NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Teams legislation introduced

Bucks County
Central Bucks $342 million budget holds the line on taxes

Chester County
Smart growth topic of June 20 forum

Delaware County
Delco puts spotlight on opportunity zones

Montgomery County
Lansdale council discusses alleys

Philadelphia County
Philly to increase homestead exemption to $45,000
 

 

News Briefs Archive January 21, 2019

 

General News

Pennsylvania Airbnb hosts made $122M last year
Airbnb and similar services continue to transform the hospitality industry. About 1 million people stayed in Airbnb homes or rooms in Pennsylvania in 2018, netting their hosts a total of $122 million. According to the company, there are now 14,200 hosts in the commonwealth, each making an average of $5,200 a year.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 1/11/2019

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

Bucks County

Property taxes up in Riegelsville
Riegelsville Borough Council in December unanimously approved a tax levy ordinance and a 2019 budget. The roughly $292,000 budget includes a property tax increase of 0.75 mills for a total of 14 mills — with 12.5 mills dedicated to general operations, 1 mill for fire protection services, and 0.5 mills for ambulance and rescue squad services. The average property owner will see about a $20 increase on their borough property tax increase for 2019. A breakdown of the budget is available on the Riegelsville Borough website.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 1/11/2019

Adelphia pipeline project is closer to approval
An 84-mile natural gas pipeline project called the Adelphia Gateway pipeline is one step closer to approval after a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) study concluded that it would have no significant impact on the environment. The 322-page environmental assessment completed by FERC staff, in conjunction with the federal departments of environmental protection and transportation, requires Adelphia to take measures to mitigate any negative side effects. The study addressed the project’s controversial West Rockhill compressor station, stating that alternative sites suggested by residents would require significantly more construction, site preparation and environmental disruption to the surrounding environment than the existing facility. The document does not mention that the area of the site is zoned residential-conservation. It does recommend that a noise survey be completed to ensure compliance with West Rockhill and Richland townships’ noise ordinances. Interested parties have until Sunday, Feb. 3, to respond to the environmental assessment. Click here for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Adelphia Gateway page.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 1/11/2019

New warehouse to bring jobs to Bristol Township
Construction has begun on a new 309,000-square-foot industrial facility at the Bristol Commerce Center. Urban Outfitters has signed a lease to operate a fabric warehouse on 20 of the center’s 81 acres off Green Lane. The warehouse is expected to open mid-year and will bring an estimated 200 jobs to Bristol Township initially, potentially growing to as many as 600 jobs, said Andrew McGhee, senior vice president for Colliers International, the leasing agent for the center. Urban Outfitters will receive tax breaks through 2022 for leasing space in a state Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone (KOEZ). Through 2022, tenants will pay no state sales taxes on supplies and service contracts, and no state corporate tax. At the local level, the center property owner will pay Bucks County, Bristol Township and the school district sums equal to 110 percent of the taxes paid on the property before its development, in lieu of local taxes. The site was designated as a 10-year KOEZ in 2012 by the Bucks County Commissioners, Bristol Township Council and the Bristol Township School Board. The KOEZ was put in place “to revive economically distressed urban and rural communities with one of the most powerful market-based incentives — eliminating taxes,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/11/2019

Bensalem to review redevelopment ordinances for Drexel shrine property
Bensalem Township Council members are scheduled to review and consider for adoption two ordinances on Monday, Jan. 28. One ordinance would create a new mixed-use residential zoning district, and the other would apply that zone to the former St. Katharine Drexel property. The ordinances are identical to ones reviewed by the township planning commission, which voted to deny the proposed rezoning due to resident opposition of accessory uses permitted under the proposed mixed-use residential ordinance. Havertown-based Aquinas Realty Partners is proposing a 605-unit community, with 90 market-rate townhouses, 175 senior living (55-plus) units, 80 assisted living or memory care units, and 260 apartment units. The total number of units dropped from the original 619 presented in October. There are 16 proposed accessory uses, including banks, restaurants, libraries and day cares that would be small, private places residents can access without leaving the community.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/15/2019

Solebury seeking volunteers for advisory boards
Solebury Township has several vacancies for full members, associate members or alternate members on various boards, including: environmental advisory council, Solebury Farm Committee, historical architectural review board, land preservation committee, parks and recreation board, zoning hearing board, planning commission, and Aquetong Spring Advisory Committee. Click here for more information.
Source: Solebury Township; 1/14/2019

Chester County 

West Chester council may lift permit parking moratorium
The West Chester Borough Parking Committee recommended that borough council lift a three-year moratorium that limited the addition of new permit parking areas. The moratorium was in place while a parking study was underway. “We didn’t want the data changing,” Council President Diane LeBold.  Residents who live in a permit parking area are required to purchase a yearly permit to avoid receiving a parking ticket. All permits are nontransferable. In related news, the committee considered limiting residential parking on weekdays from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. to permit holders only.
Source: Daily Local; 1/10/2019

