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General News
Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs

Bucks County
Bucks sheriff sales go online

Chester County
Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program

Delaware County
Brandywine Battlefield property purchased

Montgomery County
Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords


News Briefs Archive December 3, 2018


General News

NAR highlights federal priorities
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) outlined several federal priorities that affect housing during its annual convention:

  • National Flood Insurance Program: NAR continues to advocate for major reforms as well as a long-term extension of the program. The association supports premium rate fairness, more federal assistance for risk reduction, as well as opening a market for private flood insurance. Every time the program lapses, it puts 40,000 home sales at risk. However, the NFIP is not sustainable over the long term. A recent Congressional Budget Office analysis showing that NFIP’s revenue falls $1.5 billion short of expected costs in an average year. That doesn’t take into account years like the past two where there have been multiple devastating floods. NAR supports reasonable reform.
  • Association Health Plans: Association Health Plans continue to be a priority for NAR. The Department of Labor issued a final rule in June expanding access to Association Health Plans. Previously, sole proprietors and contractors, including real estate professionals, were unable to join Association Health Plans. Since then, 12 states, including Pennsylvania, have sued the department, challenging the intent of the rule, such as to circumvent protection put in place by the Affordable Care Act, and in order to protect their existing insurance markets from destabilization. NAR will continue to work with federal and state regulators to protect the interests of self-employed Americans and small employers while preserving the new insurance options provided by the final rule.
  • Tax Reform and Rental Deduction: The 2017 tax reform act offered large corporate tax rate reductions, in addition to lowering taxes for other businesses, according to Evan Liddiard, NAR director of federal tax policy. The reform includes a 20 percent deduction for pass-through businesses and the self-employed, which is available to owners earning taxable income below $157,500 ($315,000 for joint returns). For those with incomes above these amounts, the deduction may be available, but certain personal service businesses (including brokerage services) are excluded from the deduction if the owners’ income is above the limits. “NAR sent a letter to Treasury requesting that real estate brokerages not be included in the prohibition, because architects and engineers were excluded,” Liddiard said. “Real estate brokers and agents also deal in tangible property, so they should be excluded as well.” As a result, the proposed rules, released in August, allow real estate professionals to claim the deduction, no matter their income.
  • Opportunity Zones: Areas declared Opportunity Zones, a federal program created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, offer great potential for tax savings to spur economic development in low-income, distressed areas. These benefits include deferral of federal capital gains tax on amounts reinvested into an OZ (via an “Opportunity Fund”), and potential reduction in the tax ultimately paid on those gains (if held for five years, they receive a step-up in basis of 10 percent; if held for seven, 15 percent). In addition, gains accrued on investments while in an Opportunity Fund and invested into an OZ may be exempted from federal capital gains tax, if the investments are from a proper deferral election (reinvested capital gains that the tax is deferred on) and held for at least 10 years.
  • GSE Reform: An overhaul of the government-sponsored enterprises continues to be reviewed, with multiple comprehensive plans being introduced, but not moving forward at this time. A new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency is expected to take office in January and NAR will continue to work closely with the administration to ensure Realtor® priorities, such as protection of the 30-year fixed rate mortgage and an explicit government guarantee, are central to any reform discussions. The association hopes to testify on this issue later this year before the House Financial Services Committee, where there will be a continued push for necessary changes that promote broad market liquidity.

Read more here.
Source: PARJustListed; 11/14/2018

Homeowners down the shore stand to lose millions from sea level rise
Knowledge of sea level rise has not stopped building in vulnerable areas along the New Jersey and Delaware coasts. Despite greater attention to the risks of sea level rise, housing construction in the most vulnerable areas of the country is growing more quickly than in safer, drier locations, according to a new report by the research organization Climate Central and the real estate website Zillow. New Jersey and Delaware beach towns top the list where expensive houses are going up in areas where scientists know flooding will be common, rather than rare. Homeowners in those communities stand to lose millions of dollars from future sea level rise. Researchers looked at areas of the country with the risk of regular flooding, defined as at least one flood a year, by 2050. Of the 10 towns nationwide with the largest growth rate in housing built since 2009 at risk of regular floods, five are at the Jersey Shore. And the top 10 counties include three along the Jersey coast — Ocean, Cape May and Atlantic counties. Delaware’s Sussex County is also in the top 10. Philadelphia, which sits along the tidal Delaware River, has paid a lot of attention to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change. Still, more than 5,700 newly constructed properties there, together worth more than $100 million, are at risk of regular flooding by 2050. The National Association of Realtors® is advocating for a long-term extension of NFIP along with reforms that would improve flood maps and more closely match premium prices to the property-specific risk, with any resulting rate increases phased in over many years.
Source: State Impact; 11/13/2018

