NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

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 February 15, 2021

 

General News

PAR Campaign School registration is open
Realtors® who are considering a run for local elected office or helping to run a campaign can learn the key elements to winning an election during the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors’ five-session campaign school starting Friday, Feb. 19, at 10 a.m. The campaign school will be split into five 90-minute sessions with courses covering fundraising, grassroots, communications, digital strategy and more. The first session will guide members through the decision-making process of whether or not to run for office and a step-by-step process to get onto the ballot. Give Realtors a voice at the local level by running for office in 2021. The registration deadline for the first session is Tuesday, Feb. 16. Register here.

HUD to probe housing bias cases involving sexual orientation, gender identity
The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday it will begin enforcing the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The agency will invoke the sweeping 1968 housing law to penalize those who refuse to rent, sell or advertise housing to someone because they are an LGBTQ individual, or interfere with their housing rights because of their identity. The move follows an executive order signed by President Biden on his first day in office instructing agencies to enforce prohibitions on such discrimination. "People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination," the order said. Studies have shown that transgender individuals and same-sex couples are more likely to be discriminated against when seeking rental housing. But fair housing laws have not been interpreted to cover such cases in the past. The Fair Housing Act bans housing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, ethnicity, familial status and disability, but was not previously considered by HUD to cover sexual orientation and gender.
Source: NPR; 2/11/2021 & The Hill; 2/11/2021

State approves plan to distribute $570M in rental assistance
State legislation creating the framework for distribution of $570 million in rental assistance funding was signed into law Friday, Feb. 5. The additional funding for Pennsylvania property owners and renters was provided in the second federal stimulus bill approved by Congress in late December. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) strongly supports the additional rental and utility assistance and had been advocating for passage of the framework to distribute the funding. Senate Bill 109 unanimously passed both the Pennsylvania Senate and House, and the governor signed the legislation into law as Act 1 of 2021. The approved legislation establishes the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services as the administering agency that will be responsible for distributing funds to Pennsylvania counties. Those counties and cities with a minimum population of 200,000 will also receive funding directly from the U.S. Treasury — 18 counties and cities in total. Pennsylvania counties will distribute the funding following the program rules established in the federal legislation. PAR will continue to provide additional information to members as program details are finalized. Read more here.
Source: PAR JustListed; 2/5/2021

Regulators say some mortgage companies mislead about forbearance
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reported that some unnamed servicers misinterpreted the lenient guidelines in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act promised that borrowers who entered forbearance would pay no penalties. However, David Uejio, acting director of CFPB, wrote in a statement posted on the CFPB site that some servicers charged and collected late fees for borrowers in forbearance. In other cases, servicers simply didn’t process borrowers’ requests for forbearance. Click here for the full article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/8/2021

Bucks County

Recorder of Deeds will reject documents with illegible handwriting
The Bucks County Recorder of Deeds office is asking everyone who submits documents to be sure the handwriting is legible. Illegible handwriting occurs most often with the grantee’s address. A legible address is important to homeowners, the county board of assessments and tax collectors. If paper documents and eRecording submissions do not have legible handwriting, they may be rejected and returned to the submitter for correction. Rejected items could be subject to a $10 rejection fee per document and delays in recording. Click here to view the Bucks County Recorder of Deeds document standards and visit the recorder’s website for more information.
Source: Bucks County Recorder of Deeds office; 2/2021

Newtown Borough will discuss move to single trash hauler
Newtown Borough Council has scheduled a special meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25, to hear residents’ input about moving to a single trash hauler. The meeting will be held via Zoom, and login information will be posted on the borough website. The idea was brought forth by the borough’s environmental advisory council (EAC) last year after concerns were raised over multiple garbage trucks traveling through the borough on multiple days. The borough allows residents to choose from four different trash haulers. The EAC made three recommendations to council — to enforce the current ordinances for pickup days, consider contracting with a single hauler, and provide yard waste pickup and recycling for multi-unit dwellings.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 1/29/2021

