NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
State sets school district tax increase limits for 2020-2021

Bucks County
County awarded $1.56M grant for lead abatement

Chester County
Parking, accessibility improvements coming to Parkesburg Train Station

Delaware County
Upper Darby raises taxes, trash and sewer fees

Montgomery County
Lower Salford plans for steady taxes

Philadelphia County
Tax-exempt property in Philadelphia has a total worth of $29.6 billion

 

News Briefs Archive February 4, 2019

 

General News

Registration open for PAR Public Policy Regional Trainings
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) is offering a series of Public Policy Training sessions to provide Realtors® the tools to be engaged in PAR’s advocacy efforts. Participants will learn how to tell their real estate stories to advocate for their industry and clients. A local session will be held at Crowne Plaza Valley Forge in King of Prussia on Thursday, March 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. Registration opens at 1:30 p.m. Click here to see all available training sessions.

Realtors® running for office
Are you a Realtor® running for local office? Or do you know a fellow Realtor® who is running for election to a municipal board of supervisors or school board? If so, please contact the Alliance today by emailing sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com or calling 610-981-9000.

Officials advocate for more state tech school funding
Two public education advocacy organizations in the state, PA Schools Work and Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, are calling on state lawmakers to increase budget allocations for career and technical education. Technical schools across the state educate carpenters, mechanics, machine operators and other skilled trades, but rising basic education costs have caused some districts to reduce enrollments. According to Gustavo Perea, CEO of the Royersford-based general contractor Adams Bickel Associates, there are 500,000 unfilled construction jobs in the United States. “The shortage is real, and it’s a difficult consequence for us,” he said. “It’s important for policy makers to support career and technical education.” Governor Tom Wolf set aside $30 million for workforce development in this year’s state budget, including $10 million for career and technical education subsidies, but advocates say another $10 million is needed in the 2019-2020 state budget. There are 74 public career and technical schools in the state that educate a total of 55,000 students. Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children has a report, “Skilled Workers Needed: Ensuring Investments in Career and Technical Education,” that can be viewed at www.paschoolswork.org.
Source: York Dispatch; 1/24/2019 & The Intelligencer; 1/30/2019

Bucks County

Homes proposed in Warrington
A recent public conditional use hearing was the earliest step forward for a proposed 123-home development in Warrington Township. The project, referred to as “Lands of Eureka Stone Quarry,” calls for 90 carriage homes and 33 single-family homes on 28 acres of land currently owned by the quarry. The attorney representing the developer said the project will leave most of the 108 acres across four parcels preserved as open space. The development will be accessed from Pickertown Road across from Buttercup Boulevard, and also from Street Road near Morning Walk Drive. The Warrington planning commission approved the plan on Jan. 17. Most of the public comment at the hearing was directed at the quarry’s operation, future traffic studies and if the development’s public sewer connection might extend to existing homes in the area. The supervisors are scheduled to vote on the application at the Tuesday, Feb. 12, meeting and, if approved, the development will move on to the preliminary land development stage, where more specifics will be negotiated, said Supervisor Shirley Yannich.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/28/2019

Bensalem delays review for Drexel property ordinances
Bensalem Township Council agreed to postpone until Monday, Feb. 11, a review of two ordinances that would pave the way for a 605-unit integrated community at the former St. Katharine Drexel shrine property. The postponement was at the request of the developer, following an oversight in the public notification process. The developer had not posted a notice at the 44-acre property off Bristol Pike that it was up for potential rezoning. The development proposal calls for 90 townhouses, 175 senior (55-plus) independent living units, 80 assisted living or memory care units, and 260 apartment units, along with accessory uses for community residents.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/29/2019

Bucks towns get grants for trails, walkable communities
The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the University of Pittsburgh recently awarded WalkWorks grants to Bristol, Morrisville and New Britain boroughs, and Plumstead Township, to be used for planning more pedestrian-friendly streets and walking trails. The communities were four of 11 statewide to receive grants. The WalkWorks program is a partnership between the state and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. A primary goal of the partnership promotes hike and bike trails as an alternative to driving by adopting “complete streets” policies. More information about the WalkWorks program is available here.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/28/2019

Members of Congress to pressure the EPA to address PFAS-contaminated water
A bipartisan group of U.S. House members formed a task force to address nationwide contamination of water by chemicals used on military bases. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8) of Bucks County is a co-chair, and Rep. Madeline Dean (D-4) of Montgomery County and Brendan Boyle (D-2) of Philadelphia are members. The three represent towns in Bucks and Montgomery counties where tens of thousands have been affected by tainted drinking water from nearby military bases. The group wants the EPA to designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, as hazardous substances and regulate how much of the chemicals can be present in drinking water. Politico is reporting that the Trump administration has a draft plan that will not set a drinking water limit for the two toxic chemicals, allowing the chemicals to remain unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. If that happens, utilities would face no federal requirements for testing and for removing chemicals from drinking water supplies. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available on their websites as a public resource — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source:  Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/23/2019, Bucks County Courier Times; 1/30/2019 and Politico ;1/28/2019

