NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Infrastructure reform among 2019 NAR policy priorities

Bucks County
Warminster tax hike must be approved by court

Chester County
Landscapes3 adopted by Chester County Commissioners

Delaware County
Cost of new middle school in Clifton Heights to be evaluated

Montgomery County
Norristown budget includes $1.8M deficit

Philadelphia County
City council downsizes new protections for renters in ‘Good Cause’ bill
 

 



 

News Briefs Archive January 8, 2018

 

General News

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: What it means for homeowners and real estate professionals
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) worked throughout the tax reform process to preserve the existing tax benefits of homeownership and real estate investment, as well to ensure as many real estate professionals as possible would benefit from proposed tax cuts. Many of the changes reflected in the final bill were the result of the engagement of NAR and its members, not only in the last three months, but over several years. Read NAR’s comprehensive guide here.
Source: Nar.realtor; 12/2017

State DEP halts Mariner East 2 pipeline construction
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Jan. 3 ordered an immediate, indefinite suspension of construction work on the Sunoco Mariner East 2 pipeline, the route for which runs through Chester and Delaware counties. The ruling comes in the wake of the most recent problem with the project, in which the DEP cited the company for drilling without proper permitting. Sunoco can only perform basic maintenance work until the suspension is lifted, which the DEP said will happen when the company submits a detailed operations plan outlining additional measures to control and minimize inadvertent returns. “We are living up to our promise to hold this project accountable to the strong protections in the permits,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said, “We intend to expeditiously submit these reports and we are confident that we will be reauthorized to commence work on this project promptly.” Gov. Tom Wolf has been under increasing pressure from elected officials and citizen groups to halt construction on the pipeline until a new safety study on the project could be completed. Sunoco has discharged drilling fluid more than 100 times while constructing the pipeline, including four times this fall at a site in East Goshen Township, and drilling problems have led to contaminated streams and private drinking wells. 
Source: Daily Local; 1/3/2018

County taxes for 2018
County taxes in Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery will remain the same in 2018, while Bucks County taxes will increase.

Chester County — The Chester County Commissioners have adopted the 2018 general budget, which contains $526.1 million in expenses and revenues. The budget maintains the county’s current real estate tax rate of 4.369 mills. A mill is worth $36.7 million to the county, or $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The millage package is broken down into four separate categories: 2.876 mills for general fund expenditures; 1.222 mills for debt service; 0.184 mills for library expenditures and 0.087 mills for parks. In presenting the budget, Chief Operating Officer Mark Rupsis stressed that the property tax rate in the county is among the lowest in the region and its financial stability remains strong.

Delaware County — Delaware County officials unveiled a $650 million budget and, as promised, it comes with no real estate tax increase — even as state and federal funding decreases and the need for various services increases. The tax rate remains at 5.604 mills, or 56.04 cents on each $100 of assessed value. “You’ll see even though that’s an immense amount of money, we have a very lean budget here in Delaware County,” Councilman John McBlain said. “It is a fourth year in a row with no tax increase and I’m very proud of that.” It should be noted Delaware County will undergo a countywide reassessment by 2021. The last countywide reassessment occurred in the county in the late 1990s. Property assessments are legal values established by counties that determine tax bills. Delaware County property owners are slated to receive notice of their new assessments in 2020, and they will be able to file appeals before they are taxed on the new assessment in 2021.

Montgomery County — Montgomery County commissioners unanimously approved the 2018 budget with no tax increase. The budget was presented by county Chief Financial Officer Dean Dortone, and it includes $403.2 million in expenditures and approximately $407 million in projected revenues. Real estate taxes account for almost half of the budget’s operating revenue. Thirty-five percent comes from federal and state grants, 13.7 percent is from departmental earnings, and slightly less than 1 percent comes from other sources.

Bucks County — Bucks County approved a $424 million operating budget on Dec. 20, 2017, that includes a 5.4 percent property tax increase. The 1.25 mill increase amounts to an additional $45 for a home assessed at the county average. The county attributed the need for a tax increase to many factors, most notably the additional costs caused by the opioid crisis. Bucks County last increased taxes in 2012, and over the past decade county property taxes have increased a total of less than $90 for the average property owner.

