Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
NAR responds to administration proposal to reform Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac
Bensalem approves 106 more townhouses at Waterside community
Embreeville Redevelopment zoning hearing postponed
SEPTA upgrades Secane station
New Hanover Town Center project raising concern
Center City developers benefit the most from city’s tax abatement
County taxes roundup for 2019
County taxes in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties will remain the same in 2019. Delaware County residents will see a slight reduction in county taxes. County tax rates are measured in mills, with one mill equaling $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Additional stories relating to municipal tax updates in 2019 may be found in the SRA’s weekly news briefs archives. Some municipalities in the region, such as West Chester Borough, are making changes to their Earned Income Tax rates, which can affect both property owners and workers.
FEMA revives flood insurance sales after backlash
The Trump administration restarted the sale of flood insurance policies during the partial government shutdown. Although the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) had received a months-long extension shortly before the shutdown began, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) instructed insurers not to sell new NFIP-backed policies during the shutdown, because fees that FEMA pays to insurers may be considered “an impermissible funding obligation.” A bipartisan group of lawmakers and business groups said FEMA’s decision threatened thousands of home sales and contradicted the flood insurance reauthorization bill enacted in December, leading FEMA to reverse its decision.
Source: Politico.com; 12/28/2018
PECO, Aqua seeking rate hikes
Two Pennsylvania utilities — PECO Energy and Aqua Pennsylvania — sought approval in 2018 from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to raise their rates. The PUC approved a net revenue increase of $24.9 million for PECO, though the utility had initially requested an increase of $81.9 million. Under the new rates, the average monthly bill for a residential customer using 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity will increase 1.2 percent — from about $103 to $104 — effective Jan. 1, 2019. The PUC also ruled in December that PECO must return $68 million in federal tax savings to customers, which will come as a one-time bill credit in January. Aqua Pennsylvania has requested to increase its annual operating revenues for water services by approximately $66.37 million — an increase of 15.4 percent — with a corresponding revenue increase for wastewater services of $5.37 million — a 40.1 percent jump. If approved as filed, the average monthly bill for a residential Main Division water customer using 4,080 gallons per month would increase from about $60 to $69. The average monthly bill for a residential Media Division wastewater customer using 4,200 gallons per month would increase from about $42 to $63. A recommendation by the PUC’s administrative law judge will then be made before a vote and final decision by the PUC commissioners by May 16.
Source: Daily Times; 1/2/2019
Morrisville government shutdown averted
Morrisville Borough will not shut down operations in 2019 after Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Clyde W. Waite upheld a tax ordinance that had been vetoed by Mayor David Rivella on Christmas Eve. Rivella vetoed the 2019 tax rate ordinance passed by the borough council on Dec. 17 because of his objection to the $7.1 million budget. The tax ordinance maintained the current 46.85-mill tax rate, but closed a $467,000 deficit in part by cutting a full-time police officer, a full-time administrative staffer and other expenses. Council held an emergency meeting but fell one vote shy of the super-majority needed to override the veto, sending the matter to county court. Mayor Rivella and council members Corryn Kronnagel and Ted Parker opposed police department cuts due to safety concerns. Borough solicitor Randall Flager said council was challenging the veto in part because Rivella was objecting to the budget and not the tax ordinance itself. Judge Waite ultimately agreed with the council’s objection and ruled the tax ordinance itself was not in violation of any state laws.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/28/2018
Pennsbury to review charter school finances
Pennsbury School District officials recently voted to hire the firm of Heffler, Radetich & Siatta LLP to conduct a financial review of the Center for Student Learning Charter School (CSL) in Tullytown. School district officials decided to take a closer look at the finances of the charter school after the school’s former business manager filed a lawsuit alleging a litany of financial misdeeds. The district is permitted to review the finances of the school under the state’s Charter School Law. In the lawsuit, the charter’s former business manager alleges she was wrongfully discharged in 2017 for her “refusal to participate in ongoing criminal activity” related to her reporting of alleged financial infractions at CSL.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/28/2018
Warminster avoids tax increase
Warminster Township supervisors passed a $21 million budget that does not increase taxes for 2019. The budget includes a $2.3 million deficit that will be covered by the use of reserve funds and constant cost cutting throughout the year. The approved budget keeps the property tax rate at 11.09 mills for the general fund and a total of 17.07 mills for dedicated taxes, such as for the library and fire company. It is a departure from the draft budget presented in November that included a 7.52-mill tax increase, which would have required court approval. Under state law, the township’s general fund tax rate is capped at 14 mills unless a court signs off. The budget is the result of a long-term plan developed through the township’s budget committee earlier this year. Supervisors Brian Munroe and Kathy Frescatore stated in November that they would not support any tax increase without a long-term plan. A copy of the approved budget is posted at www.warminstertownship.org.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/23/2018
