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 Feburary 24, 2020


General News

Report: What it costs to live in Philly region
A Philadelphia family of four must make more than $70,000 a year just to survive, a new report says — a stunning sum beyond the reach of most residents in a city beset by high poverty and meager chances. In a city household consisting of one parent and two children, trying to afford bare necessities — including food, shelter, health care and child care — the adult has to make at least $65,122 to subsist without aid, according to the report, part of the so-called Self-Sufficiency Standard compiled for 41 states by the University of Washington-Seattle. In Philadelphia, it appears that the majority of households don’t make enough money to cover basic costs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60% of city households — nearly 365,000 out of a total of 608,000 — take in less than $60,000 a year. About 70% earn less than $75,000. The data exclude the elderly and disabled. To survive without help in the Pennsylvania suburbs, according to the Self-Sufficiency Standard, a household of two adults, a preschooler, and a school-age child would have to take in $82,792 annually in Bucks County, $87,897 in Chester County, $79,861 in Delaware County, and $86,047 in Montgomery County. Across Pennsylvania, one in four households — more than 846,000 — lacks enough income to afford necessities, according to an analysis of the Self-Sufficiency Standard report, “Overlooked & Undercounted 2019: Struggling to Make Ends Meet in Pennsylvania.” PathWays PA, a Delaware County-based policy and advocacy group for families and children, contracted with the University of Washington to create the report for Pennsylvania. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/17/2020 

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.

PA challenges constitutionality of FERC’s eminent domain practices
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro is challenging the constitutionality of a federal regulatory practice called “tolling,” saying it unfairly grants the drilling industry eminent domain rights before private property owners can appeal in court. Shapiro and attorneys general from nine other states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia arguing that allowing pipeline projects to begin without time for appeal from property owners violates the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process Clause. “FERC has twisted the law to leave property owners in legal limbo while pipeline operators begin construction through their backyards,” Shapiro said. If the court finds that FERC’s use of tolling orders violates federal law, the outcome could set a new regulatory precedent for the way eminent domain rights are allocated by federal authorities, legal experts say. Arguments are set to be held before the entire D.C. circuit court on March 31.
Source: Central Penn Business Journal; 2/7/2020

Bucks County

Warminster adjusts tax millage a second time
Warminster Township supervisors revised the 2020 municipal budget and general fund millage rate for a second time since reopening the budget. The changes have lowered the general fund millage rate from 19 to 14, an action that will not require the township to receive court approval. The new total 2020 rate of 23.06 mills is comprised of: 14 mills for general fund; 1.5 mills for fire department; 0.19 mills for the ambulance fund; 3.5 mills for parks and recreation; 1.85 for the library fund; and 2.02 for debt service. The 2020 budget had been approved in December by the previous board of supervisors, three of whom were replaced by new board members in January. The reorganized 2020 board reopened the 2020 budget and decided upon a significant tax increase instead of selling the township’s water and sewer authority. The proposed sale of the authority could have brought $86 million to the financially struggling township.
Source: Public Spirit; 2/17/2020

Sen. Santarsiero calls for permanent closure of Rockhill Quarry
State Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10), of Lower Makefield, recently said the inactive Rockhill Quarry in East Rockhill should be permanently closed. Santarsiero said a state official’s warning of health risks from asbestos at the quarry prompted him to call for a permanent closure and a meeting of state health and environmental officials as soon as possible in order to protect East Rockhill residents. The quarry had been unused for decades until quarrying work resumed at the site in 2018. The work was then stopped on orders of the state Department of Environmental Protection after asbestos was discovered. Santarsiero’s concerns were raised after a letter from Raphael Barishansky, deputy secretary of health preparedness and community protection at the state health department, stated that a type of asbestos fiber present in rock material at the quarry can be released by crushing, grinding and other activities. Santarsiero said it’s “clearly time to permanently halt all activities at the quarry in the interest of the health and safety of all.” East Rockhill Township has engaged the quarry in an ongoing legal battle in federal district court over the matter.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/18/2020