Chester County 

Developer purchases former Lipkins warehouse
Mark Lane Properties closed on the former Lipkins warehouse at 139 E. Chestnut St. in downtown Coatesville on Dec. 21, 2018. The five-story former warehouse, originally built in 1909, has more than 68,000 square feet and is one of the largest and tallest buildings in the city. Known for their successful industrial-reuse projects in the University City, East Falls and Nicetown sections of Philadelphia, developers Mark Sherman and Lane Udis see opportunity in Coatesville. Rehabilitation efforts are already underway, including painting, new windows and a roofing project. The goal for the building, dubbed Midway Arts, is to make a space for the creative class to come together to collaborate, build upon their knowledge and grow their trade. 
Source: Daily Local; 1/24/2019

Historic Barnes estate preserved
More than 130 acres of land that once belonged to Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the renowned Philadelphia area modern art collector whose name graces a world-famous museum, has been preserved against future development, according to Natural Lands, the region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization. The historic Ker-Feal property is the focus of a conservation easement facilitated by Natural Lands, the Barnes Foundation, Chester County and West Pikeland, where the 137 acres are located. The mansion house located on the property was built in 1775 and purchased by Barnes and his wife, Laura, in 1940 for use as a country getaway. Notably, this easement protects and formalizes the status of the Horse-Shoe Trail, which cuts through Ker-Feal. The 140-mile Horse-Shoe Trail runs from Valley Forge National Historical Park to Harrisburg, and crosses parks, game lands and private property. While the Horse-Shoe Trail has always been on the Ker-Feal property, its status was never formalized until now, according to a release issued by the land conservancy. The financial proceeds from the easement have been designated by the foundation’s board to add to its endowment for the organization’s overall educational efforts. A conservation easement is a legal agreement that permanently limits uses of land in order to protect its conservation values. Conservation easements must provide public benefits, such as scenic views, water quality, wildlife habitat and historic preservation.
Source: Daily Local; 1/30/2019

Chester Water Authority OKs 10 percent rate hike
The Chester Water Authority Board of Directors has approved a resolution to enter a settlement with the City of Chester that will include a 10 percent rate hike for its customers. The settlement will now be voted on by Chester City Council. If passed by the city, it will go before the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas for approval, followed by any potential appeals. If approved by both parties and the court, the settlement will conclude a year-and-a-half controversy regarding a potential sale of the authority to bolster Chester’s finances as the city struggles to exit financially distressed status under state Act 47. “This is not a perfect solution; it’s a practical solution,” CWA solicitor Francis Catania said, regarding the settlement terms. The settlement will last for a 40-year term and includes a 10 percent rate increase on all CWA customers to fund a one-time payment to the city of $60.3 million through a bond issuance. As part of the settlement agreement, CWA assets will be transferred into a trust for 40 years. In exchange, the city will not challenge any action “taken by the authority to protect and preserve its assets, and to benefit its ratepayers in accordance with the authority’s duties as true under Pennsylvania law.” Should Chester City Council pass a resolution to accept the settlement, Catania estimated a court date of “late spring, early summer” to begin the approval process by the county Court of Common Pleas. Chester Water Authority has more than 42,000 customers, about 22 percent of whom are in the city and 78 percent of whom are elsewhere in Delaware and Chester counties.
Source: Daily Local; 1/25/2019

Atglen to consider chicken ordinance
The Borough of Atglen is considering regulations for the raising and keeping of domesticated chickens, chicken coops and chicken pens for recreation as a residential accessory. A draft ordinance adds definitions and sets standards for this accessory use, including permit, set back, structure, waste storage and removal, care of animals, odor and noise requirements as well as a prohibition against slaughtering. Full text of the ordinance is available for inspection at www.atglen.org. A hearing will take place on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 at 7 p.m., at Atglen Borough Hall, 120 Main St.
Source: Daily Local; 1/18/2019