Pennsbury schools seek feedback for comprehensive plan update
Pennsbury School District is beginning work on its next three-year comprehensive plan. The plan is required by the state and will outline the district’s accomplishments and goals in several areas for the July 2020 to June 2023 time frame. The school district is seeking input from residents “regarding the strengths, challenges and priorities that will guide the planning and implementation” of the comprehensive plan, according to a district news release. Officials are urging residents to provide feedback via an online survey on the district website, www.pennsburysd.org, before Jan. 15. A community forum to discuss the plan will be held Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 6:30 p.m. at William Penn Middle School, 1524 Derbyshire Road, in Lower Makefield.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 1/2/2019
Municipalities getting new water mains
Aqua Pennsylvania announced that $4.2 million in infrastructure improvement projects are currently underway in Chester County to improve service reliability, increase flow and reduce the potential for discolored water. In West Chester Borough, crews are working on a $1 million project to replace old 6-inch cast iron water main with 5,200 feet of 8-inch ductile iron pipe. Aging mains have also been replaced. In East Whiteland Township, crews have begun a $1.1 million installation of 3,600 feet of 12-inch and 1,855 feet of 8-inch ductile iron pipe to replace old 12- and 6-inch cast iron. In East Caln and West Whiteland, crews are at work on a $832,000 project to replace the existing 8-inch cement water main with the installation of 4,470 feet of 12-inch and 290 feet of 6-inch ductile iron pipe. In West Whiteland and West Goshen townships, crews recently began work on a $1.1 million project replacing 8- and 10-inch cement water mains with 4,300 feet of 12-inch ductile iron pipe. These projects are part of more than $35 million in infrastructure improvements planned across Chester County this year, and more than $227 million planned across Pennsylvania in 2018.
Source: Daily Local; 12/21/2018
East Fallowfield holds the line on taxes, but trash fee increases
East Fallowfield supervisors approved the 2019 township budget, which keeps the tax rate at 3 mills while maintaining all services. The balanced 2019 General Fund Budget totals $3.7 million. The 2019 trash fee will increase from $210 to $275 per dwelling unit. “The rate increase is a direct result of increased costs to process recycling and trash, and increased collection fees,” said Township Manager Scott Swichar. The trash fee had remained at the same rate for the past five years. The increase will allow the trash service to become self-sufficient rather than being subsidized by the General Fund. The 2019 budget is available on the township website.
Source: Daily Local; 12/21/2018
Petition seeks to halt EIT hike in West Chester
In the wake of West Chester Borough Council’s recent vote to raise the Earned Income Tax rate from 1 to 1.25 percent, 50 citizens filed a petition with the Court of Common Pleas stating that the borough exceeded the rate it is allowed to charge according to the Home Rule Charter. The borough raised taxes in a bid to pay an outstanding debt for pension and health care costs of almost $20 million. The new tax would generate a little less than $2 million a year and would pay off 85 percent of the deficit in 11.5 years. Resident Eric Lorgus said the maximum allowed EIT rate is 1 percent and, while he applauds the board for addressing the pension issue, he said the borough must abide by the Local Tax Enabling Act. The residents also submitted information to council questioning the accuracy of the financial information included in borough budgets.
Source: Daily Local; 12/24/2018
Charlestown Township to consider creation of EAC
Charlestown Township will consider adopting an ordinance creating and outlining the functions of an Environmental Advisory Council (EAC). If formed, the council would identify environmental problems and recommend plans and programs to the board of supervisors for the promotion and conservation of natural resources. The EAC would also make recommendations for the use of township-owned land, and provide education and outreach on issues affecting the environment, such as recycling, stormwater and septic systems. The ordinance will be considered at a public meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, at 7 p.m. at Great Valley Middle School, 255 N. Phoenixville Pike, Malvern.
Source: Daily Local; 12/27/2018
Chesco preserves its 500th farm
Chester County officials have signed contracts for the preservation of the county’s 500th farm, bringing the total number of agricultural acres preserved in the county to just under 40,000. The 109-acre farm, owned by Gerald and Cindy Rohrer, is located in Upper Oxford and West Fallowfield townships. “Chester County has been actively investing in open space for nearly 30 years, and that decision is now paying dividends in ways that I believe the original county commissioners who started the program would not have thought possible,” said Commissioners Chairwoman Michelle Kichline. In total, more than 136,000 acres — 28 percent — of land in Chester County has been preserved since the beginning of its open space preservation program in 1989. Farm preservation in Chester County is based on an agricultural conservation easement. Farms that are 10 acres or more are eligible if they are adjacent to permanently preserved land. Farms not adjacent to permanently preserved land must be a minimum of 50 acres for the commonwealth/county program and 25 acres in size for the county’s Municipal Challenge Grant program. Chester County farm owners are encouraged to review the eligibility requirements. The deadline for applications is Aug. 1 of each year.