Additional information about stories relating to municipal tax updates in 2018 may be found in the SRA’s weekly news briefs archives

Borrowers lose home equity tax deduction
In the tax legislation signed by President Trump, home equity loans will no longer be tax-deductible. Historically, borrowers could deduct home equity interest on loans up to $100,000 ($50,000 for married people filing separately). With the new tax law, that deduction is gone. And unlike the deduction for interest on primary mortgages, home equity deductions are disappearing for both new and existing borrowers. No loans will be grandfathered; all home equity loans will become more expensive in 2018.
Source: Forbes; 12/28/2017

Federal appeals court gives EPA 90 days for new lead rule
A federal appeals court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose a new rule within 90 days regarding what levels of lead exposure are acceptable for children. The EPA must also revise its almost 17-year-old standard for dangerous levels of lead in paint and dust within one year. The 2-1 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, denied the six-year extension requested by the Trump administration to reconsider what levels of lead exposure are acceptable for children. The court said the holdup was unreasonable, particularly in the face of new research on the hazards of lead paint. Lead paint was banned by the federal government 40 years ago but remains a persistent threat to children in millions of American homes. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016 found that about 3 percent of children around the country exhibit high levels of lead in their blood. The problem is particularly prevalent in the Northeast, and the regions with the highest lead exposure levels were in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Source: NY Times; 12/27/2017

Bucks County

Tax increase in Doylestown Borough supports fire company
The 2018 Doylestown Borough budget increases funding to Doylestown Fire Company No. 1 for the first time since 2003, while holding the line on general, road, ambulance, and debt service taxes to preserve the current level of services. The average homeowner in Doylestown Borough will pay about $377 in borough real estate taxes, an increase of approximately $13 from 2017. Click here for the budget message and final budget.
Source: Doylestown Borough; 12/19/2017 

Bedminster taxes hold steady
Bedminster Township passed a $2.5 million budget for 2018 that will maintain a property tax rate of 7.5 mills. The owner of a home assessed at $40,000 will pay $300 in township property taxes. The total millage is broken down to 4 mills for the general fund, 2.5 mills for open space and 1 mill for the fire tax. Township Manager Rich Schilling said, “Our primary goal in developing this budget was to provide services and avoid the need for new or additional taxes. The growth in the township’s population in recent years has developed into an increase in requests for service across all departments.”
Source: Perkasie News Herald; 12/19/2017 

Hilltown budget holds the line on taxes
Hilltown Township’s property tax rate will remain at 8.75 mills for 2018 and marks the seventh year in a row without a property tax increase. The property tax bill for a Hilltown home assessed at $30,000 will be $263. The 8.75 mill rate consists of 7.3 mills for the general fund, 0.75 mills for the fire tax, 0.2 mills for park and recreation, and 0.5 mills for the purchase of road equipment. Along with not increasing the tax rate, the township continues to balance the budget without taking on debt, township supervisors said.
Source: Perkasie News Herald; 12/19/2017 

No YMCA on Falls site
The Lower Bucks YMCA has pulled back from a plan to build a recreational center on county-owned space near Lake Caroline in Falls Township. The announcement came after the Bucks County Parks Preservation Foundation found construction of a recreational building on the Hood Boulevard property near the county’s Oxford Valley Pool was not permitted under an open space easement. Recent public meetings about the possible YMCA move drew support from some community members who felt the new facility was an improvement to the land and would be an asset for the community. Others thought the construction would negatively affect wildlife and cause flooding. The YMCA’s current location is under final agreement of sale, and once the sale closes, the YMCA will enter into a three-year lease with the new owner. A team has been assembled to scout other potential sites for relocation of the YMCA in Lower Bucks County.
Source: The Intelligencer; 12/27/2017

