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Biden administration extends forbearance and foreclosure protections

Bucks County
Big developments move forward in Bucks

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Phoenixville to consider repeal of per capita tax

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Media’s open space, parks and recreation survey closes soon

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Lower Merion ranked among best places to live and work from home

Philadelphia County
‘Once-in-a-generation’ anti-poverty plan sends $4.5M to community groups


News Briefs Archive January 6, 2020


General News

County tax roundup for 2020

County taxes in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties will remain the same in 2020, but Bucks County property owners will pay more. Property tax rates are measured in millage, with one mill being worth $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

  • Bucks County: Bucks County Commissioners approved a $452.6 million budget for 2020 that includes a one-mill tax increase over the current rate of 24.45 mills. The increase equals a $36.50 hike for residents paying the current average tax bill of about $880 a year, and it will bring in about $8 million in revenue to the county. The county will also draw nearly $7.6 million from its $33.18 million fund balance to fill a nearly $16 million deficit.
  • Chester County: Property owners in Chester County will pay the same rate in county real estate taxes next year under the 2020 budget. The real estate tax rate levied by the county remains at 4.369 mills, with a projected tax of about $730 on an average home with a market value of about $340,000. This is the fourth consecutive year that the county real estate tax has stayed the same.
  • Delaware County: Delaware County Council approved a $358 million proposed budget for 2020 that does not include a tax increase. The proposed tax rate remains at 5.4 mills, or $540 for a $100,000 home assessment. According to County Executive Director Marianne Grace, 48% of the county’s revenue comes from taxes, anticipated to be $171.8 million in 2020. The reserves stand at $64 million, and a minimum of 10% of general fund revenues is required to be set aside, which would be approximately $26 million. Note: Delaware County will complete a countywide reassessment that will take 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 the proposed budget for 2020 that recommends no increase in the current real estate tax rate of 3.849 mills — with 3.459 mills for general fund purposes and 0.39 mills dedicated to funding Montgomery County Community College. A home assessed at the county average of $170,000 can expect a county real estate tax bill of $654. This will mark the third year without a tax increase for Montgomery County.

Additional information about stories relating to municipal tax updates in 2020 may be found in the SRA’s weekly news briefs archives.

Bucks County

Taxes up in Lower Makefield
Lower Makefield Township supervisors approved a 2020 budget that includes a one-mill tax increase dedicated to the general fund and a 0.24-mill reduction to its parks and recreation fund. The move raises the total township real estate millage from 20.25 to 21.01 mills, a net tax increase of 0.76 mills or about $32 more to the average homeowner. Last year, supervisors approved a 0.24-mill increase to the parks and recreation fund to help pay for a bike trail, and Supervisor Frederic Weiss suggested decreasing the fund because the trail did not come to fruition. The one-mill increase in the general fund will be used for additional personnel costs and to help pay the debt service on the township golf course, said Township Manager Kurt Ferguson. In a separate vote, supervisors approved a 37% increase to sewer rate fees. It is estimated that about 25% of the township’s sewer lines are in need of repair.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/26/2019

Hearing planned for 41-home proposal in Newtown
A conditional use hearing on a proposal by Toll Brothers for 41 single-family homes in Newtown Township has been rescheduled to Wednesday, Jan. 22. The proposed project is on 156 acres at Route 413 and Twining Bridge Road. The original hearing was scheduled for Dec. 11, but several residents that live in proximity to the proposed project complained they had gotten either no or insufficient notice about that hearing. Township rules require written notice to any resident living within 500 feet of the site. The project would also need subdivision and land-development approval, in addition to conditional-use approval, from the supervisors.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/17/2019

Bedminster to develop nuisance ordinance
Bedminster Township supervisors recently directed their solicitor to begin the process of developing a nuisance ordinance. The decision followed a discussion with a dozen residents who voiced frustration with a decade-long problem of disturbance from a neighbor they felt violated their own property rights. The residents voiced concern over noise, odor, junk and other disturbances that have persisted despite the intervention of township staff, township police, district court, county court and the county board of health. Township officials noted the limitations within the regulations that are currently in place and agreed to start the process for a new nuisance ordinance as a tool for corrective action. Bedminster also recently adopted new ordinances that regulate property owners’ rights to offer short-term rentals and to establish accessory uses of their properties for “agritourism.”
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/17/2019

Chester County 

2-1-1 call center established in Chester County
Chester County’s ongoing efforts to end chronic homelessness received a boost with the introduction of a coordinated 2-1-1 call service for any county residents in need of information or help with emergency, temporary or permanent housing. The 2-1-1 Homeless Coordinated Entry Call Center provides a 24-hour information service, and intake services on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 2-1-1 service can be accessed in both English and Spanish, and it serves those who are hearing impaired via a 7-1-1 relay service that calls 2-1-1. The Chester County Decade To Doorways initiative, administered through the county’s Department of Community Development, announced the launch of the service on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. The service will be administered by Pennsylvania’s 2-1-1 system via a contract with the United Way of Chester County.
Source: Daily Local; 12/16/2019