Brandywine Conservancy gets $1.5 million to preserve 569 acres
The Brandywine Conservancy has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for the acquisition of a 569-acre natural area along the Octoraro Creek in Lower Oxford and West Nottingham townships. The land is a portion of the 952-acre Glenroy Farm property that spans Chester and Lancaster counties. The conservancy’s ultimate goal is to work with the landowner to permanently protect the entire property through purchases and agricultural easements. The $1.5 million from DCNR will be used to match an already approved $3 million multi-year grant from the Chester County Preservation Partnership Program. Eventually the 569-acre natural area will be transferred to and managed by the Oxford Area Foundation as a passive preserve with five miles of trails.
Source: Daily Local; 1/16/2019

More than mushrooms: Kennett Square squeezes more shops, people in a tiny borough
Kennett Square has capitalized on its designation as a global mushroom capital and its southern Chester County location in order to transform from a sleepy small town into what borough officials had long envisioned it could be. The one-square-mile borough is teeming with shops, restaurants, small businesses and a bustling downtown. In just the past three years, the borough has welcomed 20 new businesses. Borough officials have encouraged that development, while surrounding Kennett Township has largely remained rural, said Mary Hutchins, executive director of Historic Kennett Square, a nonprofit that has been the force behind the borough’s change. Nestled among miles of mushroom houses that produce fully half of the nation’s mushroom crop, Kennett Square has been increasing its profile for decades. Borough officials recognize the need to balance economic growth with the loss of affordable housing, said Mayor Matthew Fetick. At the same time, he said: “We want to see growth. It increases the tax base and revenue.” Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 1/12/2019

New Uwchlan Hills Elementary on the way
Work to replace Uwchlan Hills Elementary School in the Downingtown Area School District will likely start in March. At an estimated cost of $27 million, an 80,000-square-foot steel structure, with a brick veneer and open classroom design, will replace the current 63,445-square-foot school. There are 25 classrooms in the current building, and the same number are expected in the “new” school, according to Dale Lauver, director of facilities for the district. The “old” school, at 50 Peck Road, houses 500 students, and the new school is expected to house the same amount, with potential capacity for 600 students, if needed. The new building is expected to open during the summer of 2020, Lauver said.
Source: Daily Local; 1/16/2019

Delaware County

After complaints, Chester revamps open records process
The City of Chester has taken steps to improve its efficiency in handling open records requests following a determination from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) that found the city to be acting in bad faith. The determination put Chester City government on a shortlist of agencies to receive such a designation, preceded only by the City of Reading. City council appointed city clerk Candice Thompson to also handle the vacant position of open records officer. A similar position is being created within the Chester Police Department, according to city solicitor Ken Schuster. “It sounds like they are taking the issue very seriously, as they should,” OOR executive director Erik Arneson said. While the OOR may deem an agency to have acted in bad faith in its adherence to the state Right to Know law, it is up to the courts to determine sanctions. According to Arneson, fines are limited to $1,500, though orders to pay plaintiffs’ legal fees could result in a greater financial penalty.
Source: Daily Times; 1/11/2019

Ridley schools vow to hold to Pa. Act 1 index on taxes
The Ridley School Board, at its January meeting, passed a budget resolution under Act 1 committing the school district to not increase school property taxes in excess of the Act 1 index of 3 percent set by the state Department of Education for the 2019-2020 school year. Taxpayers will have to wait until the district’s preliminary budget is presented in May to find out if there will be an increase in their school taxes for the upcoming school year. The board’s decision means the district cannot raise taxes above the 3 percent index without voter approval. Ridley Schools Superintendent Lee Ann Wentzel said Ridley will stay within the 3 percent index and will not file for any exceptions.
Source: Daily Times; 1/11/2019

Route 252, Springton Reservoir dam slated for $13M improvements
Route 252 over the Springton Reservoir in Upper Providence Township is slated for a $13 million renovation. The joint project of Aqua Pennsylvania and PennDOT will reconstruct the roadway across the reservoir, known as Route 252 and Palmers Mill Road, as well as expand and improve the dam. According to Upper Providence Township Manager Greg Lebold, the plan was first seen by township officials approximately five years ago. While project documents cite the “primary goal” to address existing deficiencies, there is no indication of unsafe conditions. Lebold said the township has requested plans relevant to local needs but has not yet received them. Clearing of vegetation is expected to start imminently. PennDOT will build a temporary roadway parallel to the existing bridge across the reservoir, which will then be reconstructed. Aqua will take the lead on dam/reservoir work, and J. D. Eckman of Atglen was awarded the contract for road construction. The project is expected to take at least two to three years.
Source: Daily Times; 1/14/2019

Upper Chichester holds line on taxes, but trash fee increases
Real estate taxes in Upper Chichester Township will remain steady. Commissioners unanimously adopted a 2019 final operating budget totaling $16.8 million. The property tax rate was set at 5.1 mills, the same as in 2018. A homeowner with a property assessed at $150,000 can expect to pay $765 in real estate tax in 2019. The trash collection fee will increase by $10, from $190 to $200 annually. This is the eighth consecutive year with no tax increase, according to Commissioner Joseph Neary, who chairs the finance committee.
Source: Daily Times; 1/14/2019

