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 8, 2021

 

General News

Surge of homeowners in region risk foreclosure as pandemic continues
A growing number of homeowners in the region are unable to pay their home loans nearly a year into a pandemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs across the region. The latest available census data show about 13% of homeowners behind on their mortgages in the Philadelphia metropolitan statistical area, which includes Reading, Camden, and Wilmington, Delaware. During the height of the housing crisis in the Great Recession, about 9% of conventional loans and 13% of government-insured loans were past due. The national foreclosure moratorium on federally backed loans ends March 31, after two extensions already this year. Under President Biden’s proposed American Rescue Plan, banks wouldn’t be able to move forward with foreclosures on federally-backed mortgages until Sept. 30. Biden’s plan would also protect small landlords from foreclosure and help renters with $25 billion set aside for rental assistance and $5 billion for home energy and water costs. Another $5 billion in emergency assistance would go to housing for people experiencing homelessness. That money would follow the $47.2 billion for rent relief in the last federal coronavirus aid package, passed in December. Greg Heller, Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. senior vice president of community investment, said the federal and state aid is essential for the region’s stability and to prevent spikes in evictions and homelessness. Pennsylvania has its own emergency assistance program, but the Homeowner’s Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program was not funded or designed for an economy-crushing pandemic. Read the Plan Philly article for details of the American Rescue Plan and information on how the crisis is affecting different demographic groups.
Source: Plan Philly; 2/2/2021

Wolf wants billions for workforce aid
Facing a deep, pandemic-inflicted budget deficit and a clock running down on his time in office, Gov. Tom Wolf will ask lawmakers for billions of dollars — funded by higher taxes on Pennsylvania’s huge natural gas industry — for workforce development and employment assistance to help the state recover. The money, part of Wolf’s forthcoming budget plan, would aid workers whose jobs were upended by the pandemic and provide relief to industries and individuals most affected, including lower-wage workers, minorities and the disabled. Wolf suggested that the billions of dollars generated by borrowing against a new severance tax on natural gas production would at the very least boost the offerings of community colleges and the state’s seven industrial resource centers, which are set up to help Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry.
Source: Daily Times; 1/29/2021

Wolf to seek tax hike for schools, expanded use of fair funding formula
Gov. Tom Wolf will propose a sweeping new plan to dramatically boost funding for public schools, to be supported by an increase in the state’s personal income tax rate that also expands exemptions for lower-wage earners. Under the plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Wolf, a Democrat, will ask the Republican-controlled legislature for a $3 billion increase in the personal income tax to boost public schools and help fill a multibillion-dollar deficit caused by the pandemic. The proposal could add nearly $2 billion for public schools, an increase of more than 20%. About $1.35 billion would be distributed to schools to pay for their primary operations, like teacher salaries, operating costs and supplies, on top of the $6.8 billion they currently receive. Of the combined $8.1 billion, the majority would be distributed via the Fair Funding Formula designed in 2016 to iron out inequities in how Pennsylvania funds the poorest public schools. A portion of it — about $1.1 billion — would ensure that no school district receives less than it does now. The Fair Funding Formula currently only applies to a small percentage of state education funding. The personal income tax increase would take the flat rate to 4.49% from 3.07% — among the nation’s lowest — but increase the exemption for the lowest earners. The lowest earners — about 40% of the total — would pay less in income tax, while approximately the top one-third of taxpayers would pay more.
Source: Daily Local; 2/3/2021

Bucks County

Bucks Recorder of Deeds asks for email addresses
The Bucks County Recorder of Deeds is asking people who correspond with the office to include their email address when submitting information. The request comes as a result of delays with the U.S. Postal Service. When submitting documents through the mail, providing an email address will ensure “you receive an invoice detailing the recording information, such as date recorded, and fees paid,” Recorder of Deeds Robin Robinson said in a press release. To contact the Recorder of Deeds office, call 215-348-6209 or visit the website.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/27/2021