Perkasie to consider LERTA district
Perkasie Borough Council will conduct a public hearing on Monday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. to consider an ordinance that would designate an area of the borough for a tax exemption pursuant to the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA). The LERTA district would provide for an exemption on the assessment attributable to the actual cost of new construction or improvements on industrial, commercial or other business properties within the designated area. The proposed ordinance can be viewed at borough hall during normal business hours. During the pandemic, borough meetings have been held via video conference and broadcast on YouTube. Members of the public wishing to comment can do so by sending an email to admin@perkasieborough.org or texting 267-436-7094 during the meeting.
Source: The Intelligencer; 2/8/2021

Solebury wants to place limits on some building permits
Solebury Township is considering a proposed amendment to the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) ordinance that will ensure timely renovations in historical district properties. It is proposing that both the HARB certificate of appropriateness and the building permit for renovations become invalid after 180 days. In cases where no building permit is required for the work, the certificate of appropriateness becomes invalid unless the work begins within 180 days under the proposed ordinance. It also becomes invalid if the work is suspended or abandoned for 180 days. An applicant may submit a written request for an extension to begin work “for a just cause.” The building code official can grant extensions in writing, but they would be valid for no more than two years. The supervisors voted unanimously to advertise the proposed amendment.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 2/4/2021

Chester County 

New Garden considers termination of sewer authority
New Garden Township will consider an ordinance approving the termination of the New Garden Sewer Authority under the state Municipality Authorities Act. The ordinance will be considered at a virtual meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m.
Source: Daily Local; 2/10/2021

Parking meter funds drying up in West Chester
The pandemic has put a major crimp in West Chester Borough’s finances. Parking revenues in garages and at meters, along with income from parking tickets, is all down for a total of about $250,000 per month compared to 2019. Partly owing to the projected loss in parking revenue, the borough was forced to borrow $2.5 million to pay for borough expenses for the short term, including salaries, until property tax revenue checks start rolling in. The tax anticipation notes will be paid back in a year at 1.67% interest. “We are bleeding,” said Borough Manager Mike Perrone. “Is the borough going bankrupt? No.” Sean Metrick, assistant borough manager and parking department director, said the usage in the garages trended upward in January. Parking is still a revenue generator for the borough. Current numbers show the Chestnut Street Garage operating weekdays at just 25% occupancy and the Bicentennial Garage at 40%. Typically, the Chestnut Street Garage runs at 80% to 85% occupancy on weekdays, and the Bicentennial Garage at nearly 100%. Income at meters is down by two-thirds, and this year 28% of all parking revenue is projected to come from meters. Earned income tax revenue and property tax revenue still pump cash into borough coffers. Perrone noted that municipalities have the ability to raise taxes, and he hopes for assistance from state and federal governments.
Source: Daily Local; 2/5/2021

Kennett Township donates $72K for conservation
Kennett Township supervisors voted to donate $72,000 to The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC) to support its land management activities in the township. Supervisors Chairman Dr. Richard Leff noted a goal of preserving 30% of the township. The area has been under tremendous growth pressure with the community looking much different than it did 20 years ago. A Land Conservation Advisory Committee has been working with the supervisors to identify opportunities to preserve open space and protect natural resources. As the community continues to grow, preserving open space allows for development to be directed to the targeted areas around the borough of Kennett Square, said Township Manager Eden Ratliff. TLC has preserved 766 acres of land in Kennett Township, with 293 acres being public preserves, and is based in Kennett Township. To find a preserve, visit the TLC website.
Source: Daily Local; 2/5/2021

Angela Howard joins Downingtown Borough Council
Downingtown Borough Council appointed Angela Howard to fill a vacancy left after the resignation of Charles Rogers, who moved to West Bradford. The council reviewed the applications of six candidates before selecting Howard, whose term expires at the end of the year. “My short-term goals are to obtain a deeper understanding of local government, listen to constituents and respect individuals regardless of the dynamic of the relationship,” Howard said. The councilwoman represents the East Ward of Downingtown Borough.
Source: Daily Local; 2/10/2021

County officials release draft climate action plan
The Chester County Planning Commission, in partnership with the Chester County Environmental and Energy Advisory Board, is holding a virtual public meeting to present the county’s proposed Climate Action Plan on Thursday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. The updated Climate Action Plan will provide a current greenhouse gas emissions inventory, as well as plans for reducing emissions and improving energy efficiency. The plan establishes a blueprint for how the county, municipalities, businesses and other stakeholders can reduce their carbon footprints. Meeting attendees will be presented with an overview of the plan and proposed actions for addressing climate change, followed by a question-and-answer session and opportunities for public comment. Register for the Zoom meeting here. A draft of the Climate Action Plan and other updates can be viewed on the Chesco Planning website.
Source: Daily Local; 2/10/2021