Chester County 

Westtown denies Toll Brothers’ Crebilly development
It took five minutes for Westtown Township supervisors to end a year-long conditional use hearing when they voted to deny Toll Brothers’ application to develop Crebilly Farm. Residents in the township building's standing-room-only meeting room applauded and some jumped for joy when the vote was taken. Supervisors gave no reason for their decision, and Andrew Semon, Toll's divisional president, only said that he would wait until the board issues the formal written decision, which is due by Feb. 12, before deciding how to move forward. Toll had proposed to build 317 new homes on the property. The township’s planning commission recommended approval of the plan, contingent on 50 conditions, in February 2017, and the hearing began in the spring. Supervisors' Chairman Mike DiDomenico said the board sifted through almost 2,000 pages of testimony and exhibits submitted during that time. Township solicitor Patrick McKenna said the board also reviewed findings of fact and conclusions of law submitted by the applicant and by others given party status, including the township planning commission, Neighbors for Crebilly, and Thornbury and Birmingham townships.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 12/28/2017 

East Fallowfield supervisors add fire, emergency medical tax
As volunteerism continues to decrease nationwide, East Fallowfield supervisors added a fire and emergency medical tax to next year’s budget to help fund new equipment and to assist with EMTs’ salaries. The supervisors approved the additional fire and EMS taxes in 2018. The township tax was at 1.25 mills for general millage. It was raised to 3 mills total, which includes 2 mills for the general fund, 0.44 mills for emergency medical services, and 0.56 mills for fire tax millage. Most of the revenue generated by the 1 mill for emergency services will go toward capital funds, such as replacing outdated fire apparatus, and toward the salaries of the EMTs. East Fallowfield Township, which doesn’t have a fire company in town, is covered by nearby Westwood and Modena Fire companies. “This has been a multi-year project that we’ve been working on, trying to get additional funding for the fire departments. There have been a couple different municipalities involved for tax purposes. I know it’s a difficult decision for the board to make to raise taxes,” Westwood Battalion Chief John Sly said to the supervisors during the meeting. “It just shows that the board has acknowledged the importance of emergency services to the residents by doing this.” During a nine-year span in which Chester County gained 28,000 residents, the county saw a 13-percent decrease of volunteer firefighters. Currently, there are 1,332 volunteer firefighters in Chester County, down from 1,831 about 15 years ago, according to county emergency services officials.
Source: Daily Local; 12/28/2017 

Chester County projects approved for funding
Governor Tom Wolf announced the approval of $3.5 million to support six community, economic development, and revitalization projects in Chester County. Overall, 24 projects in the five-county Philadelphia area got funding to the tune of $20 million. The funding, flowing through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), will support critical projects, some of which will provide opportunities for new growth in commercial, cultural and community service areas. Award approvals in Chester County include:

  • $250,000 for Fiore Foundations, LLC, for the Rajant Wireless Technology & Security Center
  • $750,000 for Kennett Square Borough for expansion of the East Linden Street Parking Garage
  • $1.5 million for Coatesville office and hotel development by Coatesville Office Funding, LLC
  • $250,000 for Immaculata University for the Student Engagement Center
  • $250,000 for Chester County Boy Scouts of America for an activity and resource campus.
  • $500,000 for the Borough of West Chester for Borough Hall renovation

Source: Daily Local; 12/23/2017

County officials confident new venture fund will attract tech firms
Chester County officials don’t expect the $4 million venture capital fund they recently established to make them the country’s next big tech hub, but they do hope it will put the county on the map for young technology-based companies. The Chester County Retirement Board voted to enter into a partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP) to invest $4 million in emerging companies already located in or willing to come to Chester County. The partnership, dubbed Venture Chesco, will see $2 million in county pension funds matched by $2 million in BFTP funds. “Available capital is what drives places like Silicon Valley,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline. “While we don’t have those kinds of aspirations, we do want to be viewed as a place where innovation is happening.” The fund is similar to one established in Bucks County in 2014. The Capital for Bucks County was established with the county and Ben Franklin each committing $2 million. As in Chester County, Bucks County’s portion came from its pension fund. Kichline said the fund will work with companies that are developing new technologies in a number of areas, including information technology, life sciences, financial services, physical sciences and agricultural sciences.
Source: Daily Local; 1/1/2018