Solebury Township to amend sign ordinance
Solebury Township supervisors will hold a public hearing via Zoom on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m., regarding a proposed ordinance that would update the zoning code to comply with content-based restrictions on sign regulation. The proposed ordinance amends definitions for banner, flashing/video sign and sign area, and removes definitions for canopy sign, marquee sign, open house, pennant, political, real estate and service club signs. It also adds definitions for long-term temporary sign, short-term temporary sign and snipe sign. The proposed ordinance also defines “rules governing specific types of signs” in §27-404. The Alliance has requested a copy of the proposed ordinance. Visit the township website for information on hearing participation.
Source: The Intelligencer; 2/1/2021

Upper Makefield properties may be eligible for a flood insurance discount
Upper Makefield Township participates in the Community Rating System (CRS) that partners with the National Flood Insurance Program. Private property owners in the township may be eligible for premium reductions of 5% to 45%. Additional benefits of CRS participation include:

  • Reduction in flood losses
  • Reduction in property damage
  • Protections to public health and safety
  • Flood risk mitigation in new construction plans
  • Reduced risk of erosion damage

For specific questions about a property, call the planning and zoning department at 215-968-3340, or visit the township’s flooding resources webpage for additional information.
Source: Upper Makefield Township e-News; January 2021

BCWSA Safeguard Program is now HomeServe
Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority (BCWSA) has sold its SafeGuard Lateral Maintenance program to HomeServe Inc., a national home warranty company. HomeServe offers the same protections for the same pricing. Click here for the BCWSA news item.
Source: BCWSA; 2/2021

Chester County 

County sending letters to voters to confirm ‘permanent’ mail-in status
Chester County Voter Services staff are sending letters to more than 115,000 voters who opted for permanent mail-in voting in 2020, asking them to confirm their preference for the primary and general elections in 2021. The confirmation letter is an annual requirement of PA Act 77, the bipartisan bill that created the option to vote by mail. If recipients take no action after receiving the letter, no ballots will be sent in the mail to them in 2021. In the 2020 General Election, Chester County officially recorded 151,149 absentee and mail-in ballots, representing nearly 48% of all votes cast. Voter turnout topped 83% of all registered voters.
Source: Daily Local; 2/3/2021

Toll plan in Westtown OK if homes are shifted
According to John Snook, Westtown Township's land planner, Toll Brothers’ proposed development of Crebilly Farm can happen if some of the homes are shifted farther to the east. Snook said the same thing in 2017 during the first round of conditional use hearings for the project, before a lengthy court battle between Toll and the township. Toll wants to build a 319-home development on the 320-plus-acre farm site at the intersection of Routes 202 and 926. Snook said the Crebilly tract had been deemed eligible for inclusion into the National Register of Historic Places by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for its significance in the 1777 Battle of Brandywine. He agreed with the county planning commission that “the plans be revised to pull the development out of the particular likely troop movement and maintain the ability to interpret those movements upon the landscape by moving more of the development toward the east.” Snook added the plan should also show adaptive re-use of all the historic buildings on the site, not just some, as Toll has already agreed to do. The township's comprehensive plan designates the far western area of the Crebilly tract for use as open space and a greenway. Greenways are those areas with a concentration of flood plains, wetlands and steep slopes. The conditional use hearing is an ongoing process, with upcoming sessions scheduled on Tuesday, Feb. 23, and Tuesday, March 23. Both will be conducted via Zoom at 7 p.m.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 1/27/2021

West Chester Smart Growth Committee to hold meeting on zoning code
The West Chester Borough Smart Growth Committee will meet on Thursday, Feb. 25, at 5:30 p.m. to present and discuss revisions to Chapter 102, Zoning Code. Read a summary of the updates here. Read the draft here. View the borough zoning map here.
Source: West Chester Borough; 2/2021

