NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Realtors® unveil updated research on Fannie, Freddie utility proposal

Bucks County
Falls halts residential U&O inspections

Chester County
Brandywine Conservancy acquires 577 acres along Octoraro Creek

Delaware County
Judges to PUC: Reject DELCORA sale to Aqua

Montgomery County
County maintains AAA bond rating

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050

 

News Briefs Archive Jan. 11, 2021

 

General News

County tax roundup for 2021

The counties in our region have updated their property tax millage rates for the 2021 tax year:

  • Bucks County: Bucks County officials approved a final $469 million 2021 operating budget that increases spending by 3.6% but keeps the property tax rate steady at 25.45 mills. View the budget here.
  • Chester County: Chester County Commissioners unanimously approved a 2021 budget that includes a modest property tax increase. The $604.3 million budget — including $513.2 million in operating expenses and $91.1 million in capital costs — raises the tax rate from the current 4.369 mills to 4.551 mills. The hike will result in a $734 total annual tax for an average property in the county, based on a single-family home with a market value of $357,000. 
  • Delaware County: Delaware County Council approved a $355 million operating budget for 2021. The property tax rate was set at 2.999 mills — a lower rate than in the proposed version of the budget because total property assessment values came in higher than projected. The budget also reflects the establishment of a county health department, the result of a process that started in 2020 and is expected to end with state approval at the end of 2021. Note: Delaware County completed a countywide reassessment that takes effect in 2021. The county’s last comprehensive reassessment took effect in 2000. Property assessments are legal values established by counties to determine tax bills.
  • Montgomery County: Montgomery County Commissioners approved a 2021 budget that includes a 5% tax increase — or about $29 more per year for the average homeowner. The board last raised taxes in 2017. The board also unanimously passed a resolution for a real estate tax deferral program. It would apply to homeowners 65 years of age or older who have an annual household income of $35,000 or less, including 50% of social security income. All taxes deferred under the program are secured by a real estate tax lien annually and deferred for collection until the property is sold, the owners are no longer the sole residents, or the property is transferred through will or intestacy.

Property tax rates are measured in millage, with one mill being worth $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Additional information relating to municipal tax updates in 2021 may be found in the SRA’s weekly news briefs archives.

Coronavirus stimulus bill could send $36 billion to Pennsylvania
The $900 billion coronavirus stimulus legislation passed by Congress includes money for direct payments and unemployment benefits, as well as rental assistance, broadband access and child care. Also included is aid for small businesses with boosts to niche industries like craft breweries through excise-tax cuts or tax deduction extensions. Marc Stier, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, estimated that the bill will deliver about $1 billion in rental assistance to the state and Pennsylvania’s portion could total about $36 billion — roughly the total amount of the state’s budget. The bill was not signed by President Trump prior to the expiration of federally funded unemployment benefits on Dec. 26, so many people will have to reapply. The new relief measure also extends for one month a federal moratorium on evictions that was set to expire on Dec. 31.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/24/2020

New state eviction rules effective Jan. 1, benefitting landlords
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court modified some of the timeline rules for when a landlord can regain possession of residential property following an eviction. After winning a residential eviction case, a landlord must wait at least 10 days, but not more than 120 days, to file a Request for Order of Possession, which allows a landlord to have the tenant actually removed from the property. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and related moratoriums, the Minor Court Rules Committee, whose members are appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, made two recommendations to change the rules, both of which are beneficial to landlords. First, the committee recommended an extension of the 120-day deadline to 180 days. Part of the reasoning in recommending this change is to “provide the parties with greater flexibility to negotiate and enter into private forbearance agreements.” The second recommended change is the inclusion of a landlord being able to request up to two 60-day extensions of the 180-day deadline. However, the landlord must request the first extension before the 180-day period expires. Both recommendations were approved by the state Supreme Court with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2021. Read more at the Pennyslvania Association of Realtors® website.
Source: PAR JustListed; 12/18/2020

Tri-County Suburban Realtors® merger is official
On Jan. 1, the Suburban West Realtors Association and the Montgomery County Association of Realtors merged to form Tri-County Suburban Realtors (TCSR), the largest local Realtor association in the state of Pennsylvania. The new organization serves more than 8,500 Realtors and affiliated members primarily in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. Learn more at the new association website, tcsr.realtor, or read the full press release (PDF).

