NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
State to test 300 water utilities for PFAS contamination

Bucks County
SRA seeks input on Bristol Township’s sewer lateral inspection requirement

Chester County
East Goshen Parks and Recreation named best in state

Delaware County
U.D. school board rebuffs Clifton demand for representation

Montgomery County
DEP visits Abington to talk water contamination 

Philadelphia County
Pew releases annual report on Philly, finds renters rising
 

 

News Briefs Archive January 14, 2019

 

General News

What the government shutdown means for Realtors®
The federal government has been partially shut down since Dec. 21, 2018, due to a budget impasse between the president and Congress. This partial shutdown includes some federal housing, mortgage and other programs of interest to the real estate industry. A summary of the impact on selected agencies is provided on the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) website. NAR staff continues to monitor federal agencies and work with Congress, the administration and other groups to assess ongoing impacts to NAR members and their businesses.
Source: Nar.realtor; 1/8/2019 

What the government shutdown means for mortgages
The partial federal government shutdown is complicating the already complicated process of getting and managing a mortgage. For one thing, the political storm is like severe weather at a major airport: You can expect minor delays or worse. Also, it could mean financial hardship for some federal government employees facing mortgage payments without their regular paychecks. Learn more about how the shutdown is affecting home buyers and homeowners, and what you can do about it, here.
Source: CBS News; 1/8/2019

Opportunity Zones: Rules finally come out
The U.S. Treasury recently proposed some rules surrounding the tax deferral opportunity known as Opportunity Zones (OZ), and they’re complex. The new guidelines create three major tax benefits for investments: gains recognized by a taxpayer and invested into a Qualified Opportunity Fund may be deferred until 2026; 10 percent of the deferred gain may be forgiven if the OZ-Fund investment is held for five years, with an additional 5 percent forgiven if held for seven years; and any post-investment appreciation in the OZ fund may be tax free if held for at least 10 years. The OZ fund can invest in real estate, an operating business or new projects — anything acquired after Jan. 1, 2018. Real estate investments must include substantial rehabilitation — doubling the initial amount of money you invest within 30 months. And so-called “sin businesses” aren’t eligible: golf courses and country clubs; massage parlors and suntan facilities; racetrack or other gambling outfits, or liquor stores. Philadelphia, through the PIDC, a public-private economic development company, has launched its own Opportunity Zone website to promote the program. Such sites as the Arsenal in Frankford, the Pennovation Center in Grays Ferry, the Chester waterfront, and Camden are all examples of regional possibilities. Visit this website to search by zip code for opportunity zones nationwide.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/7/2019

Bucks County

Bucks Recorder of Deeds debuts fraud alert system
Bucks County Recorder of Deeds Robin Robinson announced a fraud alert system to protect Bucks County residents from a variety of fraud schemes. The new fraud alert system monitors 25 categories of documents — including deeds, property transfers, mortgage satisfaction records and power of attorney — that can catch any cases of so-called “house stealing” that have occurred in neighboring counties. Residents and businesses interested in signing up for the free alert system can find more information here. Robinson also warned residents not to fall for a scheme in which third-party firms will sell new homeowners copies of their deed for close to $100. The documents can be obtained at minimal cost by contacting the Recorder of Deeds office.
Source: Levittownnow.com; 1/7/2019 

Bensalem school board sets budget meetings
The Bensalem school board has scheduled public budget work session meetings as it begins work on the 2019-2020 budget. The budget work sessions are scheduled for Jan. 30, March 13, April 10 and May 22. Additionally, meetings are set for Feb. 13 to adopt a preliminary budget and referendum exceptions application; May 8 to adopt a proposed final budget; and June 12 to adopt a final budget. All work sessions and meetings begin at 6 p.m. and take place at the Dorothy D. Call Administrative Center, 3000 Donallen Drive. The district’s multi-year financial outlook projections show Bensalem facing a projected $8.36 million budget deficit for the 2023-2024 school year with no fund balance available to help reduce it — even with raising taxes to the state’s Act 1 index maximum every year. The school board intends to apply to the state for exceptions for pension and special education expenses that will allow the district to raise property taxes above its Act 1 Index percent of 2.3 percent for the coming school year.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/2/2019 