Source: Daily Times; 1/1/2019
Pilgrim Park Trail plans unveiled in Upper Darby
Urban Research and Development Corp. of Bethlehem (URDC) presented three comprehensive maps for review as part of a feasibility study for the development of Pilgrim Park Trail along the Darby Creek in Drexel Hill. The project would complete the township’s segment of the trail along Darby Creek that starts at Kent Park, bordering Clifton Heights. According to Kevin Draper, URDC project manager, the 10-foot wide multiuse trail is comprised of four segments from Rosemont Avenue at Huey Park through the Drexelbrook community into Haverford. “It may go underneath Township Line Road [near State Road] when the state rebuilds the Township Line bridge in 2020,” Draper said. County Council has been working with the county’s Planning and Parks departments since the 1980s to create a “ribbon of green” along Darby Creek to connect parks in Yeadon, Darby, Lansdowne and Upper Darby, into Haverford and eventually Radnor. According to county officials, the Darby Creek Trail is an important segment of the county’s Primary Trail Network, which is a countywide system of multi-use trails identified to connect recreational and cultural hubs across the county. It was identified in the Delaware County Open Space, Recreation and Greenway Plan released in 2015.
Source: Daily Times; 12/27/2018
Media OKs 2019 budget with no new taxes
Media Borough Council approved its 2019 budget, which is essentially unchanged from the proposed document that showed the General Fund at just under $9 million. Adding the Capital Budget of $4 million and two small budgets brought the total to $13.2 million. The budget calls for property taxes to remain at 3 mills, equalling $375 for the average assessment of $150,000. The overwhelming bulk of revenue — about $4.84 million — comes from Act 511 taxes, which include personal income and business taxes. The borough also collects almost $900,000 in rent from various properties. Fees, services, licenses and permits total about $1.23 million. The budget is available on the borough website. In other business, the council is continuing to work with Delaware County to cover some needs resulting from the demolition of offices and parking lots on Orange Street. Councilman Paul Robinson said the borough has agreed to provide facilities for the county’s Community Services program at the “stone cottage,” an unused part of the municipal complex.
Source: Daily Times; 12/25/2018
Clifton Heights raises taxes in 2019 spending plan
Clifton Heights Borough’s 2019 budget was officially approved by council. The budget calls for a 15.5-mill tax rate, up one mill from 2018. The average household assessed at $80,000 will see an increase of approximately 10.3 percent, up by $116 over last year for a total of $1,240. The fee for sewer is $314 per unit, and the fee for trash collection is $210, both the same as the current year. “I feel we should table the budget to get the Pennsylvania auditor general to come here to do a thorough audit,” said Councilman Fred Rich, the caster of the lone opposing vote. “I went personally to other boroughs and most of their tax rates are below ours. Why are we so high? It’s disgraceful.” Treasurer Cynthia Leitzell explained the budget is based on expenses. “Not all boroughs have police departments and are not the same size,” Leitzell said, adding that other towns have more commercial businesses.
Source: Daily Times; 12/26/2018
Morton holds line on taxes, but trash, sewer fees go up
Morton Borough Council approved a 2019 budget of $2.3 million, keeping the tax rate at 11.467 mills. The trash fee will go up $34.50 per dwelling unit, for a total of $233. The sewer fee increase is 57 cents per 1,000 gallons of water consumption, going from $11.09 to $11.66. Sewer fees are based on the amount of water a household uses, and residents are billed quarterly.
Source: Daily Times; 1/1/2019
Lower Merion School District invokes eminent domain for field space
Lower Merion School District announced in November that it planned to purchase properties on Spring Mill Road for field space for a new school. Since then, the school district said the properties may not be an option for fields due to wetlands on the sites. The school board voted in December to invoke eminent domain on two other properties — a combined 13.4-acre site at 1835 County Line Road and a three-acre site at 1800 W. Montgomery Ave., which are closer to the 1860 Montgomery Ave. site the district plans on purchasing for the new middle school. In a press release, district officials said using eminent domain would keep Villanova University from purchasing them and “keep the property in use for the residents of Lower Merion Township and Narberth, rather than enabling Villanova University to take the property off the tax rolls for its private development use.” According to Amy Buckman, director of school and community relations for the school district, the two new properties give the district enough field space so it will likely no longer need the Spring Mill properties.
