue. Thirty-five percent comes from federal and state grants, 13.7 percent is from departmental earnings and slightly less than 1 percent comes from other sources. Visit the county website for more information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/19/2017

Pottstown settles on 12 percent tax increase
Pottstown Borough Council voted 4-3 to adopt a $54.4 million budget for 2018 that includes a 12 percent tax increase. According to Finance Director Janice Lee, a property assessed at $85,000 will see an annual tax increase of $105.42. The tax increase is lower than the 18.6 percent hike floated at previous meetings. Prior to adoption, several proposals with different tax rates were discussed, including passing an 18.6 percent increase, a proposal for an 8 percent increase, and one unveiled by borough Manager Mark Flanders that cut the tax increase to 12.99 percent by not filling vacant positions. Councilman Joe Kirkland expressed frustration that cost-cutting ideas he had suggested were not fully explored and made a motion to push the tax increase down to 12 percent. The motion attracted three other votes, and the budget passed. Council President Dan Weand and Councilman Kirkland also emphasized that council will take advantage of 2017 being an election year, which allows the next council to re-open the 2018 budget and make changes. Borough code gives the new council until Feb. 15 to make changes to the budget, said Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/19/2017

Taxes steady in Towamencin
Towamencin Township supervisors adopted the 2018 budget on Dec. 13. The budget does not increase township property taxes and retains the homestead/farmstead exception at $45,000. There will also be no increase in sewer rental fees. Visit the township website for the adopted 2018 budget.
Source: Towamencin Township e-news; 12/15/2017

Borough council vacancy in Jenkintown
Jenkintown Borough Council is seeking to fill a vacancy. The term will expire on Jan. 1, 2019. Interested persons must be registered electors living in the Third Ward of Jenkintown Borough for at least one year. Letters of interest and resumes should be submitted before Wednesday, Dec. 27, at 4 p.m. to George Locke, Borough Manager, Jenkintown Borough, 700 Summit Ave., Jenkintown, PA, 19046, or via email to glocke@jenkintownboro.com.
Source: The Intelligencer; 12/18/2017

Philadelphia

Philadelphia police take action against squatters
Philadelphia police have taken action against two illegal trespassers allegedly occupying homes across the city. There have been reports on squatters taking over countless Philadelphia homes. Lieutenant Dennis Rosenbaum said police are now working on changing their policies so they can remove anyone illegally occupying a home. They said they hope this case will serve as a warning to other would-be squatters.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/14/2017

Council votes to bar new gaming sites
Philadelphia City Council voted unanimously to bar video gambling terminals, as well as a satellite or a mini-casino, in the city. A recent expansion of casino gambling in Pennsylvania would allow up to five gaming terminals in truck stops, and 10 new satellite or mini-casinos across the state to help balance the state’s budget deficit. Philadelphia has one operating casino, SugarHouse, on Delaware Avenue, and a second casino license has been granted for “Live! Casino & Hotel” in South Philadelphia. The city and Philadelphia School District each receive $4 million per year in gaming revenue, plus additional money to help reduce the city’s wage tax, and more revenue is anticipated when the second casino opens for business.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/15/2017


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