New Britain’s University Village construction on track
The former location of the Knoell woodworking factory on Butler Avenue in New Britain Borough is being transformed into a 147-apartment community called The Gathering at University Village. Developer and landowner Mike Meister, of County Builders Inc., said he has been working with the borough for five years to create a mixed-use community that would thrive in the planned pedestrian overlay district near Delaware Valley University. The first phase of 96 luxury apartments is underway, and Meister said they will start leasing soon for June occupancy. The project will eventually house the 147 apartments, 1,000 square feet of coworking space, a fitness center, a café and professional offices. County Builders is also negotiating with New Britain Township to created a similar mixed-use luxury apartment community three miles west of University Village, between Spatola’s and Chalfont Motor Lodge at 409 W. Butler Ave. That proposal is in the very early stages.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/18/2020 

Doylestown Borough offers survey to guide economic development
Doylestown Borough’s Economic Development Advisory Board is asking the public to complete a short survey titled, “A Downtown for the Community.” The board works to maintain the viability of existing businesses and to attract new businesses and private investment. It advises borough council on issues that impact economic development, including parking, walkability, physical appearance, business mix, grant opportunities, transportation, job creation, tourism promotion, and public improvements and services.
Source: Doylestown Borough; 2/18/2020

Chester County 

Coatesville officials tour Qualified Opportunity Zones
More than 30 representatives from federal, state and local government agencies visited the city for the first Qualified Opportunity Zone Federal Agency Roundtable in the region. The roundtable explored best practices and gave assurances that redevelopment resulting from qualified opportunity zone projects will benefit the community and foster a collaborative partnership with all stakeholders. Discussions highlighted emerging commercial projects happening in Coatesville’s opportunity zone, including streetscape improvements, infrastructure and parking, Amtrak/PennDOT train station, Coatesville Gateway, The Flats, park improvements and homeownership initiatives. Coatesville is home to four census tracts in which 1.9 square miles have been designated as opportunity zones.
Source: Daily Local; 2/13/2020

Possible change in plans for Crebilly Farm in Westtown Township
Toll Brothers has suggested moving the location of a planned 319-home subdivision at Crebilly Farm in Westtown Township. Toll agreed to engage in an “iterative process” — a back-and-forth — for a conceptional plan that would move construction 600 feet to the east and closer to Route 202. The builder and planning commission are discussing 58 planning commission recommendations from the current application at Route 926 and Route 202. The first application went to the Commonwealth Court, which ultimately ruled in the township’s favor, and Toll has declined to appeal. Toll submitted a new application. The changed project would leave open 80 acres to the east of New Street where Hessian soldiers likely marched during the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brandywine in 1777. Legally, the process must be completed five days prior to the next conditional use hearing on Wednesday, March 25.
Source: Daily Local; 2/13/2020

Flats project moving forward in Coatesville
Former NFL player Derrick Morgan spoke to city council and community members about the status of his proposed development project at The Flats in Coatesville. Morgan, a Coatesville Area Senior High graduate, purchased The Flats from the city last year and announced a plan to build a sports complex and event center at the site through his organization, KNGDM Group. The Flats is a 21-acre tract of land in the city, located along Route 30, west or Route 82, near the West Branch Brandywine Creek. In June 2018, The Flats and three other census tracts within the City of Coatesville were designated opportunity zones. The federal Qualified Opportunity Zone program enables investors to build tax-free wealth by deferring capital gains taxes and using that money as seed capital to fund redevelopment projects in local communities. Morgan said they’ve hired a reputable full-time grant writer, and they’re also seeking private investors to help fund the project. He plans to break ground on the project by the end of the year.
Source: Daily Local; 2/13/2020

Transition team to study county government
Chester County Commissioners have formed a “transition team” with two main goals: improve the quality of the workplace for county employees, and enhance the services provided to Chester County citizens in efficient and cost-effective ways. The independent team is led by West Chester University President Christopher Fiorentino as chairman, and David Thornburgh, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, a longstanding nonprofit, nonpartisan advocate for better government in Pennsylvania, as vice chairman. The team comprises 28 industry experts and government officials, all professionals with leadership in health and human services, public safety and the courts, community planning and economic development, and administrative services. The transition team has set a target of 90 days to conduct its review and make recommendations to the commissioners. Key tasks outlined for the transition team include identifying issues to be addressed, and soliciting input from stakeholders, county departments and county government employees.
Source: Daily Local; 2/14/2020