No tax hike in Oxford, but water bills to increase by 10%
Oxford Borough Council adopted the 2020 budget with no tax increase, but residents will see a 10% increase in their water bills in the coming year. Everyone connected to the Oxford Borough water system, even if they are outside the borough limits, will feel the rate increase in 2020. The property tax rate will remain at 12 mills, and the council also repealed the $5 per capita tax. That tax has been in place since 1947, but today, collection costs nearly equal the amount collected. The council also officially adopted a map for the historic district ordinance passed in 2014. The vote to adopt the map was made only after assurances from the borough solicitor that changing from the draft map to an official map only clarifies the status of properties in the district, it does not change them. Council also authorized advertising a new ordinance that would establish an appeals process related to sidewalks, curb and gutters. The Alliance has requested a copy of the proposed ordinance for review.
Source: Daily Local; 12/19/2019

Eminent domain process underway in T/E School District
Tredyffrin/Easttown School District is planning to expand the high school, build a new parking lot and seize a tree farm through eminent domain. The facilities committee noted that the $39.9 million high school expansion and bid documents are to set to return by Feb. 5. Construction is expected to begin March 10, officials said. Financing for the project will be discussed at future finance and facilities committee meetings. Student enrollment in the school district has risen every single year since 1990, with a near 10% growth rate over the past five years alone, officials said. A demographics report said the five-year average annual enrollment growth has been 152 students per year. A Rutgers University analysis projects between 95 to 150 students from new housing that is either approved or planned over five years could bring 6% to 13% more students than the 152-student growth average.
Source: Daily Local; 12/19/2019

Coatesville gets infusion of cash for revitalization
The Coatesville 2nd Century Alliance was able to parlay a state grant awarded in 2018 into two $50,000 contributions for downtown improvements. The grant came from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Neighborhood Partnership Program, which allows private donors to contribute to nonprofit agencies in exchange for state corporate tax credits. The 2nd Century Alliance was able to secure six-year contribution commitments of $50,000 each from two donors — Hickory Bark LLC and Knox Equipment Rental. The funds will support a full-time downtown manager, a façade improvement program, and a clean/safe/green program to improve the aesthetics of the area. Sonia Huntzinger, economic development administrator for the 2nd Century Alliance, said, “It’s not always easy to secure such a long-term commitment from donors. Real, positive community change takes a long time, and these contributors understand that.”
Source: Daily Local; 12/23/2019

West Chester Area School District hosts breakfast for business leaders
The West Chester Area School District is inviting business leaders to enjoy a free breakfast with students and administrators from around the district, and learn about the amazing programs and community service opportunities taking place in the district. After the breakfast, students will be available to take guests on a tour of the building to see classrooms in action. The breakfast will take place on Friday, Jan. 10, from 8 to 9 a.m. in West Chester Henderson High School’s cafeteria, 400 Montgomery Ave. Reserve a spot using this link. Seating is limited.
Source: West Chester Area School District; 1/2/2020

Delaware County

Radnor OKs 2020 budget with 6% tax increase
The Radnor Township Board of Commissioners approved the $34.3 million final 2020 budget with a 6% millage increase, raising the rate 0.25 mills to 4.4082. A homeowner with the median assessment of $260,000 will pay an additional $65 in real estate taxes. The commissioners also increased the sewer fee by 10% for the third year in a row, a move that was approved three years ago to deal with an aging sewer system and charges from the Radnor Haverford Marple Sewer Authority. The commissioners also agreed to ask the three universities in the township — Villanova, Eastern and Cabrini — to contribute toward funding emergency services.
Source: Daily Times; 12/15/2019

Aldan sets budget for 2020
Aldan Borough Council unanimously adopted a 2020 final operating budget totaling roughly $2.6 million. There is no tax increase for residents, with millage remaining at 8.13 mills. A resident with a home assessed at $90,000 will continue to pay about $732 in real estate tax in 2020. The sewer rate for 2020 will remain at $350 per household, and the trash and recycling budget will remain at $205 per household.
Source: Daily Times; 12/16/2019