Montco and Chesco officials see benefits of county health departments
County health departments are a rarity in Pennsylvania, with only six counties having one and several beginning discussions to create one, including Delaware, Berks and York counties. Delaware and Berks don’t have to look far to see what a countywide health department looks like, as neighboring Chester and Montgomery counties both have them. The Montgomery County Office of Public Health has been around since the 1990s, and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Commissioners, said the department was pivotal in coordinating the response of COVID-19. But it also takes on other roles, including inspections, immunizations and promoting healthy living. Arkoosh said that a county health department provides an established infrastructure to lean on when disaster strikes. Chester County’s Health Department, around since 1968, takes on similar roles as Montgomery County’s. Jeanne Casner, director of the department, said that a state-level health department does not have institutional knowledge of a certain area, and that the county level health departments can tailor needs to their communities.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/1/2021

Delaware County

Development finally coming to Sears site in Millbourne
A landmark site from glory days past in Millbourne is finally seeing new life. The old Sears property at 6400 Market St., vacant for over 30 years, is being developed into a new 175,000-square-foot service and logistics facility for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, according to developer Michael Willner, president of Pomegranate Real Estate. For years, officials had hoped to encourage a transit-oriented development on the 18-acre site, which sits along Cobbs Creek adjacent to SEPTA’s elevated line. Prior plans called for retail with up to 91 apartments on upper floors. SEPTA’s “El” literally next door with an exit directly on the property meant commuters could have been in Center City in 15 minutes. The real estate proposal states that the property will feature a campus style design, as well as the addition of a signalized entrance to improve pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle traffic safety. The property will include new landscaping, including more than 50 new trees, and CHOP will provide 24-hour security. The building will house supply chain, including storage for supplies, linen and beds, central sterile processing, procurement, information services, biomed, facilities, food/nutrition and a call center. The estimated completion date is in the second quarter of 2022. A final cost of the project was not disclosed.
Source: Daily Times; 1/26/2021

Darby Township updates millage rate
Darby Township updated its 2021 millage rate to 8.89558 mills. The revenue-neutral rate was revised subsequent to receipt of revised assessment data from Delaware County.
Source: Daily Times; 1/27/2021

Upper Darby takes contract fight to Pa. as strike looms
Upper Darby Township has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) claiming a local transportation union has engaged in unfair practices concerning a new contract. The union has meanwhile voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. Transportation Workers Union (TWU) Local 234 has 107 members working in various capacities for the township, mostly in areas like sanitation, maintenance, signage and highways, with a smattering in other positions like animal wardens and parking enforcement. The union voted 89-2 last week authorizing a strike, but currently continues working without a contract in place. The previous contract expired Dec. 31, 2020. Union President Willie Brown said Thursday that a deal on a new, four-year collective bargaining agreement had been very close to finished, but for a “no layoff clause” that the township is attempting to do away with. Brown said the clause applies to employees with five or more years on the job. The township asserts in its PLRB complaint that the clause is not a mandatory subject of bargaining and that the union’s refusal to go along with a contract that does not include the provision is therefore an “unfair practice” under the Public Employee Relations Act.
Source: Daily Times; 1/30/2021

Lansdowne to limit overnight parking permits
The Borough of Lansdowne will consider an ordinance amending Chapter 312, “Vehicles and Traffic,” to limit the number of overnight parking privilege permits to five per dwelling unit. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Wednesday, Feb. 17, during a virtual meeting. Instructions for attending the meeting will be posted on the Lansdowne Borough website.
Source: Daily Times; 2/3/2021

Montgomery County

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

Pottsgrove begins budget process with projected $1.7M deficit
Pottsgrove School District officials have started the budget process for the 2021-2022 school year facing a projected $1.7 million deficit. However, Business Manager David Nester said the budget draft presented to the school board at the Jan. 26 meeting follows the state’s timeline for school district budgeting and it is “so preliminary as to be largely meaningless.” Nester said Pottsgrove’s preliminary budget is built on the assumption that there will be no increase in state aid. Charter school tuition expenses account for the biggest increase in spending — a 37% jump to $850,000. Nester said a tax increase would be a “last resort” to cover the budget gap, but did suggest building small, regular tax increases into the budget for future capital costs. A vote on the preliminary budget could occur at the Tuesday, Feb. 9, school board meeting, with the proposed final budget tentatively scheduled for April 27 and final budget adoption on June 8.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/31/2021