Sanitary sewer cleaning and maintenance in Northampton
Northampton Bucks County Municipal Authority is beginning a sanitary cleaning and maintenance project in January. The work includes cleaning and television inspection of the sewer mains in the streets and easements, and television inspection of sewer laterals. Click here for the project area and information for residents regarding sewer maintenance.
Source: Northampton Township; 1/3/2019

Arts charter high school application withdrawn in Bensalem
TLC Arts has withdrawn its application for a charter arts high school that was proposed for the former TruMark Financial Credit Union headquarters building near the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem. TLC Arts CEO Thomas Lubben informed Bensalem School District Superintendent Samuel Lee of the decision after TLC’s developer was unable to reach an agreement with TruMark to purchase the building. Lubben said TLC Arts will try to find another Lower Bucks County location for the proposed charter arts high school and hopefully have it open for the 2020-2021 school year, provided a location is found and approvals are granted. The charter arts high school would offer required academic courses along with majors in dance, theater, and instrumental and vocal music, among other areas. TLC Arts has started four other charter arts schools in the Lehigh Valley.
Source: The Intelligencer; 1/8/2019

Chester County 

EIT suit against West Chester Borough withdrawn
According to Borough Manager Mike Perrone, a resident-sponsored civil suit objecting to an increase in the earned income tax was dropped. A group of concerned citizens spearheaded a 50-signature petition, while maintaining that a jump in the EIT from 1 to 1.25 percent was illegal under the Home Rule Charter. Borough Council recently raised the levy in a bid to pay off much of an almost $20 million unfunded pension liability. “Existing case law from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is directly on point,” Perrone said. “The borough as a home rule community has the ability to exceed the 1 percent EIT.” Councilman Bernie Flynn, chair of the finance committee, said the borough raised the EIT to create a cash stream to satisfy the debt. Council President Diane LeBold was pleased the EIT litigation was withdrawn. The new tax will generate a little less than $2 million per year and pay off 85 percent of the deficit in 11.5 years. Council had balked at raising the real estate property tax, which was considered prohibitive for many residents, especially those on fixed incomes.
Source: Daily Local; 1/8/2018

New Garden Township officials draft first official map
New Garden Township is working to develop an official map. Adopting an official map was a priority recommendation from the 2018 Comprehensive Plan Update and could play a pivotal role in the township’s efforts to preserve open space, expand the trail network and revitalize Toughkenamon. An official map is a combined map and ordinance that expresses the township’s interest in acquiring land for a public purpose. Public purposes for which the land may be needed may include public parks, playgrounds and open space preservation, trail network, future road connections, and other infrastructure needs. There are 18 municipalities in Chester County, including neighboring Kennett and London Britain townships that have adopted an official map. When owners of properties designated on the official map decide to build, subdivide or otherwise develop, they must first notify the township. Once notification is given, the township has a limited time (maximum of one year) to negotiate a fair market price for the land — the “right of first refusal.” The official map is in no way an attempt to condemn or otherwise “take” someone’s land. The township plans to provide numerous opportunities for public input. Read more here.
Source: Daily Local; 1/7/2019 

Chester County Planning Commission releases affordable housing data
Did you know that the median house value in Chester County 2017 was the highest in the state? That can make it difficult for a broad spectrum of people to afford housing in Chester County. To delve more into this data, check out the Chester County Planning Commission’s presentation (PDF) on the topic of affordable housing.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission; 1/8/2019

Coatesville’s four Opportunity Zones prime for investment
The Chester County Economic Development Council is urging investors and real estate developers to seize the opportunity to invest in local Opportunity Zones (OZ) and receive significant tax breaks. “While financial advisors are often attuned to recommending key development projects happening across the country, we want to make sure that they are also aware of the opportunity to steer clients to potentially more lucrative projects right here at home,” said Gary Smith, president of the CCEDC. The CCEDC also announced the establishment of its new Opportunity Zone Initiative, which aims to match local and national investors with investment opportunities in the county’s only designated OZ area, the City of Coatesville, by offering project underwriting and other facilitation services to help streamline the process. Non-Chester County investors are eligible and encouraged to participate. Coatesville has four federally designated Opportunity Zones in the city. A webinar about the federal Opportunity Zones program is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17, at 3 p.m.
Source: Coatesville Today; 1/7/2019