Delaware County

Chester approves 2018 budget with no new taxes
The City of Chester approved a balanced budget for the 2018 fiscal year at a regularly scheduled City Council meeting, setting an estimated revenue and expenditure amount of $47.7 million without a tax hike. Following a year in which the city raised earned-income taxes for city residents from 2.10 percent to 2.75, the second-highest rate in the state, the city’s general fund budget decreased from a revenue total of $51.4 million set in 2017. In 2017, the council also voted to reduce the business-privilege tax from 3.6 to 3.3 percent on retail businesses, and lowered the wholesale rate from 2.7 to 2.5 percent. The city continues to grow its debt service fund as officials continue to chip away at the structural deficit. “We want to exit Act 47 on a positive note. Putting money in the bank, doing some things for our citizens. We believe we’re on the right path,” Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said. Kirkland said the newly formed Chester Stormwater Authority, which enacted an $8.25 fee to residents starting in 2018 to pay for stormwater runoff services, would help the city by bringing in additional state funds.
Source: Daily Times; 12/28/2017 

No tax hike, but new ordinance in Chadds Ford
Chadds Ford Township supervisors have held the line on taxes for 2018. The board passed a balanced $1.04 million budget for next year with no property tax increase. The township supervisors also passed a new zoning ordinance, the Open Space Conservation Option. During the hearing for the ordinance, Township Solicitor Mike Maddren explained the idea behind the OSCO is to allow for a density increase in the R-1 Zoning District (two-acre minimum) for properties of at least 10 acres in exchange for preserving 45 percent of the property as open space. That density bonus is 0.1 dwelling units per gross acre. Development under the new ordinance requires conditional use approval. The passage of the Open Space Conservation Option does not exclude the consideration of other types of development options, such as a mixed-used Traditional Neighborhood Development. "If somebody wants to come in for zoning relief or come in with some other options, they'll do that. I'd suggest working with our planning commission to update our ordinances and find more creative things to help improve the township,” Chairman Frank Murphy said.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 12/28/2017

Delaware County projects approved for funding
Governor Tom Wolf announced the approval of $6.5 million to support eight community, economic development, and revitalization projects in Delaware County. Overall, 24 projects in the five-county Philadelphia area got funding to the tune of $20 million. The funding, flowing through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), will support critical projects, some of which will provide opportunities for new growth in commercial, cultural and community service areas. Award approvals in Delaware County include:

  • $500,000 for Marcus Hook Delaware River fishing pier structural improvements
  • $500,000 for the Monroe Energy West Side Project
  • $1.25 million for the Boeing Company for vertical lift expansion at the V-22 factory
  • $1.25 million for Drexeline Shopping Center redevelopment
  • $1.5 million for Neumann University for the student life and health sciences center
  • $500,000 for the Academy of Notre Dame STEM Center
  • $500,000 for Crozer Chester Medical Center improvements
  • $500,000 for the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art facility upgrades

Source: Daily Local; 12/23/2017 

Early talks begin on Upper Darby schools budget process for 2018-19
The Upper Darby School Board will vote at an upcoming meeting to not exceed their state-issued tax increase allowance. A motion moved out of committee on Dec. 19, 2017, will allow the district to take the accelerated budget opt-out route which holds the board to not raising taxes higher than its Act 1 index of 3.4 percent for the next budget. With the accelerated option the district will bypass the preliminary budget process and only be liable to present a proposed final budget before a final budget adoption. If the board approves the accelerated resolution at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9, the following budget process timeline will be put in place as recommended by Chief Financial Officer Patrick Grant: presentation of the proposed final budget on May 16; public comment and adoption of the proposed final budget on May 22; adoption of the final budget on June 19. The district has taken the accelerated route for the past two budget cycles and has kept the tax increases below its Act 1 indices. Those budgets included no tax increase for 2016-17 and a 2.89 percent tax increase for 2017-18.
Source: Daily Times; 12/26/2017