Bucks County

Falls to amend occupancy inspection guidelines
Falls Township supervisors will consider for adoption an ordinance that will amend Chapter 138, “Housing Standards General References,” of the township code of ordinances. The proposed ordinance would: update the guidelines for inspection prior to a new owner occupying a residential dwelling; require a township inspection for a nonresidential property when there is a change of use; create a residential rental license permit program requiring all owners of rental properties to apply for and obtain a permit; expand the residential rental inspection program to require a township inspection upon initial application for a rental permit, when there is a new tenant or a maximum of every three years. SRA is currently reviewing the draft ordinance, which can be found by clicking here. The draft ordinance will be considered at a virtual meeting on Monday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. Attendance instructions will be posted to the Falls Township website. Comments and questions can be submitted in advance to m.takita@fallstwp.com.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/4/2021

Langhorne Borough to consider stormwater fee and management plan
Langhorne Borough Council will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 7:30 p.m. via video conference to consider adoption of an ordinance establishing a Stormwater Fee Collection and Management Plan. Council is expected to vote on the plan at a virtual meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 7:30 p.m. The Alliance has requested a copy of the proposed ordinance. For information on how to participate, visit the Langhorne Borough website.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/29/2020

Bristol Borough gets $1M to combat flooding
Bristol Borough was awarded a $1 million state grant to fix flooding problems in the parking lot at the borough’s Waterfront Park. The borough plans to: install a new stormwater system with a bulkhead to alleviate flooding issues; replace pavement; install new lighting and landscaping for the parking lot and park; and construct a restroom facility. Business owners are optimistic that the fixes will be a boost for existing businesses, saying the periodic flooding of the parking lot is a detriment to economic opportunities in the borough. Bill Pezza, president of the nonprofit Raise the Bar that promotes business and tourism in the borough, said Borough Council President Ralph DiGuiseppe, Borough Manager Jim Dillon, state Rep. John Galloway (D-140) and state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-6) are the driving forces behind the project. The borough is part of both Tomlinson's and Galloway's legislative districts. The project is expected to begin in the spring and be completed by the end of the year.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/5/2021 

Bucks lawmakers propose $500M in relief aid for Pa. hospitality industry
State Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144) has introduced legislation that would create a grant program by dedicating $500 million of forthcoming federal COVID-19 relief to help restaurants, hotels, amusement parks and other tourism-related industries in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association president/CEO John Longstreet said the latest federal relief package has no grant money for the hospitality industry, but he's hoping a future package will, and that Polinchock's bill will direct a big chunk of it to restaurants, hotels and other tourism-related businesses hurt by the pandemic.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/23/2020

Chester County 

West Chester streamlines information sharing
West Chester Borough is working to simplify the way residents and workers get information. In mid-January the borough’s Notify Me email notification system will be discontinued and replaced by a new platform, ReadyChesco. “The borough’s goal is to make it simple and easy for everyone,” Bill Mann, borough chief information officer, said.
Source: Daily Local; 12/30/2020

Coatesville, West Whiteland, Phoenixville get millions for development projects
Coatesville, West Whiteland and Phoenixville received $4.25 million in grant funding through the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program for projects to improve transportation, public safety and public works facilities. The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Coatesville will receive $1 million for the Coatesville Train Station Parking Facility, a 175,000-square-foot multimodal parking facility that will feature bus transportation integration, covered waiting shelters, bike racks, ample lighting, wayfinding signage, and nearly 500 parking spaces to support SEPTA, Amtrak, and Link and Krapf bus services. West Whiteland Township will receive $1.5 million for a new 44,000-square-foot public works facility. The Borough of Phoenixville will receive $1.75 million for a new, 24,400-square-foot fire station facility at 150 Paradise St., including a six-bay apparatus room and community health, safety, education and training facilities.
Source: Daily Local; 12/26/2020

New policy to govern county ethics
Chester County government employees are now bound by a new code of ethics adopted by county commissioners that governs whether they can accept gifts from outsiders, spend time on political campaigns during their working hours, or use county property for their own purposes. The policy was adopted by the commissioners unanimously on Dec. 10, expanding on and clarifying rules already in place through a state employee ethics act. It governs full- and part-time employees in county departments. It does not, however, include the elected row office officials or the employees in those offices — the clerk of courts, the prothonotary, register of wills and controller — unless those officials decide to adopt it as their own. The commissioners are prohibited from interfering with the way those offices are operated.
Source: Daily Local; 1/3/2021

Sunoco told to reroute pipeline
Following an August spill of drilling fluid at Marsh Creek Lake, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shut down construction of a pipeline and told the builder, Sunoco/Energy Transfer, to find an alternate route. Sunoco appealed the ruling, and Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr. ruled that the DEP should be tasked with making any final decision on a restart at the site, which feeds drinking water to residents and businesses to the south along the Brandywine Creek watershed. The DEP also required Sunoco to restore resources impacted by Mariner East 2 pipeline installation in Upper Uwchlan Township. The August spill of over 8,000 gallons of drilling fluid, an industrial waste, created a 15-foot-wide by 8-foot-deep subsidence, adversely impacting wetlands, two tributaries to Marsh Creek Lake and the lake itself, in Marsh Creek State Park.
Source: Daily Times; 12/28/2020