Source: Main Line Times; 12/27/2018
No tax increase in Norristown
Norristown Municipal Council voted to adopt a $34.5 million budget for 2019 that holds the line on property taxes at 14.7 mills. A Nov. 29 budget presentation laid out several options: a 1-mill tax increase, a 0.5-mill tax increase or no tax increase at all. Council had voted to advertise the 0.5-mill option following a special meeting on Dec. 10, with the understanding that they could always lower that rate before adoption, but not increase it. Council members considered anticipated revenue-producing development, conservative revenue estimates, new fee schedules, and the ongoing effort to fight assessment appeals when making their final budget decision.
Source: Times Herald; 12/22/2018
Franconia passes 2.9 percent tax increase
Franconia Township supervisors recently approved a 2019 budget with a 2.9 percent tax increase. The increase puts the township’s property tax rate at 1.979 mills. The total tax rate includes: 1.499 mills for the general fund, 0.15 mills for fire tax and 0.33 mills for the library fund. The average home assessed at $166,000 will see a property tax increase from about $319 to $329.
Source: The Reporter; 12/21/2018
Towamencin to consider LERTA ordinance
Towamencin Township supervisors will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 9, beginning at 7:30 p.m. to consider a proposed ordinance creating Chapter 154, “Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance,” to the municipal code. The meeting will take place at the township complex, 1090 Troxel Road, Lansdale. The proposed ordinance will designate a property within the township in which new construction of industrial, commercial or other business improvements are eligible for a tax exception pursuant to the Pennsylvania LERTA Act No. 76 of 1977. A copy of the full text of the ordinance may be examined at the township administrative offices weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Source: The Reporter; 12/17/2018
Thousands of Philly homeowners could get tax breaks under new proposal
For thousands of Philadelphia homeowners whose property assessments — and tax bills — will more than double in 2019, relief could be on the way with a new proposal from City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. Along with council members Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Squilla, and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Clarke introduced legislation that would lower the threshold at which homeowners qualify for a key property-tax relief program. The Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP) began in 2014, when the city started assessing properties at 100 percent of market value, or the amount for which they could be sold. Currently, homeowners qualify for tax relief if their assessment increases 200 percent or more in one year; Clarke would lower that threshold to 50 percent. The program is intended to assist longtime residents of gentrifying neighborhoods, and expanding it could bring relief to about 3,000 additional households, said Jane Roh, a spokesperson for Clarke. The proposal comes after the city assigned new values to every residential property for the first time since 2014. The changes sparked outrage from residents as well as council members, who did not pass Mayor Kenney’s proposed tax increase and have commissioned an audit of the Office of Property Assessment. The median value of a single-family home increased 10.5 percent citywide, and nearly 12,000 assessments increased more than 100 percent, according to an Inquirer and Daily News analysis. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer: 12/13/2018
Have a tax abatement? Public schools nonprofit seeks donations
The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, a foundation that solicits and collects private donations for the city’s schools, is hoping property owners who receive property tax abatements will donate the money. In its first annual appeal, the foundation sent about 4,500 letters to Philadelphia property owners who have received abatements since 2016 and asked them to consider donating what they are saving in taxes, said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the fund’s president and CEO. "It’s an audience that makes sense for us, that certainly is invested in the city and should be asked,” she said. The abatement allows owners of newly constructed or rehabilitated properties to pay no tax on the improvements for 10 years. Taxes must still be paid on land values. The city’s 14,345 abated properties received a total of $93 million in tax breaks last year, according to a report issued by city controller Rebecca Rhynhart. Had those taxes been collected, 55 percent would have gone to the school district and the remaining portion to city government.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/27/2018
Preservation task force unveils report
Philadelphia is home to more historic buildings than any other city in America except for New York, yet it has always struggled to hold onto its architectural heritage. Mayor Kenney came into office pledging to address the issue and eventually formed the Historic Preservation Task Force. After 18 months, the task force has issued a report (PDF) with a long list of suggested fixes. Many of the proposals require nothing more than making procedural changes at the Historical Commission and other city agencies, and creating a “preservation first” culture. Others proposals need city council approval. There is no time frame proposed for implementation. Public comments can be submitted until Monday, Jan. 14 via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once all of the public comments have been received, the final report and recommendations will be presented to the mayor and city council in early 2019.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/14/2018