Delaware County

Questions abound as Delco property reassessment proceeds
As Delaware County begins to mail out new tentative property assessments to owners, two informational sessions were held to bring the public up to date. Paul Miller from Tyler Technologies explained the methodology and timeline while fielding questions from a packed Delaware County Council room. He encouraged residents who think that their properties have been over-assessed to set up an appointment for an informal appeal either online or by phone. Property owners will have two opportunities this year to challenge their assessments — through an informal process and a formal process. The assessed values are effective Jan. 1, 2021, and will be applied to the municipal, county and school district property taxes that year. “The purpose of this is not to do anything for us in terms of raising more money,” County Commissioner Christine Ruether said. “What it is trying to do ... is make sure that the tax burden is spread fairly across all the property owners. We can all debate whether the property tax is the right way to go. ... For right now, this is the only way that we have to raise tax revenue.” Miller explained that for those who choose the informal assessments, they will have one-on-one sessions to explain their case in various locations, including East Lansdowne Borough Hall, the Hunt Club in Rose Tree Park, the Concord Township Municipal Office and the Delaware County Government Center in Media. He recommended that owners attending an assessment bring pictures and more information, particularly comparables of actual property sales in the same neighborhood. View an informational video on the informal appeal process here.
Source: Daily Times; 2/19/2020

Property owners have 10 days to schedule informal appeal
Delaware County has started mailing out notices of new tentative values to property owners in February and March. View the municipal mailing schedule here (PDF). Property owners who wish to appeal their new valuations have just 10 days from the notice date to sign up for an informal review. 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

Foundation for Delco announces new housing initiative
The Foundation for Delaware County announced that Bryn Mawr Trust recently made a $10,000 contribution to the supportive housing project to benefit low-income, vulnerable women, children and families in need of affordable housing in the City of Chester. The project, a partnership between The Foundation for Delaware County and the Chester Housing Authority, was approved in November 2019 to receive state funding through the Neighborhood Assistance Tax Credit Program. Program participants in the foundation’s Healthy Start and Nurse-Family Partnership programs will receive assistance and support to allow them to access affordable housing units provided by Chester Housing Authority. A public charity founded in 2016, The Foundation for Delaware County is the largest philanthropy serving Delaware County. To learn more about the foundation, visit the foundation website.
Source: Daily Times; 2/17/2020

Lower Chi sinkholes are from storm drain, not pipeline
The report of gas leak and sinkhole in the 300 block of West Ridge Road in Lower Chichester drew the attention of a number of reporters and a news helicopter. “I hate to disappoint you, but this is not related to the pipeline,” Lower Chichester Commissioner Rocco Gaspari said when a reporter called to inquire. “We have the old pipeline, not the Mariner.” Gaspari said someone might have smelled petroleum from spilled oil in the parking lot. As for the sinkhole, he said it is related to an issue the township is already dealing with — the stormwater pipe that runs through Rocco Gaspari Municipal Park has caused some sinkholes, which have been marked off with warning tape.
Source: Daily Times; 2/16/2020

Montgomery County

Preliminary Upper Dublin School District budget includes 2.6% tax increase
A $106.9 million preliminary budget for the 2020-2021 school year was reviewed at a recent town hall meeting held by the Upper Dublin School District. The school board voted in December to cap any tax increase for the coming school year at 2.6% — the Act 1 index set by the state. A 2.6% increase would raise the millage rate to 35.3151 mills and would amount to an additional $196 in taxes for a property assessed at the township median of about $197,000 for a total tax bill of about $6,950. Chief Financial Officer Andrew Lechman reported that commercial tax reassessments have had an impact on revenues — the district lost $1.2 million in tax revenue this year because of an appeal for the Prudential property on Welsh Road. That same assessment appeal will cost the district $800,000 next year and $670,000 every year after.\
Source: Ambler Gazette; 2/17/2020

Trail study underway for Tookany Creek area
The Tookany-Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council is looking for input for a study to determine the feasibility of constructing a new trail and upgrading existing trail along Tookany Creek from High School Road to Cheltenham Avenue. The trail will form an important part of the Circuit Trails, an 800-mile long network of trail being developed in Philadelphia and its vicinity. The study is limited to the corridor between Cheltenham Avenue and High School Road. The work will take into account possible links with the Tacony Creek Trail and the Frankford Creek Greenway all the way to the Delaware River and the East Coast Greenway, as well as the future extension from Elkins Park to Glenside, Arcadia University and the Cresheim Trail in Springfield Township. Click here to provide feedback or to get more information.
Source: Cheltenham Township Press Release; 2/14/2020