Delaware County

Chadds Ford passes budget
Chadds Ford Township has a budget for 2019 that raises both revenue and spending by 8.87 percent but  keeps taxes steady at 0.882 mills for properties in a hydrant zone and 0.787 mills outside hydrant zones. Aside from the hydrant tax, the budget has dedicated taxes for general government, open space funds and Rachel Kohl Library. In other news, the township will hold its annual Volunteer Appreciation and Open House on Friday, Feb. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 12/30/2019

Former state Sen. Ted Erickson dies
Former state Sen. Edwin “Ted” Erickson (R-26), of Newtown, a longtime fixture in Delaware County government and politics, died Monday at age 80. He won a special election for the state Senate’s 26th District in 2001 and served until his 2014 retirement. He also served as executive director of Delaware County from 1992 to 2001. While in the Senate, Erickson was on a variety of committees and caucuses, and was chairman of the Senate Majority Policy Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Senator Erickson was supportive of Realtor® issues throughout his time in public office.
Source: Daily Times; 1/9/2019

Radnor awards topographical survey contract for Gulph Creek
The Radnor Board of Commissioners voted to spend $80,000 to allow a consultant to assess the topography of properties abutting Gulph Creek. This assessment will lead to the flood plain restoration along Gulph Creek that could keep water out of nearby homes. Commissioner Jack Larkin said Meliora Design met with community members and township staff on Dec. 1 to go over the proposal. Meliora engineers discovered that 300 additional acres send 800,000 cubic feet of water draining into Gulph Creek from Tredyffrin Township, which previous consultants missed, he said, meaning earlier proposals for the Poplar bypass pipe and enlarging the basin in North Wayne Field would be “a drop in the bucket,” Larkin said. The township would seek easements for parts of people’s backyards that border the creek. The survey will be funded through the township stormwater fund. Commissioner John Nagel said that more than 120 houses would be protected by restoring riparian buffers. Commissioner Larkin noted that there have been formal and informal approaches to discuss the issue with Tredyffrin officials
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 12/24/2018

Meetings delayed for Don Guanella plans
Upcoming meetings to address the residential plans on the former Don Guanella Village have been postponed by the developer. Peter Miller, principal at Carlino Commercial Development, voluntarily asked the township for a delay from a Jan. 3 Marple Planning Commission meeting on the preliminary/final land development plan and a Jan. 14 conditional use hearing before the Marple Board of Commissioners, to allow the development team to look thoroughly at the latest review letter on the proposal from township engineer Joseph Mastronardo on the Residences of Marple Preserve. This residential plan on approximately 140 acres of two residentially zoned plots of land proposes over 200 housing units in what is referred to as a by-right plan, meaning it conforms to the zoning designations of how those portions of land may be used.
Source: Delco News Network County Press; 1/3/2019

Montgomery County

Upper Gwynedd considers bamboo and solicitation ordinances
Upper Gwynedd supervisors will hold a public hearing on Monday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the township Building, 1 Parkside Place, West Point, to consider enacting several ordinances. The first establishes definitions and regulations for the planting, cultivating, growing, control and/or removal of bamboo, and the penalties for violations of same. The proposed bamboo ordinance will require that bamboo existing at the time of adoption shall be trimmed and maintained away from property lines, curbs, sidewalks and public facilities. Another proposed ordinance amends the Upper Gwynedd Township solicitation ordinance to provide for the creation of a “Do Not Knock” list that will be maintained by the Upper Gwynedd Chief of Police and will be provided to all persons seeking a solicitation permit in the township. The full text of both ordinances is available for inspection at the township building weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Source: The Reporter; 1/4/2019

Jenkintown sets meetings for Cedar Street Park
Jenkintown Borough will hold three meetings on Tuesday evenings to discuss the planning of the future Cedar Street Park. The meetings are open to all residents and those who wish to participate in the planning process. The Jan. 22 meeting will be a park layout plan, presentation and discussion; Feb. 12 will consist of a park plan presentation and discussion of amenities; and March 12 will be a complete park plan presentation and question-and-answer session. All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Jenkintown Borough Hall, 700 Summit Ave. The borough would like to complete the planning process and produce the final park plans prior to the end of March 2019 so that grant funding opportunities can be applied for as soon as possible.
Source: Jenkintown Borough; 1/2/2019