Delaware County

Chester Water Authority OKs 10 percent rate hike
The Chester Water Authority Board of Directors has approved a resolution to enter a settlement with the City of Chester that will include a 10 percent rate hike for its customers. The settlement will now be voted on by Chester City Council. If passed by the city, it will go before the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas for approval, followed by any potential appeals. If approved by both parties and the court, the settlement will conclude a year-and-a-half controversy regarding a potential sale of the authority to bolster Chester’s finances as the city struggles to exit financially distressed status under state Act 47. “This is not a perfect solution; it’s a practical solution,” CWA solicitor Francis Catania said, regarding the settlement terms. The settlement will last for a 40-year term and includes a 10 percent rate increase on all CWA customers to fund a one-time payment to the city of $60.3 million through a bond issuance.  As part of the settlement agreement, CWA assets will be transferred into a trust for 40 years. In exchange, the city will not challenge any action “taken by the authority to protect and preserve its assets, and to benefit its ratepayers in accordance with the authority’s duties as true under Pennsylvania law.” Should Chester City Council pass a resolution to accept the settlement, Catania estimated a court date of “late spring, early summer” to begin the approval process by the county Court of Common Pleas. Chester Water Authority has more than 42,000 customers, about 22 percent of whom are in the city and 78 percent of whom are elsewhere in Delaware and Chester counties.
Source: Daily Local; 1/25/2019

Radnor approves $101.1 million draft schools budget
With very little discussion, the Radnor Township School Board voted unanimously for a $101.1 million preliminary budget for the 2019-2020 school year, with revenues projected at $99.2 million. The board approved applying for exceptions to the Act 1 index, which allows the board to increase taxes by up to 2.3 percent, to permit additional increases for special education and retirement costs. Michelle Diekow, district business manager, said that she does not believe the district will qualify for the retirement costs but should receive state approval to raise taxes for special education costs. Board President Susan Stern emphasized the unbalanced budget, with its $1.9 million shortfall, is “very preliminary at this point.” Stern suggested the whole board meet at the finance committee’s April meeting to discuss the budget. In the meantime, the finance and facilities committees, with overlapping membership, will work on prioritizing the district’s needs. The board is expected to adopt the final budget in May.
Source: Daily Times; 1/24/2018

Chester unveils new police app
Chester City municipal and police officials rolled out a new smartphone app linking the public to the police department, touting it as another tool to help maintain a downward shift in most major crime categories last year. The app is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. The free app is available through Google Play and Apple’s App Store. Users receive important alerts/push notifications from the police department, and can submit tips, including images, directly to police. Features under the Main Menu include a “Welcome” message from Police Commissioner Otis Blair, along with crime and safety tips, sex offender information and an inmate search. There is a Community Resource tab that provides a guide to government, nonprofit and religious organizations offering social services, food programs, addiction treatment and prevention services, and behavioral health programs. Users can pay parking tickets online and obtain accident reports. Additional features provide traffic conditions, information about police careers, connections to online services, and an opportunity to submit a compliment or concern to the police department.
Source: Daily Times; 1/30/2019

Parkside OKs budget, holds line on taxes
Parkside Borough Council adopted a 2019 final operating budget totaling $1.5 million, reflecting no tax increase for residents. Millage was set at 11.5 mills, the same as 2018. A resident with a home assessed at $110,000 will pay $1,265 in borough real estate taxes in 2019. The annual trash service fee was set at $228 per household. “Council diligently worked to keep the property tax at the same amount as last year, in spite of increases due to contractual agreements,” said Council President Shirley Purcival. 
Source: Daily Times; 1/30/2019

Eddystone hires new borough manager
Thomas Gaffney has replaced Timothy Possenti as Eddystone Borough manager. Gaffney is assuming the position through his employer, Possenti Consulting LLC. He will also serve as the borough’s right-to-know officer. Gaffney served four years as finance director for Lower Southampton Township and since 2011 has been code enforcement officer, zoning officer and assistant borough manager in Darby Borough. The borough pays Possenti’s firm $75,000 a year for its services, including the borough manager’s position and financial services. The appointment of a borough manager is made yearly. In other matters, council approved an International Property Maintenance Code.
Source: Daily Times; 1/28/2019

Montgomery County

King of Prussia rail project moves forward
SEPTA awarded the design contract for the first phase of the billion-dollar King of Prussia (KOP) rail project. The $7.3 million contract will allow construction engineering company HNTB to start designing the KOP rail using a conceptual design called the “Locally Preferred Alternative.” The plan will extend the Norristown High Speed Line to provide service to five stops in King of Prussia: Henderson Street, two at the mall, Moore Park and Valley Forge Casino. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission released a report in support of the KOP rail project extension that explores concepts related to pedestrian and bicycle access to the five proposed stations, as well as transit-supportive land use and development considerations for the area. Jerry Sweeney, president of Brandywine Realty Trust and chairman of the KOP Rail Coalition Advisory Committee, said: “KOP Rail promotes and strengthens regional growth, and is needed to connect the three largest employment centers in the region — King of Prussia, University City and Center City.” 
Source: Pottstown Mercury & Curbed Philadelphia; 1/28/2019

