NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Fannie, Freddie loan limits announced for 2021; NAR urges access to safe, affordable financing

Bucks County
Weeks left for Bucks COVID-19 Mortgage Assistance Program

Chester County
Chester County Recorder’s office temporarily closed, but services continue

Delaware County
Recorder of Deeds system disrupted by hack

Montgomery County
SEPTA maintains commitment to King of Prussia Rail project

Philadelphia County
Philly is set to create a new construction tax and cut a big property tax break

 

News Briefs Archive February 17, 2020

 

General News

Registration is open for PAR’s Public Policy Training
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) has scheduled a series of Public Policy Regional Training sessions. The interactive sessions are beneficial for members who are new to PAR’s advocacy efforts, as well as seasoned veterans. Attendees will learn about specific areas where member involvement is critical to the success of the Realtor® Party and how to play a crucial role in that process. The training is free and open to any PAR member, but space is limited and pre-registration is required. A session will be held on Wednesday, April 15, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Radisson Philadelphia Northeast, in Trevose, Bucks County. More information and other session dates can be found on the PAR website.

Gov. Wolf rolls out new plan to fund state police; this time everybody pays
A proposed 2020-2021 budget released by Gov. Wolf offers his third proposal in as many years to offset Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) costs by asking each of the state’s 2,571 municipalities in the state to contribute at least something. That’s a contrast to previous efforts where Wolf targeted towns that rely on state police patrols as opposed to creating — and paying for — their own police departments. “We adjusted the proposal based on feedback,” said Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbot. “Rather than a flat $25 fee or a sliding fee based on population, PSP’s proposal would be assessed on persons from every municipality in the commonwealth, since services are provided to everyone, regardless of the level of municipal police coverage.” Abbot said the proposed fee is calculated by dividing each PSP station’s annual costs by the population of that station’s service area, resulting in a “pre-factor” per-person fee. Each municipality is then weighted based on factors like median income, whether or not there is a full- or part-time police department, and the PSP services used. The formula produces an annual per-person cost for PSP services and ensures that lower-income areas do not pay the same fee per person as higher-income areas, he said. Wolf’s proposal institutes a five-tier system of median income. The lowest tier, with average income below $50,000, would pay 10% of the pre-factor fee, while the highest tier, for incomes above $150,000, would pay 96%.
Source: Daily Times; 2/10/2020

SRA office closed on Presidents Day
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance office will be closed on Monday, Feb. 17, for Presidents Day. The municipal database and other resources will continue to be available online at www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com. Members who need assistance can leave a voicemail at 610-981-9000 or email sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com, and SRA staff will respond when the office reopens.

Bucks County

Falls Township offers DocuSign, updates forms
Falls Township has updated its Use and Occupancy Fact Sheet(PDF) to include the new sewer lateral requirements. The application (PDF) for a certificate of occupancy has also changed. The township no longer requires original signatures on the application and will accept faxed copies. The township is also now offering DocuSign. Contact the township’s code enforcement office for specific information. The Suburban Realtors Alliance recently had a very productive meeting with Falls staff to share some of the most common issues faced by Realtors who do business in the township, and will be meeting again soon to continue the conversation.

Council Rock, Quakertown conducting school start time surveys
The Quakertown Community and Council Rock school districts are conducting surveys on later secondary school start times. Quakertown’s survey is directed to community members and can be taken on the district website. The district has engaged a committee of parents, other residents and administrators to study the issue. Council Rock School District will soon send out a survey to parents and also plans to form a committee of students, parents, staff and residents. Council Rock has set up a separate email, starttimes@crsd.org, where residents can send comments or questions. More information on Council Rock’s process can be viewed on the Council Rock website. Later school start times for secondary students is a practice being recommended by many organizations to allow more sleep for students and to improve their academic performance, among other benefits.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/10/2020

Developer revives 30-year-old plan for homes in Upper Makefield
Edward F. Murphy, solicitor for the Geopedior Subdivision, appeared before Upper Makefield Township supervisors for a preliminary discussion on the final phase of an 11-phase development project that received initial approval in 1994. Murphy said the plan is to subdivide off five lots on an approximately 10-acre property at 386 Brownsburg Road East. Each lot would feature a single-family home, and the entire development would sit on a cul-de-sac. The proposed final five-home phase received preliminary approval in 1994, but now that the developer is ready to proceed, the development will need final approval from the supervisors. Items the supervisors discussed included stormwater management requirements, tree removal and rain garden fencing. No approval or denial of the project was made at the meeting, and it is unclear when a final approval vote might occur.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 2/6/2020