Chester stormwater authority prevails in court fight
The Stormwater Authority of the City of Chester has won the last standing legal challenge against it. Delaware County Common Pleas Judge John J. Whelan ruled against 34 city businesses and property owners who sought a permanent injunction against the authority, concluding the authority is not in violation of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Act. Joseph Oxman, the authority’s solicitor, said, “This was an unfortunate piece of litigation that was incredibly unnecessary, meritless, and ultimately delayed the ability of the stormwater authority to move forward with their mandate to help the people of Chester overcome their flooding issues, and be the guardians of stormwater for the city to try to continue to manage it and prevent excess pollution going into the tributaries of the Delaware River.” The authority was incorporated in October 2016 following a Chester City Council ordinance to “protect the City and Delaware County’s water bodies and groundwater and to safeguard the public health, safety and welfare to the residents of the City.” It was announced to the public in June 2017 as an initiative to remediate stormwater pollution and create economic development. Four other petitions for preliminary injunctions against the authority — filed on behalf of Widener University, Chester Charter School for the Arts, and business and property owners — were dismissed in May 2018. Opponents of the authority stated that the authority’s fee structure was arbitrary and its work would be duplicative of stormwater remediation performed by the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA).
Source: Daily Times; 12/14/2019

Morton hikes taxes, fees in 2020 spending plan
Morton Borough Council adopted a budget with a real estate tax increase of 0.233 mills. The millage rate will rise from 11.467 mills to 11.7 mills. The preliminary budget approved by council earlier this month calls for a refuse collection/recycling fee of $256, up $23 from the previous year. The sewer fee would be set at $12.19 per 1,000 gallons of water usage, a 53-cent increase.
Source: Daily Times; 12/18/2019

Montgomery County

New YMCA opens in Willow Grove
A new $40 million YMCA has opened in Upper Moreland Township. The 100,000-square-foot Willow Grove YMCA will unite 14,000 members formerly served by the Abington and Hatboro YMCAs into one facility. Built on 40 acres that once served as home to the Willow Grove Day Camp, the new Y has an aquatics center with three pools, a gymnasium, a gymnastics center, a fitness center, two tracks, four group exercise studios and a child care facility. The new YMCA is a branch of the Greater Philadelphia YMCA, the seventh largest Y association in the United States. For more information, visit
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/16/2019

Aqua completes purchase of Cheltenham wastewater system
Aqua America announced that its Pennsylvania subsidiary has completed its $50.25 million purchase of the Cheltenham Township wastewater system. The system serves approximately 10,200 connections in Montgomery County. Township Manager Bryan Havir called the sale a “win-win for all parties.” Havir said the 90-year-old sewer system needed $50 million in repairs, something the township could not have completed “without assuming loans and significant tax increases.” Cheltenham residents are directed to call Aqua’s local office at (610) 792-2112 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or (877) 987-2782 during off hours and for urgent sewer issues. Click here to read the press release.
Source: Cheltenham Township; 12/23/2019

County planning commission lists 2019 highlights
The Montgomery County Planning Commission works with municipalities on community plans and projects. It recently compiled its highlights for 2019, including: progress on the Lafayette Street Extension Project in Norristown and Plymouth Township; completion of the new Montgomery County Complete Streets Policy; an award from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association for Bike Montco; the opening of a new 1.1-mile section of the Schuylkill River Trail; awarding $1.6 million in Montco 2040 Implementation Grants to 15 municipalities; awarding $1 million to six projects in the County Transportation Program; and aiding numerous municipalities with comprehensive plans, subdivision and land development ordinances, and open space planning.
Source: Montgomery County Planning Commission; 12/19/2019


Philly Council has changed the 10-year tax abatement
City Council President Darrell Clarke’s reform to the 10-year property tax abatement on new residential construction moved smoothly through the legislative body. It passed unanimously during the last city council session of the term. The long-awaited reform essentially halves the value of the controversial tax incentive, which was established in the 1990s to encourage development in the city after decades of urban population loss. The bill will phase out each individual abatement so that the tax break’s value will be 100% in the first year and ratchet down 10% each subsequent year. It will go into effect at the beginning of 2021. The starting date reflects a concession to the development industry won after Mayor Jim Kenney threatened a pocket veto of the legislation if the implementation date was not pushed back. The bill does not touch the 10-year abatement for commercial buildings nor the one for extensive rehabilitation of housing. Clarke said that he intended to focus more on incentivizing the preservation of homes that already exist. The legislation includes language that will require a review of the abatement every three years, to see how changes to the policy have affected the housing market. An increase of the Homestead Exemption to give homeowners a break on their property taxes passed as well.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/12/2019

City budget has grown 25% over four years, in line with other cities
Philadelphia’s annual government spending increased by 25% in the four budgets passed since Mayor Jim Kenney took office. Kenney proposed a $5 billion budget this year. While the increases are significant, a study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Philadelphia’s spending growth between 2008 and 2018 is comparable to other large U.S. cities. On a per capita basis, Philadelphia’s spending increased by 15% in the decade — the same as the median increase among the 30 largest cities in the country. The Pew study did not reflect cities’ reserve funds. The city has just $439 million — or 33 days of expenses — in reserve. Based on national best practices, that amount should be about $821 million. The report attributed Philadelphia’s rising costs to employee benefits, payments to the pension system, payroll expenses for the police and fire departments, and spending on education.
Source: Inquirer; 12/17/2019

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