Delaware County judge upholds $276M sale of regional sewer system
A Delaware County judge upheld the pending $276.5 million sale of the county’s public sewer system to private operator Aqua Pennsylvania, rejecting the county’s attempt to block the sale by taking over the independent wastewater authority. Common Pleas Court Judge Barry C. Dozor ruled that the county can’t interfere with the “fully binding and enforceable” agreement between Aqua and the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA). The county’s Democratic-led council moved in May to take over DELCORA in order to halt the sale, which the authority arranged last year before Republicans were voted out of office in 2019. “Contracts, binding agreements and various legally public actions are not to be extinguished or interfered with merely because of a reorganization of county council or partisan differences,” Dozor wrote in an eight-page order. The sale of the sprawling sewer system, which serves 165,000 customers in 42 towns in Delaware and Chester counties, would be the largest privatization of a public water or wastewater system in Pennsylvania. It must still be approved by the state Public Utility Commission (PUC). The county will decide whether to appeal in the next several weeks, county solicitor William F. Martin said in a statement. The county will continue to argue against the sale before the PUC, he added. DELCORA has said its decision to sell the system was not political, but an effort to rein in rising costs. The authority’s leadership said it moved to sell after the Philadelphia Water Department notified the authority it planned to drastically hike the amount it charges for treating some of the authority’s sewage at city treatment plants. DELCORA said its customers would pay less over the next decade under Aqua’s private ownership, instead of the higher costs of staying on Philadelphia’s system, or the full burden of almost $1.2 billion in required federal clean water improvements.
Source: Daily Times; 12/30/2020

Delaware County

Glenolden begins implementing sewer lateral inspection ordinance
Glenolden Borough has started enforcing an ordinance that requires the inspection of sewer lateral pipes at point of sale. The ordinance also requires a sewer lateral inspection when a property changes from being owner-occupied to a rental property. The SRA and the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors are reviewing the ordinance and the recently announced procedures as they relate to the PA Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act. Read the letter from the borough relating to the procedures here.
Source: Glenolden Borough; 1/3/2021

Delaware County judge upholds $276M sale of regional sewer system
A Delaware County judge upheld the pending $276.5 million sale of the county’s public sewer system to private operator Aqua Pennsylvania, rejecting the county’s attempt to block the sale by taking over the independent wastewater authority. Common Pleas Court Judge Barry C. Dozor ruled that the county can’t interfere with the “fully binding and enforceable” agreement between Aqua and the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA). The county’s Democratic-led council moved in May to take over DELCORA in order to halt the sale, which the authority arranged last year before Republicans were voted out of office in 2019. “Contracts, binding agreements and various legally public actions are not to be extinguished or interfered with merely because of a reorganization of county council or partisan differences,” Dozor wrote in an eight-page order. The sale of the sprawling sewer system, which serves 165,000 customers in 42 towns in Delaware and Chester counties, would be the largest privatization of a public water or wastewater system in Pennsylvania. It must still be approved by the state Public Utility Commission (PUC). The county will decide whether to appeal in the next several weeks, county solicitor William F. Martin said in a statement. The county will continue to argue against the sale before the PUC, he added. DELCORA has said its decision to sell the system was not political, but an effort to rein in rising costs. The authority’s leadership said it moved to sell after the Philadelphia Water Department notified the authority it planned to drastically hike the amount it charges for treating some of the authority’s sewage at city treatment plants. DELCORA said its customers would pay less over the next decade under Aqua’s private ownership, instead of the higher costs of staying on Philadelphia’s system, or the full burden of almost $1.2 billion in required federal clean water improvements.
Source: Daily Times; 12/30/2020

Delco closer to having its own health department
When the all-Democratic Delaware County Council took control of the county a year ago, one of its goals was to establish a county health department — a project magnified by the pandemic but not stalled by it, as officials are on track to have it open in January 2022. Last September, council approved a $185,000 yearly lease for a 1,235-square-foot facility at 125 Chester Ave. in Yeadon that will serve as a community health center until the transition into a county health office occurs. Top priorities include securing support and funding for the health department. An outline of the process can be viewed on the county website. Listening sessions will also be held to hear from coalitions, community organizations and other sectors of government, including municipal representatives, about what they want in a county health department.
Source: Daily Times; 1/4/2021