County to hold voting machine expos
Bucks County Commissioners approved the purchase of new hand-marked paper-ballot voting systems at the end of 2019 due to state-mandated requirements. The machines — and other recently approved election changes — will be put to an early test in a special election in the state’s 18th House District on March 17, to fill the vacancy left by Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, who was elected in November to the county board of commissioners. Bucks County will host voting machine demonstrations throughout the county from February to April, and the machines will be available for demonstration after county commissioners’ meetings. Visit the Bucks County Board of Elections website for important election information, including polling places, dates to remember and educational outreach. The Bucks County Board of Elections has a new director, Thomas Freitag, and the department has moved its offices to a newly renovated space on the second floor of the Bucks County Administration Building at 55 E. Court St. in Doylestown Borough.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/21/2020 & Bucks County; 1/17/2020

Chester County 

Kennett township manager: Fired workers weren’t directly involved in scandal
Kennett Township Manager Eden Ratliff told residents that three high-paid employees terminated recently were not “directly” involved in an embezzlement scandal that has consumed the township for nearly a year. At a township meeting, Ratliff discussed a set of recent staff changes, originally announced to the public in press releases that specified the names, positions and salaries of those involved. Ratliff said nobody was let go just because of a high salary, but that the township leadership felt the changes were needed to create the kind of greater efficiency they sought in the aftermath of the scandal.
Source: Daily Local; 2/7/2020

New access road will improve safety on Route 202 near Route 926
Motorists who needed to travel north on Route 202 coming from West Pleasant Grove Road at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Westtown used to need to make a very risky U-turn. In an effort to improve safety at the location, a new access road was recently installed that connects West Pleasant Grove Road with the driveway at Stetson Middle School. Motorists can now turn left at the traffic light instead of traveling to Route 926 and making a U-turn.
Source: Daily Local; 2/7/2020

Franklin Township to amend regulations in historic district
The Board of Supervisors of Franklin Township will consider an amendment changing the regulations governing demolition by neglect in the historic district. Chapter 11, Section 801, of the municipal code will provide that all buildings and structures within a township-certified historic district shall be kept in good repair, structurally sound and protected from demolition by neglect. If a building in a historic district has experienced or undergone demolition by neglect, the owner shall have an affirmative obligation to restore the building or structure. The amendment also provides for a notification process and establishes penalties for violations. A public meeting will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. at the Franklin Township Municipal Office, 20 Municipal Lane, Kemblesville.
Source: Daily Local; 2/11/2020

WCASD foundation to host roundtable discussion for the business community
The West Chester Area Education Foundation will host a business roundtable discussion and complimentary breakfast to share the foundation’s success stories. The breakfast will be held on Friday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 a.m. at the West Chester Area School District offices, 782 Springdale Drive, Exton. Those planning to attend should register here. View the event flyer (PDF).
Source: WCASD; 2/5/2020

Delaware County

County begins sending new assessment notices, announces 10-day review window
As part of a countywide reassessment project, Delaware County is mailing out notices of new tentative values to property owners in February and March. Property owners who wish to appeal their new valuations will have just 10 days from the notice date to sign up for an informal review. According to Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther, the 10-day limit will be strictly enforced. In 2017, Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge Charles B. Burr ordered a comprehensive reassessment to address an apparent lack of uniformity in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The county hired Tyler Technologies to collect data for the new valuations, and on Feb. 14 the county will mail out the first of four waves of value notices to addresses on file with the Delaware County Assessment Office. View the municipal mailing schedule here (PDF). Property owners who do not agree with the valuation can request an informal review of their properties by calling 888-773-7056 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or visiting the Tyler Technologies website. All informal hearings will be completed by May 15, and the final updated property values will be sent in July. At that time, formal hearings will begin with the County’s Tax Assessment Appeals Board. All hearings — both the informal and formal appeals — are free to the public. More information about the reassessment can be found on the county’s project website.
Source: Daily Times; 2/7/2020

County seeks applicants for Auxiliary Tax Assessment Appeals Board
Delaware County is currently seeking qualified professionals to preside over the formal tax reassessment hearings to be held this summer and fall. Selected applicants will be appointed to an Auxiliary Tax Assessment Appeals Board. The hearings will begin in July 2020 and continue for approximately eight to 10 weeks. Applicants must live in Delaware County and cannot be active property assessors. Selected applicants will receive a six-hour training prior to hearings. Auxiliary Tax Assessment Appeals Board members will be paid $200 a day for days they preside over hearings. Application details can be found here.  