County awards $10M for small businesses
The Chester County Commissioners have announced the awarding of $10 million in grants to 333 small businesses. The grants range from $20,000 to $49,500 and come via round two of the Chester County Main Street Preservation grant program for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. “Many small businesses have worked so hard and so creatively to try and adapt to the impact of this pandemic, but a financial boost is still needed to cover business costs,” said Commissioners Chairwoman Marian Moskowitz. The Chester County Economic Development Council, administrators of the grant program, received over 430 applications for funding under the second round. Funding comes from federal CARES Act money received by Chester County government.
Source: Daily Local; 2/5/2021

Delaware County

Delco to provide emergency rental relief to hundreds
Delaware County officials are preparing to receive between $16 to $20 million in Federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds to help those in jeopardy of losing their homes during the pandemic. County solicitor William Martin said precedence would be given to the 600 to 800 pending eviction cases in the county, “so that we can both protect the continued occupancy of those tenants and also effectively help clear the docket of the courts.” Tenants whose income is 50% or less of the adjusted median income for the county — roughly $72,000 — would be prioritized. “This is going to be one of the most important programs that we run through this pandemic,” County Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said. “It’s been 10 months, 11 months that there’s been a moratorium in place protecting us against mayhem, but when that’s lifted, without this program, without this financial help, we would have a really big problem on our hand in a huge homeless or newly homeless sector of the population.” Sandra Garrison, the county’s director of human services, said the county was awarded $16.9 million in direct funding from the federal rent relief program and service locations will be at the Department of Human Services office in Upper Darby and in the county offices at Baldwin Tower in Eddystone. If the state passes through all of the federal funds to the counties, instead of running a separate program, Delaware County could receive $20 million. Council Chairman Brian Zidek noted that many landlords are also county residents. “We want them to keep their housing stock up, so we want to cut a good deal for everybody,” he said. “But, certainly, my own primary motivation is to make sure that people are able to stay in their homes.”
Source: Daily Times; 2/4/2021

Delco officially authorizes establishing a health department
Delaware County Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the establishment of the Delaware County Health Department, which is on track to open in January 2022. The administrative step comes one week after council opened the Delaware County Wellness Center in an 11,000-square-foot space at 125 Chester Ave. in Yeadon. The facility is performing COVID tests and distributing scheduled vaccines, and the site is expected to be the location of the county health department. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has already given its certificate of approval for the county health department. Some next steps include appointing a board of health and hiring a health director, followed by getting the department open and operating.
Source: Daily Times; 2/9/2021

Radnor explores possibility of raising taxes above 3% cap
Radnor School District officials say they might keep their next tax increase to the state’s mandated limit of 3%, but they’re going to see if the state will allow them to go higher. Although school officials have made it clear they don’t think they’ll qualify, they plan to apply for Act 1 exceptions as part of the 2021-2022 school budget. Under the draft budget for the next school year, the district estimates expenses of $107.3 million with projected revenues of $103.6 million, leaving a budget shortfall of $3.7 million. Under Act 1, school districts are limited from increasing taxes over a certain percentage, which varies from year to year and from district to district, unless they request a special exemption or gain voter approval through a referendum.
Source: Daily Times; 2/6/2021

Haverford personnel and Community Transit drivers among those vaccinated
Haverford Township personnel and Community Transit drivers were among the 100 people who received the Moderna COVID vaccine at American Treatment Center in Haverford on Tuesday, a week after the center opened. Matt Sullivan, CEO of American Treatment Network, explained that his outpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility opened just last week to provide immediate physical and behavioral care to the more than 35,000 people who have opioid addiction, as well as other drug and alcohol issues. Jim McCans, Haverford’s director of emergency medical services, was among those distributing the vaccine. “God bless them for realizing there’s essential workers,” he said, adding that essential workers can be found in many professions outside medical-related ones, including police and garbage collectors. “Within hours, this came together.” Community Transit is a private, nonprofit transportation company based in Delaware County and certified by the state Public Utility Commission to provide demand-responsive service to the general public. Twenty Haverford Township employees and about 10 of Community Transit’s 67 drivers received the vaccine.
Source: Daily Times; 2/10/2021