Swarthmore approves ‘revenue-neutral’ 2021 budget
Swarthmore Council approved the 2021 budget and associated taxes and fees to support the balanced revenue and expenditures of $5.57 million. Although the millage rate was not yet available, property taxes will be revenue neutral. The borough has been in the process of calculating millage with adjustments resulting from the countywide reassessment. Property owners may find their taxes have increased, decreased or remain about the same, depending on individual reassessments. However, the borough has determined the revenue needed from property taxes — $2.15 million — and is calculating the millage to obtain that figure. The sanitary sewer fee was increased by $0.60 to a total of $9.05 per thousand gallons of water. The trash fee increased by $15 to $430 per dwelling unit. The borough also increased the amount homeowners will pay to remove and replace trees to 70% of the cost from the previous 60%. The overall budget has an increase of 3.3%. Specific budget lines with sizable increases are mainly pension obligations. Finance Chair Michael Carey said the committee made the decision to use $143,300 from the unrestricted fund balance for what is referred to as “budget relief.” The ending fund balance remains at $406,700 which is 7.4% of budgeted expenditure. Carey said this is midrange between the 5% to 10% that is a standard recommendation.
Source: Daily Times; 12/30/2020

Montgomery County

Transportation projects bringing Norristown out of isolation
Norristown is the governmental epicenter of Montgomery County, but getting there can be rough. Drivers embarking on Route 422, the Schuylkill Expressway or the Pennsylvania Turnpike eastbound end up snaking around Route 202 and King of Prussia. The county recently completed the Lafayette Street Extension project — a one-mile, $90 million infrastructure project aimed at boosting access into downtown Norristown and Plymouth Township. But there’s still a missing link — it’s now up to the Pennsylvania Turnpike to build a promised Lafayette Street interchange. According to turnpike spokesperson Carl DeFabo, the interchange is “moving ahead in small steps.” Adding to the buzz about Norristown are a few other projects happening in the area: a future $150 million waterfront development in neighboring Bridgeport, the $430 million justice center project in Norristown, and the proposed extension of SEPTA’s Norristown High Speed Line into King of Prussia. If the King of Prussia rail project happens, “it’ll explode the housing market in Norristown, in terms of people who work in King of Prussia having a relatively inexpensive place to live and an easy way to get back and forth,” said Norristown resident and landscape architect Peter Simone. Norristown’s municipal administrator Crandall Jones called Norristown’s future the “textbook definition” of a transit-oriented development. Click here for the full article from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/23/2020

Lansdale looks to implement commercial fire safety inspections
In December, Lansdale Borough Fire Marshal Rick Lesniak gave the borough council a preview of a new commercial fire inspection program he would like to implement in 2021. Lesniak said the goal of the program is to minimize the risk of life and property loss from fire by inspecting commercial properties and educating business owners and employees on steps that they can take to minimize risk. Lesniak outlined the program he's developed so far, which would include an educational checklist for business owners to see the requirements they need to meet, ahead of in-person inspections by staff. Lesniak based the fee structure on averages currently charged for similar services in neighboring municipalities. He also said the goal would be for the fees to be revenue-neutral. Lansdale Borough Council next meets at on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 7 p.m. For more information, visit the Lansdale Borough website.
Source: The Reporter; 12/29/2020 

Worcester adopts 2021 budget with minimal property tax rate
Worcester Township supervisors adopted a 2021 budget (PDF) that includes no new taxes and no tax increases. The real estate tax rate will remain at 0.05 mills. The owner of a property assessed at $300,000 will pay $15 in property tax to the township. According to a press release from the township, Worcester Township’s real estate tax rate is the lowest municipal millage in Montgomery County. The township’s primary revenue source is its earned income tax, which will remain at 0.5%. The real estate transfer tax will also stay at 0.5% in 2021. A $1 per capita tax was eliminated in 2020, but the township continues collection efforts on taxes not paid in past years.
Source: Times Herald; 1/4/2021

No tax hike in Lansdale
Lansdale Borough Council unanimously approved the $35.4 million budget for 2021 that maintains a tax rate of 5.75 mills. The budget will fund major initiatives in 2021, including the East Main Street streetscape project, public safety radio and electric infrastructure upgrades, park and roadway improvements, and wastewater plant infrastructure. Borough council also accepted the resignation of finance director John Ramey, who is leaving in January to accept a similar position with Warminster Township.
Source: The Reporter; 12/30/2020

Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s construction boom withstood COVID but may slow in 2021
Although the pandemic briefly brought construction in Philadelphia to a halt, numerous projects already in the pipeline were restarted and overall activity remained comparable to pre-COVID times. Just four new construction permits were authorized during a one-month period between March and April, but by August, new construction permits soared to higher levels than those seen before the pandemic. The late-year surge can be attributed to projects that were already planned and financed, but Leo Addimando, president of the Building Industry of Philadelphia, said part of the increase could be anxiety about a deadline that had been in place to reduce the city’s 10-year tax abatement on new construction. City council decided to delay that reduction, but developers may have preemptively secured permits hoping to take advantage of the full abatement. Experts say the future of commercial development in dense cities like Philadelphia remains a question mark heading into 2021. Read more here.
Source: Whyy.org; 12/24/2020

 
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