County offers information session on reassessment project, appeals process
A presentation on Delaware County’s Tax Reassessment Project will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 1 p.m. in the Council Public Meeting Room, 201 W. Front St., Media. Tyler Technologies will detail the reassessment timeline and the process to appeal the new tentative value of a property, and answer questions from the public. The SRA website also offers an overview of the assessment project.
Source: Delaware County; 2/11/2020

Chester to adopt county assessments in 2021
Beginning in tax year 2021, the City of Chester will use the property values established by the Delaware County Board of Assessments for parcels located within the city. Currently, Chester is the only municipality in the county that establishes its own assessment values, which are used to calculate both city and Chester Upland School District real estate taxes. As a result, any appeals of real estate assessment will be handled at the county level, not the city, saving the city the costs of legal fees related to appeals. The city is undertaking this initiative as part of the Act 47 Economic Recovery Plan for purposes of reducing costs to taxpayers.
Source: Daily Times; 2/5/2020

County prosecutors eye a new target: environmental crime
In one of his first acts in office, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer has established an environmental crimes unit, the first of its kind at the county level in state history. Normally, cases involving environmental issues are handled by the Pennsylvania attorney general. But state law dictates that those prosecutors can’t act without referrals from such agencies as the Department of Environmental Protection or local district attorneys. Stollsteimer, with assistance from Delaware County’s Office of Emergency Services, is hoping to address residents’ concerns about their air and water in-house. He has appointed Assistant District Attorney Melissa Muroff to lead the unit and is having two county detectives trained in environmental law. “[I]f there is somebody that can be held accountable for something that is harming the quality of life in Delaware County, we want to be ready for it,” Stollsteimer said. Creating the unit might prove prudent, given the amount of industry crammed into the densely populated county. The unit is also poised to handle more vexing and pervasive issues, such as the mysterious, sulfur-like odor that has been reported throughout the county, and whose origin remains a mystery.
Source: Daily Times; 2/10/2020

Montgomery County

Developer discusses 279-unit mixed-use building in Ardmore
The Lower Merion Planning Commission and the public recently heard about a plan to develop a 3.5-acre site along West Lancaster Avenue between Ardmore and Greenfield avenues. The site currently includes car dealerships, an IHOP restaurant and an empty lot. The developer is proposing 279 new apartments and new commercial spaces. Chris Leswing, director of building and planning for Lower Merion, said they decided to have the developer speak before the planning commission and the public before the planning commission takes any action. “This is a very large, very complicated project in the heart of Ardmore,” Leswing said. The developer will come back to the planning commission next month, where they are expected to consider the tentative sketch plan — the first step in the approval process. The plans submitted to the township will consolidate nine properties into one 3.5-acre property. All of the buildings would be demolished for a new five-story building with 58,000 square feet of retail space in addition to the apartments. Although township code only requires 401 parking spaces, the plan calls for 583, with 560 in a parking garage with two levels below ground and one at grade level, and an additional 18 parking spaces along Lancaster Avenue. The apartments, targeted at young professionals and dual-income couples with no children, will consist of mainly one- and two-bedroom units, with a few three-bedroom units.
Source: Main Line Times; 2/10/2020

New Horsham PFAS remediation authority gets to work
State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151) has been named chairman of the newly formed Military Installation Remediation and Infrastructure Authority. The organization will tackle issues related to underground contamination at and around local military bases. Act 101 of 2019, sponsored by Stephens, allows the new authority to use a portion of state tax revenue generated on and around the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station to eliminate the local surcharge ratepayers have been paying for clean water and to remediate water contamination caused by former military installations. The bill was the first enacted in Pennsylvania to provide the dedicated funding to eliminate PFAS from drinking water. Stephens thanked his colleagues — Reps. Meghan Schroeder (R-29), Todd Polinchock (R-144), Tom Murt (R-152) and Ben Sanchez (D-153), and Sens. Maria Collet (D-12) and Bob Mensch (R-24) — for helping pass his bill, and Gov. Tom Wolf for signing it into law. Stephens also lauded Horsham Township for “dedicating significant time and resources to the new authority.”
Source: Montgomery News; 2/10/2020