Bucks County

County eyes $15.5 million deficit
Bucks County officials received a brief overview of the 2019 $442 million budget that includes an estimated $15.5 million deficit. Under the proposed plan, spending is up roughly 4.3 percent — about $18 million. Bucks County Chief Operating Officer Brian Hessenthaler said the commissioners could close the spending gap by either raising taxes by 2 mills or drawing money from the $35.6 million general fund reserves. Hessenthaler reported that staff would continue looking for ways to reduce the deficit before the county commissioners are expected to hold a final budget vote on Wednesday, Dec. 19. A 2 mill tax increase would cover the spending gap, but would add about $70 to the average tax bill. A home assessed at the county average of about $32,300 would pay more than $855 in 2019 if a tax increase is approved. Drawing from reserves is an option, however continuing to use reserve funds to cover the deficit could hurt the county’s AAA bond rating, which benefits taxpayers through lower borrowing rates for the county.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/25/2018

Upper Bucks residents work to oppose pipeline
Adelphia Gateway LLC has included a “Quakertown Compressor Station” in a proposal to re-purpose a hybrid oil and natural gas pipeline it purchased last year from Talen Energy Corp. Adelphia’s plans for the station include three compressors that will run around the clock to pressurize the natural gas it makes 50 miles away in Marcus Hook. Plans Adelphia filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) say the station will operate at a maximum noise level of 52 decibels along its boundaries with other properties. Residents near the proposed Quakertown Compressor Station are rallying their neighbors to voice opposition to the project at the Tuesday, Dec. 4, hearing that the state Department of Environmental Protection is holding in West Rockhill Township. Some residents are disappointed that the township has not done more to oppose the compressor. The township says there is little they can do to influence a project that is under federal jurisdiction. Mary C. Eberle, the township’s solicitor, sent a letter to the FERC in July, saying representatives from Adelphia were “very vague” during their initial meetings about the station, which was initially described to township officials as a “small equipment enclosure.” The township planning commission was later surprised by the scale and scope of the project when it was presented to them by Adelphia. Eberle’s letter continued: “The entirety of this process has been replete with a lack of effective communication and disingenuous dialogue on the part of Adelphia’s representatives. The project interferes with the residents’ right to reasonable use and enjoyment of their property.” Click here for West Rockhill meeting information.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/21/2018 

Doylestown preliminary budget includes tax increase
The 2019 Doylestown Borough preliminary budget includes a 2 mill tax increase in the General Fund Tax Rate. If approved with no change, it will be the first tax increase in the borough since 2013. The 2013 tax increase was followed by reductions totaling 1.31 mills in 2014 and 2018. The proposed 2019 rate will be 0.69 mills higher than in 2013. Under the proposed tax increase, the average homeowner will pay $434 in borough real estate taxes, an increase of $57.20 over 2018. The complete Budget Message and full Preliminary Budget can be viewed here.
Source: Doylestown Borough; 11/20/2018

Falls to consider tree protection, other ordinances
Falls Township supervisors will consider several ordinances at a public meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. in the public meeting room of the Falls Township Municipal Building, 188 Lincoln Highway, Fairless Hills. The first ordinance will establish “tree protection standards” to protect and preserve existing trees in the township. The second ordinance will amend Chapter 170, “Peace and Good Order,” to regulate dumpsters and portable storage units. The third ordinance will update the township’s stormwater management regulations to comply with revised state requirements. The full text of the proposed ordinances may be examined at the Falls Township Building on weekdays between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., at the Levittown Library and at the Bucks County Law Library.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/19/2018