Upper Pottsgrove waives some sewer hookup fees
In a vote specific to a $450,000 sewer expansion project, Upper Pottsgrove Township commissioners voted 3-2 to waive two sewer hookup fees — a $50 application fee and a $79 engineering inspection fee — for 33 residents of the Regal Oaks subdivision. As a result, there will be about $5,000 in fees that will have to be made up by either sewer customers or the township’s general fund. Residents have no choice about hooking up to the sewer system, which costs $5,447 for a one-time tap-in fee, in addition to paying a plumber to run a line from the curb to the house and also the quarterly $215 payment for sewer service. The split decision by the commissioners came after some discussion about waiving fees that other residents had been charged in the past.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/28/2019

Plans proposed for new grocery store in Towamencin
A vacant Acme store in Towamencin may get new life as a Lidl supermarket. Lidl US, the American branch of a German supermarket chain, presented plans to take over about half of the old Acme building at at 1150 Welsh Road, which closed in June 2018. According to Sam Kachidza, real estate manager of acquisitions for Lidl US, the main attractions of the Welsh Road site were an existing building and a close proximity to residents and apartments. The Lidl team asked the supervisors to waive the formal land development process for the new supermarket because only minor changes were being made to the existing building and footprint. Kachidza said that Lidl hopes to open the store by the end of this calendar year.
Source: North Penn Life; 1/29/2019

Members of Congress to pressure the EPA to address PFAS-contaminated water
A bipartisan group of House members formed a task force to address nationwide contamination of water by chemicals used on military bases. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8) of Bucks County is a co-chair, and Rep. Madeline Dean (D-4) of Montgomery County and Brendan Boyle (D-2) of Philadelphia are members. The three represent towns in Bucks and Montgomery counties where tens of thousands have been affected by tainted drinking water from nearby military bases. The group wants the EPA to designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, as hazardous substances and regulate how much of the chemicals can be present in drinking water. Politico is reporting that the Trump administration has a draft plan that will not set a drinking water limit for the two toxic chemicals, allowing the chemicals to remain unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. If that happens, utilities would face no federal requirements for testing and for removing chemicals from drinking water supplies. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available on their websites as a public resource — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/23/2019, Bucks County Courier Times; 1/30/2019 and Politico; 1/28/2019

Philadelphia

Philly property owners won’t have to pay increased taxes while they appeal 2019 assessments
Philadelphia property owners who appealed their 2019 market values after a reassessment led to large tax hikes for many homeowners can hold off on paying those increases — for now, at least — thanks to legislation that will take effect over Mayor Jim Kenney’s objection. The bill will become law without the mayor’s signature; he sent it back to city council Thursday with a warning that it would hurt the school district to delay tax payments. The legislation exempts owners of the more than 9,000 properties with pending appeals to continue paying taxes on last year’s assessment until their cases are resolved. Finance director Rob Dubow told city council in December that the measure will jeopardize $22 million in property tax payments, which is a quarter of the $85 million that the 2019 reassessment was expected to raise in additional tax revenue. The School District of Philadelphia will face a total impact of about $15 million, said Uri Monson, the district’s chief financial officer — as much as $12.5 million from property taxes and up to $3 million in use and occupancy taxes. After appeals are settled, which can take a year — or longer if appeals continue into the court system — property owners would need to pay the difference if the outcome of their appeals were still higher than their 2018 assessment. An audit commissioned by city council and released this month found that the city’s assessment methods are flawed and led to Council President Darrell L. Clarke calling for a change of leadership at the Office of Property Assessments. Kenney’s administration defended the Office of Property Assessments and disputed findings in the audit, but announced that it would scale back its plans for a 2020 reassessment and committed to making other improvements.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/24/2019

City incinerates half its recyclables
About 50 percent of the recycling collected from Philadelphia residents ends up in an incinerator in Southwest Philadelphia — a surprising statistic for a city that has tried to position itself as the greenest in the country. State Sen. John Sabatina (D-174) sent a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney saying the city was violating state recycling law. The city blames an unfavorable and unstable recycling market — its recycling bill recently jumped from $16 per ton to $78 per ton — and a scourge of contamination with food residue or other non-recyclables. In 2012, Philadelphia took in $6 million getting rid of its recycling, and now it spends more than $3 million annually. Municipal leaders say they are bidding out a long-term recycling contract that could lower the expense, and that it is imperative people recycle properly. Philly Voice recently answered common questions about how to recycle.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/25/2019 and Grid Philly; 1/3/2019



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