Montgomery County approves new paper-based voting system
Montgomery County Commissioners approved a new paper-based voting system that will replace the aging electronic voting systems that have been utilized since 1996. The new system will have voters use a pen to fill out their ballot, the voter will check it for accuracy and then submit it to a scanner that tabulates the votes. The ballot itself will be retained as a “verifiable paper trail” for any future recounts or audits. The new system will be in place in time for the May 2019 primaries. Officials are organizing a public outreach campaign and training for poll workers to ensure a smooth election in May.
Source: Limerick Patch; 12/19/2018

Montco’s winter calendar includes outdoor, historical activities
Montgomery County parks, trails and historical sites offer opportunities to enjoy various natural resources, participate in educational and recreational opportunities, and appreciate the county’s history. There county website has a calendar (PDF) that includes winter bird hikes, a children’s nature series, a full moon hike and many other activities. Montgomery County owns or manages more than 6,000 acres of public open space which includes nine parks, five historical sites and more than 60 miles of regional trails. Visit the Parks, Trails and Historic Sites page here.

Philadelphia

Citywide property assessing placed on hold
A recent audit of Philadelphia’s Office of Property Assessment (OPA) reported that the city’s property assessments do not meet accuracy standards and are plagued by insufficient data. City council commissioned the audit after a reassessment of residential properties sparked outrage among homeowners over large tax increases. Click here for the Philadelphia Inquirer story on the audit. The release of the audit set off a public clash between Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, which oversees the OPA. Clarke wants to see a change in leadership at the assessment office and the hiring of an outside firm to correct inaccurate data used in assessments. In response to the audit, Kenney’s administration announced that Philadelphia will not undertake another major reassessment of all its properties until it implements needed changes at the OPA. Market values issued this spring will be used to calculate tax bills in 2020. Click here for the Philadelphia Inquirer story about assessment hold.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/4/2019 & 1/9/2019

Philadelphia demolitions hit record high in 2018
Developers began tearing down a record number of Philadelphia buildings in 2018, with more demolitions getting started than any other year on record. Data from the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections show that the agency doled out permits that led to 514 demolition projects since the beginning of the year. That’s up from 491 permits in 2017 and just 151 at a historic low in 2009, in the wake of the 2008 housing crash. In addition to those 514 owner-initiated teardowns, demolition began on another 422 buildings that city inspectors deemed unsafe — adding up to a total of 937 knockdowns initiated in 2018. While L&I does not track end uses for demolition projects, Leo Addimando of the Philadelphia Building Industry Association attributed the uptick in demolition to a robust housing market. “If anything, this increase in demo permits is a sign of the continued strength of both the for-sale housing and rental markets in Philadelphia,” he wrote in an email. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/28/2018

New loans for home repair may be lifeline for ‘small landlords’ and their tenants
Early in 2019, with the help of some state funding, Philadelphia is expected to launch a pilot program that will hand out loans to “small landlords” — those who own four or fewer units. Through the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, participants will each receive roughly $25,000 to make repairs. Other details — including the total amount of money that will be made available and who will qualify — are still being decided. Melissa Long, who directs the Division of Housing and Community Development, said the new program should help cut the number of residents living without plumbing as long as there is buy-in from landlords. Forty percent of the city’s estimated 220,000 licensed landlords are considered small landlords, but all licensees are required to provide renters with clean water and “sanitation services,” including a working toilet. The city, through the Department of Licenses and Inspections, can block landlords with code violations from collecting rent from the people living in the problem property, as well as bar them from renewing a mandatory renter’s license. “If a landlord still doesn’t want to fix the violations, the code enforcement process can be very slow,” said spokeswoman Karen Guss. “If [Licenses and Inspections] can’t get into the property, we can’t pursue the case.” Without a recent inspection, the city’s Law Department can’t file a lawsuit against a landlord, which means a court can’t impose any fines tied to a code violation, which can cost a few hundred dollars a day. The loan program is intended to be lifeline designed to help landlords make repairs they are unable to afford and save tenants from going through a disruptive move.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/18/2018



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