Chester County 

Officials to examine ways to make housing more affordable in Chester County
In Chester County, affordable housing is elusive for all but those with annual household incomes of six digits. Local officials will examine the issue in December at a planning meeting. There were 1,675 homes built in Chester County last year, the most in nearly a decade. The median price paid for a house in Chester County was just over $337,000, a 6.5 percent increase from 2016. But only those with means need apply for mortgages. Except for highly paid individuals, the typical Chester County home is simply out of reach. Affordable housing — especially for minimum wage workers and those with only a high school degree — is a serious problem in a county that ranks as one of the wealthiest in the nation. Of the new homes built last year, 39 percent were apartments, 31 percent were attached homes, and 30 percent were single-family detached homes. Even the multi-family and single-family attached units, which comprise most of the new units built in Chester County in recent years, remain too expensive for many potential buyers and renters. A two-hour Citizen Planners’ Breakfast is being facilitated by Chester County 2020 on Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Desmond Hotel, 1 Liberty Blvd, Malvern, beginning at 7 a.m. Sponsors include the Chester County Planning Commission, county businesses and municipalities. The public is invited to attend and discuss finding a solution to the dearth of affordably priced housing in Chester County. Registration for this event can be found on the Chester County 2020 website. The cost to attend is $25.
Source: Daily Local; 11/23/2018 

West Chester council votes to raise income tax
West Chester Borough Council voted unanimously to enact a balanced $52 million operating budget that includes a 25 percent increase in the earned income tax (EIT). Currently, the borough levies a 1 percent EIT, which will increase to 1.25 percent. Half the one-percent fee goes to the West Chester Area School District, and the other half is retained by the borough. The additional 25 percent levy will pay off borough pension liabilities. About a year ago, the Pennsylvania Economy League reviewed the borough’s financials and debts and found that the borough had an outstanding pension liability and no plan to address it. For 2019, the new levy will cut the pension liability by $1.7 million. Eighty-five percent of the debt should be paid off within 11.5 years. Council President Diane LeBold said the impact on wage earners in the borough would be minimal. LeBold said an alternative was to increase property taxes by $1.67 million per year. She said that would boost property taxes by 35 to 37 percent and would hit people like a “sledge hammer.” With the new EIT fee, a wage earner making $100,000 per year will pay $4.81 per week more, LeBold said.
Source: Daily Local; 11/26/2018 

Malvern to amend zoning and land development ordinances
The Borough Council of Malvern will consider enacting an ordinance that will amend the Zoning Ordinance and the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance. The amendment will clarify and coordinate the calculation of building coverage and lot coverage. In summary, the amendment would assure that the calculation of areas for the purposes of determining Building Coverage and Lot Coverage under the Zoning Ordinance would be based on identical criteria for the netting out of certain public and private easements and rights of way. The amendment will be considered for adoption on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Malvern Borough Hall, 1 E. First Ave.
Source: Daily Local; 11/13/2018 

Report: Chesco economy is strong, among best in the nation
Chester County’s 10-year economic development strategy, VISTA 2025, is marking the approach of its halfway point with the release of a progress report on the economic health of the county, which points to a very strong and healthy economy. VISTA 2025 is a unique collaboration between the County of Chester and the Chester County Economic Development Council, and it includes partners from Chester County’s public and private sectors. Launched in 2014, the strategy follows the fundamental premise that progress and preservation are complementary elements necessary to support economic health while maintaining the “sense of place” that makes Chester County so attractive to residents and businesses. VISTA 2025’s goals include development in five main areas: quality of place; workforce and talent; high-priority industry clusters; an innovation culture; and expanded infrastructure. Chester County has one of the largest county-level economies in the United States, ranking in the top five percent with a GDP of $31.4 billion. The full progress report can be accessed on the Vista 2025 website.
Source: Daily Local; 11/25/2018

Delaware County

County Council considering a tax cut
Delaware County Council is mulling giving residents a small tax cut as part of its annual budget preparations. Although the bulk of a property owner’s tax bill is allocated for school district funds, the county bill makes up a portion of that, as do municipal taxes. This year, due to what council calls prudent savings over time, County Council Chairman John McBlain has asked Executive Director Marianne Grace to consider a 2.5 percent tax decrease for homeowners. On a home assessed at $100,000, that would amount to $25. Grace, as required by the Home Rule Charter, already presented the budget in October. The spending plan held the line with no tax increase for the fifth consecutive year and slashed spending by approximately $250,000. Services remain the same. The county has been able to return modest surpluses to the reserve fund over the past few years. The reserve fund now stands at about $54 million. “Since the turn of the century, that’s the largest amount that we’ve accumulated,” McBlain said, adding that, after setting aside a portion for unforeseen expenses, the county still was looking at about $4.3 million in reserve. The county must maintain at least 10 percent of its general fund for its reserve fund. The proposition also has to be considered by the remainder of county council, who will review the $354 million budget at a public presentation on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. at the council meeting room in the Government Center, 201 W. Front St., in Media. The budget will be up for a vote the following Wednesday, Dec. 12.
Source: Daily Times; 11/26/2018 