Montgomery County

Upper Pottsgrove cuts taxes
Upper Pottsgrove’s $4 million budget for 2018 includes a 6.97 percent tax decrease. The township real estate tax rate will drop from 4.3 mills to 4 mills. The tax decrease is due to the commissioners’ decision to forgo a $2 million project to build a new public works garage, said Township Manager Carol Lewis. The 0.3 millage was specifically designed for the debt the township would have incurred to pay for the garage project. The project was rejected after scores of residents appeared at an October meeting to oppose it. The current township garage facility was built in 1967 and is home to the police as well as the public works department, and it does not have adequate space to house township equipment such as plows, graders, salt spreaders, pumps and mowers. A new committee of citizens opposed to the original garage replacement project has been tasked with finding less expensive alternatives, and they continue to explore options.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/21/2017 

Franconia holds the line on taxes
The Franconia Township Board of Supervisors approved a final $5.2 million 2018 budget on Dec. 18, 2017, that will maintain the current 1.924 mill tax rate. The owner of a home assessed at $166,000 can expect to pay $319 in township property taxes. The 1.924 millage rate breaks down to 1.444 mills for the general fund, 0.15 mills for the fire tax and 0.33 mills for the library tax.  
Source: The Reporter; 12/21/2017 

Horsham taxes steady
Horsham Township supervisors adopted a $19.4 million budget for 2018 that calls for no increase in the property tax rate. The township tax rate will remain at 1 mill. A home assessed at the township average of $181,148 will continue to pay $181 in municipal property taxes. Horsham has several capital improvement projects planned for 2018, including construction of a new township building and renovations to some township parks. Of the budget process this year, Township Manager William Walker said, “We did our normal process and tried to stay conservative. We still wait for the future of the Willow Grove Naval Air Station redevelopment to start. Once that redevelopment starts, the community will see increased revenues.”
Source: Montgomery News; 12/19/2017 

Upper Merion debuts new website
Upper Merion Township has redesigned its township website. Click here to view the new, updated design. In addition, Upper Merion has refreshed the township weekly email format, which residents can subscribe to on the website.

Philadelphia

SRC dissolution gets state approval
Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera recently certified the dissolution of the School Reform Commission, citing the “financial and academic improvements made during the tenure of the SRC.” The SRC voted last month to abolish itself. Rivera said, “The district no longer exhibits the factors that caused it to be placed in distress,” and he was satisfied with the district’s plan to transition control from the SRC to a nine-member local school board. The city will soon announce a nominating panel to recommend 27 names for consideration as board members. Mayor Jim Kenney will ultimately make the final decision. The School Reform Commission will be dissolved as of June 30, 2018.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/28/2017 

Spruce Hill zoning remapping is backdoor historic preservation
A bill quietly slipped through City Council that is intended to protect the iconic Victorian homes in Spruce Hill from demolition. The neighborhood enjoys what experts believe is the largest collection of Victorian townhomes in America, towering gingerbread-like structures that are often artfully decorated and daubed with elaborate colors. The neighborhood also borders the University of Pennsylvania, and in recent years some of the grand old buildings have been knocked down and replaced with apartments for students. Historic preservationists have proposed protecting the area twice before, first in the 1980s and again in the early 2000s, but pressure from City Council thwarted both efforts. The current zoning bill would remap strategic areas of the neighborhood from multi-family to single family to make it harder for developers to build student housing. “It’s a rearguard action,” said Barry Grossbach, who heads the Spruce Hill Community Association Zoning Committee. “Our goal is to prevent demolitions and the construction of units that are just not sympathetic with the architecture of the neighborhood.” Critics fear that the remapping could make the neighborhood, which is already expensive, even pricier. It would also make it harder to legally convert existing Victorians in the remapped areas from single-family to multi-family, a change that the usually permissive Zoning Board of Adjustment has often frowned upon in other neighborhoods.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/28/2017


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