Morton council schedules special session to appoint mayor
Morton Borough Council will meet in a special session on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 6:30 p.m. to appoint a new mayor. A Delaware County Common Pleas Court judge ordered the removal of Bruce Blunt as mayor because of a prior felony conviction that occurred in 1988. Council President Mario Cimino noted shortly after the court order came down that the borough would have 30 days to fill the mayor’s seat. Blunt, a Democrat, was elected to a four-year term as mayor in the 2018 municipal election. An appointed mayor will serve until Jan. 6, 2020.
Source: Daily Times; 1/16/2019

Montgomery County

Upper Moreland School District questions tax exemption for cancer center
Upper Moreland School District is appealing the property tax exemption of Jefferson Health’s new Asplundh Cancer Center — a move that challenges the longstanding tradition of exempting large, profitable health systems from property taxes. Tower Health purchased five hospitals from the for-profit Community Health Systems Inc. in 2017, and affected school districts were not ready to grant property tax exemptions on the facilities just because the new owner qualified as a nonprofit under federal law. Those cases are still in court. The current Asplundh case began with the Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals granting an exemption on the cancer center, which is assessed at $14.9 million and would generate $460,000 annually in tax revenue for the school district at the current tax rate. The school district appealed, arguing that the cancer center did not meet a test established by a 1985 state Supreme Court decision, which demands that a nonprofit advance a charitable purpose, provide a substantial portion of its service for free, benefit people who are “legitimate subjects of charity,” relieve the government of a burden, and operate free from “private profit motive.” An attorney for Upper Moreland School District, Aaron J. Freiwald, said consolidation of hospitals into ever-larger health systems and a decline in charity care have made the time ripe to challenges to exemptions for nonprofits. The legal challenge comes at a time when Pennsylvania school districts are desperate to keep properties on the tax rolls because state funding only covers a fraction of total expenses and cash-strapped school districts are left questioning why highly profitable organizations should not have to pay property taxes.
Source: Philly.com; 1/16/2019

Lower Pottsgrove to consider several ordinances
Lower Pottsgrove commissioners will consider for approval two ordinances at the regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Lower Pottsgrove Township Municipal Building, 2199 Buchert Road. Ordinance No. 341 will establish enforcement procedures for failing to comply with the township’s existing snow and ice removal ordinance. Ordinance No. 340 will establish requirements and enforcement guidelines for the maintenance, cutting and removal of grass, weeds and other vegetation. Copies of the proposed ordinances can be viewed at the township building during normal business hours.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/16/2019

Boyertown School District rejects tax cap
The Boyertown Area School Board voted 6-3 to reject committing to stay within a 2.8 percent property tax cap for the 2019-2020 school year budget. Board Vice President Brandon Foose said the board instead opted to “preserve flexibility” in preparing next year’s budget. The property tax cap, or Act 1 Index, is the percentage by which a school board can raise taxes without going to voters for approval or applying for special exceptions through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The index is calculated by the Department of Education using a complex formula that takes into account inflation, local costs, the district’s local tax effort and level of poverty. The school board must now engage in a preliminary budget process that preserves the ability to apply for the exceptions in the budget. Last year, the board voted to raise school property taxes by 5.4 percent.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 1/14/2019

Taxes up in Upper Moreland
Upper Moreland Township commissioners passed a $22.4 million budget for 2019 that includes a 4.48 percent tax increase, from 5.033 mills to 5.269 mills. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of about $128,000 can expect to pay about $30 more. The increase will generate an additional $348,000 in revenue for the township. Upper Moreland officials cited rising nondiscretionary costs, mainly those tied to pension obligations, as the driver of the tax increase.
Source: Public Spirit; 1/16/2019

Philadelphia

Philadelphia halts most public land sales, pending reforms
The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) has put the brakes on a large portion of public land sales. The move follows a blistering Philadelphia Inquirer report that revealed political meddling and chronic undervaluation endemic to the city’s land dispensation process. The city owns about 8,500 properties scattered across Philadelphia. About half are held by the Department of Public Property, the rest are scattered across other agencies. Ninety-three percent are vacant lots. All land held by the city's property department is sold through an obscure process that depends on the approval of the Vacant Property Review Committee, a 14-person board with a chair appointed by City Council President Darrell Clarke. The PRA, however, is charged with executing the final title transfer on such sales. While this is typically a routine step, minutes from recent PRA board meetings show that the state agency has frozen all VPRC-related title transfers since the Nov. 20, 2018, publication of the Inquirer story. “[The] PRA has decided to hold approving VPRC properties while a system that better reviews proposed sales is devised and implemented,” said Paul Chrystie, a spokesman for the PRA. Mayor Jim Kenney, who tightened regulations on the process through an executive order last month, praised the decision to freeze other sales until a new system is established.
Source: Plan Philly; 1/11/2019


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