Whitpain planners to review latest Mermaid Lake development plan
More than 100 residents attended a Whitpain Township Planning Commission meeting to hear the latest plans for a controversial residential development project at Mermaid Lake. The Metropolitan Development Group is seeking approval to build 53 single-family homes on about 63 acres of land on the south side of Jolly Road between Wentz and Union Meeting roads. Residents expressed opposition to the plan, with one woman describing it as “a bunch of 'McMansions' on top of each other.” Planning commission members cited concerns about potential flooding hazards and traffic issues. A previous application was submitted last year for a higher density than the current proposal. The new application has been revised to adhere to the municipality’s existing zoning guidelines, said Township Manager Roman Pronczak. Whitpain is also eyeing the land involved for a mixed-use park, with possible ball fields, walking trails and meeting spaces. The township can file a “declaration of taking,” which would allow Whitpain to implement eminent domain, though the township solicitor noted that was an issue to be discussed separately. The planning commission did not vote on the project at the meeting. For more information, visit the township’s website.
Source: Montgomery News; 2/10/2020 & Times Herald 2/13/2020

Hill School buys 54 acres of Brookside Country Club
The Hill School has purchased 54 acres of Brookside Country Club in Lower Pottsgrove Township for $1.5 million, according to Montgomery County property records. The Hill School was the original owner of the country club land, and has owned 60.5 acres of the total 149.5-acre property, leasing its portion back to the country club, for many years. Under the new agreement, Brookside will now lease the entire property from The Hill, with the exception of a large parcel that houses the clubhouse and other structures and improvements. County property records indicate the 54 acres were sold for $1.5 million, though they were assessed at $451,000 and appraised at $645,000. According to a press release, all taxes on the property will continue to be paid, despite the fact that The Hill School is tax-exempt as an educational institution and pays no taxes on the property it owns in Pottstown Borough. County property records indicate the property is taxed according to a “preferential assessment,” which allows for a lower tax bill for properties preserved as open space. The property annually generates about $1,700 for Montgomery County, the same for Lower Pottsgrove Township, and $17,200 for Pottsgrove School District. Brookside plans to use the sale proceeds to make capital improvements.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/6/2020

Philadelphia

Philly offers assistance program for first-time homebuyers
The Philly First Home Program offers 6% of a home’s purchase price, up to $10,000, to qualifying first-time homebuyers. The Division of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) provides funds for qualified participants to use toward a down payment or closing costs. The program was created to help neighborhood sustainability in Philadelphia by making homeownership more affordable. To qualify, homebuyers must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a first-time homebuyer or a buyer who has not owned a home for at least three years
  • Purchase a home in the City of Philadelphia
  • Have a household income at or below 120% area median income (AMI)
  • Complete housing counseling at a DHCD funded housing counseling agency
  • The financial assistance the city provides will become a lien on the property's first mortgage.

During the first 15 years of ownership, the lien will become due and payable upon the sale or lease of the home or the refinancing of the first mortgage to take cash out of the property. After 15 years of ownership, the lien will be forgiven. Read more about the program, including income thresholds, here.
Source: PHDC; 2/10/2020

Rapidly changing neighborhoods may be skewing the count of underwater mortgages
Philadelphia’s housing landscape is changing so fast it’s hard for realty tracking reports to keep up, and the city’s property tax abatements and method for assessing properties also complicate analyses. ATTOM Data Solutions, a national real estate tracking firm, released a study last week aiming to identify the places where homeowners had the most equity in their homes and places where they owed more than the homes’ value. It found that the Philadelphia metropolitan area is one of the regions with the highest number of zip codes where mortgaged properties were seriously underwater. The designation surprised local market watchers. “Generally speaking, people would not consider Philadelphia a place with a huge number of underwater properties," said Ira Goldstein, president of policy solutions at the Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia nonprofit that makes community development loans. The types of models ATTOM and their counterparts use rely on assessed values from counties and comparable sales in an area. For Philadelphia, these inputs can mean overestimating the number of underwater properties, Goldstein said. That’s because many of the city’s neighborhoods are rapidly changing. Estimating values based on sales in an area may not take into account renovated properties that become worth more and cost more than their neighbors. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/11/2020

 
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