Settlement reached in Drexeline redevelopment project
A civil appeal that halted a $100 million-plus renovation of the Drexeline Shopping Center in Drexel Hill has resulted in a modification of the developer’s plans. A stipulation — agreed to by appellants Janice Haman and Bonnie Hallam, the Upper Darby Township Zoning Hearing Board, Upper Darby Township and developer MCBH Drexeline Plaza LP — would require the developer to repurpose the 17.5-acre site with no more than 75 percent impervious coverage of the property for the proposed mixed-use development called Drexeline Town Center. The original plan as approved in June by the board had an impervious coverage area of 80 percent which is lower than the existing 91.8 percent. Haman and Hallam, both residents who live near the shopping center, filed suit in July with the Delaware County Common Pleas Court appealing the zoning hearing board’s approval of the project because the plan did not meet the zoning requirement of a maximum 70 percent impervious coverage area. The filing petition with the court said the board “abused its discretion and/or committed errors of law” for bypassing the impervious coverage requirement and allowing variance to the water buffer requirement from 50 to zero feet along the Darby Creek. Impervious coverage areas and buffer zones are noted environmental concerns with development projects as they pertain to stormwater management and flooding. As part of the stipulation, MCBH agreed to install a community garden on the site that will measure 70 by 20 feet. It has also agreed to use pervious materials to construct a walking path along the Darby Creek, use energy-efficient windows in the buildings, and use paints and stains with low-volatile organic compounds. Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie helped coordinate conversation among the parties without court interference since the appeal process started in the summer. “I am pleased that all parties were able to come together, work through these issues, and reach a compromise that allows this project to move forward and make much-needed improvements to the current shopping center,” Micozzie said in a prepared statement. Without the redevelopment the township would lose 250 permanent jobs, and approximately $445,000 in annual township and Upper Darby School District property tax revenues.
Source: Daily Times; 11/20/2018 

Borough of Lansdowne to consider EIT
The Borough of Lansdowne will consider the adoption of an ordinance establishing an earned income tax at the rate of one half of one percent (0.5%). The earned income tax is necessary to diversify the tax base of the borough and allow the borough to lower property taxes for its residents. The borough estimates that approximately $350,000 of revenue will be derived from the earned income tax. The ordinance, if enacted, will go into effect in 2019. The public is invited to attend and provide comment regarding the ordinance when it is considered for adoption on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. at Lansdowne Borough Hall, 12 E. Baltimore Ave.
Source: Daily Times; 11/13/2018 

Radnor commissioner scolds Villanova over stadium light glare
What had been a routine meeting between Villanova University officials and nearby residents turned testy when the issue of stadium lights glaring into people’s windows arose. The lighting at Villanova University’s stadium has drawn the ire of neighbors. Commissioner Sean Farhy said that earlier in the meeting a Villanova official had touted being a good neighbor and encouraging students who live off campus to keep the noise down. Farhy asked about decreasing light pollution, too. Farhy read a 2012 email from Chris Kovolski, Villanova assistant vice president for government relations and external affairs, apologizing to township officials for the light complaints then and saying: “I am aware of what I have said in the past yet our actions have continually failed to demonstrate that commitment. I am embarrassed and furious that the situation has deteriorated to this point. It is unacceptable and you and the neighbors have every right to be upset. I take full responsibility.” In that email, Kovolski said the lights will be on a timer and will shut off at 9:15 p.m., except in the case of “varsity athletic games” that have late starting times. That email also said that the lights will not go on before 7 a.m. Farhy said the commissioners and solicitor are working on a “zero light spill” or “dark sky policy.”
Source: Daily Times; 11/21/2018