Montgomery County

County authorizes $24M for rental, utility assistance
The Montgomery County Office of Housing and Community Development has been authorized to administer $24.7 million in funding from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program to help renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The money is expected to provide 12 months of rent and utility coverage, with capacity for another three months of rent. The funds will be distributed through the county’s existing Your Way Home Emergency Rent and Utility Coalition, and organizers will work with six other nonprofits to provide a variety of additional services. The program is expected to begin by late February, and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis that will place emphasis on equity rather than a first-come, first-served approach. The program will only benefit rent and utility services, not homeowners with mortgages.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/10/2021

Pottsgrove seeks community input on 2021-2022 learning options
Pottsgrove School District is hoping to gather feedback from families on the kinds of educational methods that might interest them for the coming 2021-2022 academic year. The district said there are “many potential scenarios [next year] for students who may choose not to return for face-to-face learning on-site.” The survey, available here, aims to assess parent reactions to three options: on-site, asynchronous online and synchronous online. The survey remains open until Friday, Feb. 26.
Source: Sanatoga Post; 2/8/2021

Lower Merion to update bamboo and noise ordinances
Over the past few years, Lower Merion Township put into place regulations on growing bamboo on private properties and did a significant overhaul of the noise ordinance. As the regulations have been put into practice, township officials have found the need for several modifications. The bamboo ordinance amendment proposes a better definition of how bamboo must be blocked from encroaching onto neighboring properties by defining the term “impenetrable barrier.” The noise ordinance amendment will limit the amount of noise allowed on federal holidays to the same hours as weekends. The next step will be for the commissioners to approve a motion to advertise the proposed changes.
Source: Main Line Media News; 2/5/2021

Lower Merion School District to keep tax increase to 3%
The Lower Merion School Board passed a resolution stating it would limit any upcoming tax increase for the 2021-2022 school year to 3%. Under a state law known as Act 1, school districts must limit their annual tax hikes to a predetermined percentage set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The percentage changes from year to year and district to district — this year Lower Merion is limited to 3%. If the district wants to go beyond that 3%, it must either apply for — and be approved for — exceptions or get voter approval via a referendum. According to Superintendent Robert Copeland, Lower Merion hasn’t qualified for some of the exemptions in past years and, though the district would qualify for about $2 million in special education costs for the coming year, the board decided to forgo the exception.
Source: Main Line Media News; 2/4/2021

SRA survey: Share your experience with Norristown's U&O process
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) wants to hear from Realtors who have conducted business recently in the Municipality of Norristown. "The frequency and intensity of complaints we've been hearing about Norristown's use and occupancy process indicates there's a serious problem there," SRA president Jamie Ridge said. The survey responses will provide a broader view of the situation in Norristown to help the SRA craft an appropriate response. The online survey takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Participants’ names will not be shared with the municipality. Complete the survey on the SRA website.

 

Philadelphia

Philly Council passes resolution to give itself more power over development
Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution giving the legislative body more power over what gets built in the city. The resolution introduced by Councilmember Brian O’Neill on behalf of Council President Darrell Clarke aims to create a council-led Zoning Code Review Commission. Adopted once before in 2019, the resolution represents a continuation of Clarke’s efforts to rework the code that regulates land use and development in the city and give councilmembers more control over their districts. Under the legislation, councilmembers and their appointees would lead the commission to review the code, which was last revised in 2012. The commission will hold public hearings and submit a report recommending code changes to city council and the mayor. The proposed commission has generated some pushback from critics who see it as an attempt to circumvent the existing system and undo changes that were made to depoliticize land-use decisions. Philadelphia already has a City Planning Commission that advises the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), the body charged with approving variances for projects that don’t fit within the existing regulations. That body, however, is not controlled by council. The mayor appoints planning commissioners, and the commission is chaired by the administration’s director of planning and development. ZBA members are also appointed by the mayor. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 2/4/2021

 
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