Historical society to host classes on researching the history of your home
The Historical Society of Montgomery County will present two classes on researching the history of your home. “Reading Your House” will be held Wednesday, March 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. will introduce attendees topics on historic architecture, including: formal and vernacular architecture, regional differences in house types (pre-1850), basic styles and construction techniques from 1700 to 1920, how to measure and draw a house, and how to look around at the landscape of houses in Montgomery County. Part Two of the course, “Researching Your Home,” will be held on Wednesday, March 18, from 6 to 8 p.m., and will examine various documents related to house construction and occupancy that will give researchers more information about how houses and architecture function. Instructors will discuss deeds and probate records, mechanics’ liens, maps, census and tax records, and other sources of documentary evidence related to houses. Classes will be held at the historical society headquarters, 1654 DeKalb St., Norristown. The cost for nonmembers is $30 for one class or $50 for both. For more information or to register call 610-272-0297 or visit the society website.
Source: Times Herald; 2/19/2020  

County planners to offer community planning course
The Montgomery County Planning Commission is sponsoring The Course in Community Planning, which will be taught in three consecutive Monday sessions — on March 30 and April 6 and 13 — from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Whitemarsh Township building, 616 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill. The course, designed for both new and experienced participants, covers the fundamental information that municipal officials and planning commission members need to carry out their responsibilities. It addresses the role of planning in local government and how planning commissions relate to the governing body, zoning hearing board and zoning officer. Specific topics include: basic knowledge of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code; comprehensive planning; plan implementation, including zoning, subdivision and land development regulation; official mapping; and how effective planning commissions approach their responsibilities. This in-depth course is limited to 25 participants and preregistration is required. The registration fee is $110. Click here for more information.
Source: Montgomery County Planning Commission; 1/2020


Philly’s long-term flooding plan could involve buyouts, relocation
As a city located between two rivers, rising sea levels are a serious threat to Philadelphia. Officials are already working on a plan. “We’re going to have to start making substantial investments, and they may not be all that fun,” said Marc Cammarata, the Philly Water Department’s deputy commissioner of planning and environmental services. “Relocation, buyouts. People need to start expecting that.” The Water Department conducted a study in Germantown to figure out how much it would cost to replace existing water pipes with underground tunnels and tanks, which would increase their capacity to hold water and hopefully alleviate flooding in the area. “We found it would cost $500 to $800 million to mitigate flooding for 2,000 or so properties,” Cammarata said. Even that expense wouldn’t be foolproof. “That may work for a 10-year storm, but if a 50-year storm hits, you’re still getting flooding.” Hence, the relocation idea. Should it become really necessary, Cammarata said Philly is looking to Milwaukee for inspiration. After a major flood there, Wisconsin paid 140 property owners to move elsewhere. The original homes were converted back into wetlands that could better drain water from the region. Philadelphia is in the middle of a 25-year plan to create more stormwater infrastructure that could absorb rainfall, including potentially replacing older pipes with tunnels and tanks to increase underground water storage, and upsizing wastewater treatment plants. They’re also debating requiring private developers to incorporate more porous materials into their projects, creating more surface area for water to drain. Read more here.
Source: Billy Penn; 2/13/2020

$1 sales: How Philly gave away $54M in properties
Philadelphia’s $1 land sales — meant to revitalize blighted neighborhoods, create affordable housing and bring properties back onto the tax rolls — have by default enriched many people and organizations over the years, with little oversight or accountability. Of the 2,314 properties that the city has sold for $1 since 2000, according to an Inquirer analysis of property transfer data, about 800 have been since resold for $54 million. Some of those flips had been gardens, side yards and playgrounds before being sold for market-rate development. Other properties became housing for people with modest incomes as intended. Nearly 1,200 of the $1 properties have remained vacant. Some are still eyesores. Others have been maintained over the years, but were awarded to owners without the money or capacity to develop them — a missed opportunity for affordable housing and the city’s coffers. Through a clause in most of the $1 deeds, the city has the right to take back parcels that have not been developed or rehabilitated within one year, and give them to someone who has more means to follow through. But it has seldom done so. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/19/2020

Help pick the logo for Philly’s new ‘I Voted’ sticker
In a contest organized by city commissioners, the public can vote on a new design for Philadelphia’s “I Voted” stickers ahead of the April 28 primary. The artists behind the nine designs selected as finalists include pro graphic designers and young illustrators-in-training. The finalists include three adults, two college students, two high schoolers and two K-8 students.
Source: Billy Penn; 2/13/2020

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