Montgomery County

No tax increase in county budget
Montgomery County Commissioners voted to approve advertisement of the proposed 2019 $420 million budget that recommends no real estate tax millage increase. If finalized with no changes, the tax rate will remain at 3.849 mills — with 3.459 for general operations and 0.39 dedicated to Montgomery County Community College funding. A home assessed at the county average of $170,000 will pay about $588 in real estate tax to the county in 2019. The proposed 2019 budget is online here. The commissioners will consider the budget for adoption at their regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13, at 10 a.m.
Source: Times Herald; 11/19/2018 

Franconia proposes property tax increase
The proposed 2019 $5.4 million budget presented to the Franconia Township board of supervisors includes a 2.9 percent tax increase. If approved, the tax rate would increase from 1.924 mills to 1.979 mills. According to Township Manager Jon Hammer, “It would bring in about an additional $41,000 in real estate taxes. For an average homeowner with a $166,000 assessed home, who currently pays $319 a year, this would be an increase of about $9 a year or 75 cents per month.” The final vote on the budget will be Monday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m. Click here for the Franconia Township website.
Source: The Reporter; 11/26/2018

Perkiomen Valley seeks input on full-day kindergarten
Perkiomen Valley School District is seeking input on a new idea involving full-day kindergarten. The district is investigating the idea of full-day kindergarten for all students. Part of the process is to collect feedback from district residents through a short online survey. The survey is open to all members of the Perkiomen Valley community and the district would like to hear from parents but also community members that do not have children in the schools. Residents can stay informed of the progress of the full day kindergarten committee here.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/26/2018

Pottstown Schools survey asks about year-round classes for middle schoolers
Pottstown School District is considering year-round classes for its middle school students as a way to deal with behavior problems at the district’s schools. School board member Raymond Rose made a presentation to the board’s Community Relations Committee about the idea of having the middle school educate students for 45 days, followed by 15 days off. The schedule would be staggered so that all 975 students would only be in the middle school building at the same time for 15 out of 60 days, said Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez. Before spending too much time on the idea, the school district would like to hear from the community through a short survey that asks what kind of impact such a change would have on family life. Click here for the full Pottstown Mercury article.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/25/2018


Changes to controversial anti-squatting law advance in City Council
In an unusual display of public animosity, Philadelphia City Council members Cherelle Parker and David Oh repeatedly clashed about a new law authored by Oh making it easier for landlords to kick out people they believe are squatting in their property. The sparring ended in Parker's favor with amending legislation authored by the councilwoman moving forward. Oh’s contested anti-squatting measure, which went into effect in September, sought to clarify police procedures for dealing with squatters and gave property owners a means to get alleged squatters before a judge within five days of reporting the problem. Council passed it in an unusually tight 11-to-6 vote. Mayor Kenney did not sign Oh’s bill, saying in a letter to the council that it would create “ambiguities” in enforcement and would not fulfill Oh’s intent. But the mayor also did not veto it, allowing it to become law by default. The bills under discussion at a Committee on Public Safety hearing would amend that legislation in response to feedback Parker’s office received from law enforcement and legal aid groups. One piece of legislation would create a new law designed to protect renters against fraudulent leases that trick tenants into becoming squatters by accident. The other would amend Oh’s controversial law. Both bills got the support of the committee and will be heard by the full council. Since Parker introduced her legislation, Oh’s office and landlord groups have been attacking it on social media, saying it endangers property owners’ rights and encouraging constituents to call their councilmembers in opposition. Parker’s legislation seeks to clearly define “criminal and defiant trespassers,” by clarifying that there are categories of occupants who should not be considered squatters even if they don’t have clear legal rights. There are complicated dynamics of rental markets and property ownership, especially in the city’s low-income neighborhoods that Oh’s bill did not cover, including tangled title cases, renters who agree to oral leases, and those who are tricked into renting from people who don’t actually own buildings. Parker’s bill would give those who have become squatters by accident 15 days to move out. That provision was specifically denounced by Oh. The councilwoman’s bill also strips some of the language in Oh’s legislation that critics said caused confusion, including a provision that would require a 90-day jail sentence for anyone convicted of squatting. State law already punishes squatters, critics said, making the mandatory sentence redundant and confusing. Parker’s bill also includes protections for domestic violence victims and other vulnerable categories of tenants who she fears could have had the broad definitions in Oh’s bill used against them. 
Source: PlanPhilly; 11/20/2018

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