Developer O’Neill pays $103M for former GSK complex
Developer J. Brian O’Neill has paid $103.3 million to buy out a partner and become the primary owner of an Upper Merion pharmaceutical complex once owned by GlaxoSmithKline. The deal will give O’Neill control of over 2.3 million square feet of real estate to pursue a plan for a network of lab and office buildings occupied by life-science tenants. O’Neill’s MLP Ventures LLC is continuing to plan for a cell- and gene-therapy manufacturing lab that would be partly located at the former drug complex. Another part of the proposed facility called the Center for Breakthrough Medicines would be built in sections of the office park acquired three years ago from defunct developer Liberty Property Trust and also at the Philadelphia Inquirer’s printing plant, which O’Neill also plans to purchase. A $1 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant was approved late last year for a parking garage at the site. The grant is from a state fund for projects that might have a potentially outsized impact on economic development.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/26/2021

Montco and Chesco officials see benefits of county health departments
County health departments are a rarity in Pennsylvania, with only six counties having one and several beginning discussions to create one, including Delaware, Berks and York counties. Delaware and Berks don’t have to look far to see what a countywide health department looks like, as neighboring Chester and Montgomery counties both have them. The Montgomery County Office of Public Health has been around since the 1990s, and Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Commissioners said the department was pivotal in coordinating the response of COVID-19. But it also takes on other roles, including inspections, immunizations and promoting healthy living. Arkoosh said that a county health department provides an established infrastructure to lean on when disaster strikes. Chester County’s Health Department, around since 1968, takes on similar roles as Montgomery County’s. Jeanne Casner, director of the department, said that a state-level health department does not have institutional knowledge of a certain area, and that the county level health departments can tailor needs to their communities.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/1/2021

Norristown appoints one school director, another resigns
The Norristown Area School Board appointed Christopher Jaramillo to the board to replace Jamila Winder. At the same meeting, board member Turea Hutson resigned her seat, effective immediately. The board is now looking to fill the vacancy. Interested candidates should email a letter of interest and a resume or general biographical information to board secretary Kathleen DiMaio at kdimaio@nasd.k12.pa.us by Monday, Feb. 8, at 5 p.m. An interview process will follow with a recommendation to be brought forward for approval at the board meeting on Monday, Feb. 22.
Source: Norristown School District; 1/27/2021 & Times Herald; 2/2/2021

Philadelphia

City council president begins 2021 session with push for more power over development
In the first city council meeting of 2021, Council President Darrell Clarke reupped a push for more control over real estate development in the city. A resolution introduced by Councilmember Brian O’Neill, on behalf of Clarke, would authorize a council-led Zoning Code Review Commission. The resolution was adopted in 2019, but the commission never formed so it needed to be reintroduced in order to move forward in the current council term. Two years later, amid a pandemic that has sent the city’s economy into a tailspin and its budget into a hole, Clarke wants to get the commission formed with the goal of ultimately remaking the code that dictates city construction and development. Councilmembers and their appointees would lead the proposed commission in a comprehensive review of the code, last reworked in 2012. The commission would hold public hearings and submit a report recommending code changes to council and the mayor. The Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) appears to be a main target of the legislation. The resolution argues that the overwhelming rate of variance approvals given by the board shows a disconnect between planning laws, enforcement and neighborhood desires. While the 2012 zoning code revision was intended to reduce the influence of the ZBA and the number of variances approved, Clarke and others argue not much changed on that front. In 2017, the ZBA approved 92% of zoning variance cases heard, according to a 2018 City Planning Commission Report.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/28/2021

Hotline provides help for Philadelphia mortgage-holders
Philadelphia residents who have questions about or issues with a mortgage can call the Save Your Home Philly Hotline at 215-334-4663 to learn more about their options and connect with a free housing counselor.  The hotline is a free service run by Philadelphia Legal Assistance and funded by the City of Philadelphia.  The hotline assists callers without regard to income.
Source: Plan Philly; 2/2/2021

 
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