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 June 11, 2018

 

General News

How pipeline work is affecting real estate in Chester and Delaware counties
The $5.1 billion Mariner East project, which aims to deliver 675,000 barrels a day of propane and other highly volatile gas liquids across Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook through three pipelines, has produced considerable anxiety in some neighborhoods in Chester and Delaware counties, the most densely populated areas along its 350-mile route. The project has unsettled the residential real estate market, as some fearful homeowners sold out ahead of construction and some buyers moved in unaware of the forthcoming disruption. Some homeowners said they were aware their property contained an easement for an 87-year-old Sunoco fuel pipeline but did not know that the easement was refurbished in 2014 as the Mariner East 1 to transport gas liquids from the booming Marcellus Shale region. And others said they had no clue that Sunoco planned to build two new pipelines — Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X — to expand the system’s capacity, though the project had received media coverage and opposition groups formed to challenge it. Real estate professionals say it is impossible to measure the pipelines’ impact on home values until the work is completed and the physical scars on the landscape heal. A 2016 Interstate Natural Gas Association of America report concluded that “the presence of pipelines does not affect the value of a home or its insurability,” but it studied large, federally permitted natural-gas pipelines, some of which had been in service for decades, and only compared pipeline-adjacent homes to others in the same development. The Mariner East 2, the first of the two new pipelines, is nearing completion, though the project has been interrupted and pushed back several times because of regulatory and legal challenges. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in 2014 affirmed the project as a public utility, allowing it to obtain easements by eminent domain. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/31/2018

Study: Local newspapers save municipalities money
When local newspapers close down, municipalities pay a price — that’s one of the conclusions of a new academic working paper produced by a trio of university finance professors. The study, which focused on the economic impact of local news, tracked 1,596 English-language newspapers serving 1,266 counties in the U.S. from 1996 and 2015. The study found 296 newspaper “exits” — closures, mergers or reductions in the print schedule — and found that three years after a newspaper closes, that city or county’s municipal bond offering yields increased on average by 5.5 basis points, while bond yields in the secondary market increased by 6.4 basis points. Without a local news outlet to hold government accountable and keep residents informed, cities must pay more to borrow money. “[I]f you look at the municipal bond market, you can actually see the financial consequences that have to be borne by local citizens as a result of newspaper closures,” said co-author Chang Lee, assistant professor of finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The trend of newspaper closures is a national one, with recent examples in the Philadelphia suburbs: In May, The Kennett Paper merged with the Avon Grove Sun newspaper to become Southern Chester County News; in Montgomery County, the Springfield Sun was absorbed into the Ambler Gazette. The Pottstown Mercury recently closed its office, telling staff to work from home or a printing plant in Exton.
Source: City Lab; 5/30/2018 and Reading Eagle; 6/5/2018

Bucks County

Nockamixon to consider groundwater ordinance
The Bridgeton/Nockamixon/Tinicum Joint Groundwater Committee produced a new groundwater ordinance to be considered by Nockamixon Township. The supervisors will consider the ordinance for approval at the meeting on Thursday, June 21. The new ordinance will establish thresholds that must be met to trigger various kinds of required testing when new wells are dug. The objective is to protect neighbors’ water availability and use, while not making it unduly burdensome for a landowner or developer to put in a new well. The ordinance was developed over many months with help from the township solicitor, residents who are also scientists and paid assistance from a professional hydrologist.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 5/24/2018

Centennial School District proposed budget will increase taxes
The Centennial School Board recently approved a preliminary final budget for 2018-2019 that calls for a 3.4 percent property tax increase. If finalized, the millage rate will rise from 136.6 mills to 141.02 mills. A mill is equal to a tax of $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. A property assessed at the district average of $26,400 would see an annual tax increase of about $116. Centennial School District applied for and received an approval for a special education exception from the state that allowed the district to increase taxes above the Act 1 index of 2.4 percent. The budget will be finalized in June.
Source: Public Spirit; 5/29/20108

New Britain to adopt new door-to-door and transient retail solicitation ordinance
New Britain Borough Council will consider an ordinance that would adopt Chapter 406, “Transient Retail Businesses, and Door-to-Door Solicitation and Peddling.” The proposed ordinance will replace an existing ordinance regulating transient retail businesses. The proposed ordinance will be considered at the regular meeting on Tuesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Burkart Hall, 56 Keeley Ave. The ordinance establishes comprehensive rules and regulations for transient retail businesses and door-to-door solicitation and peddling within the borough, requires licenses for those activities, and sets requirements for time, denial and revocation of said licenses. A copy of the full text of the ordinance under consideration may be examined at Borough Hall, 45 Keeley Ave., during normal business hours.
Source: The Intelligencer; 5/29/2018

Neshaminy School Board rejects charter school
The Neshaminy School Board rejected a proposal from a group called MaST-Neshaminy to open a charter school at the Sears store at the Oxford Valley Mall in Middletown. MaST-Neshaminy CEO John Swoyer said the group has written a letter of intent to buy the two-story, 173,000-square-foot space for $9.6 million with the hope to convert it into a technology-based charter school with an enrollment of 1,275 K-12 students by its fourth year. Neshaminy School Board President Marty Sullivan said the MaST proposal for the mall was deficient in several areas, including security and other concerns expressed by residents regarding placement of a charter school inside a mall. Swoyer has not said whether the charter group would appeal the school board’s decision.
Source: The Intelligencer; 5/29/2018

Chester County 

CASD tables final vote on 2018-2019 budget
Coatesville Area School Board members voted to table a resolution for the final adoption of the district’s proposed budget for the 2018-2019 school year. Although a vote on the budget was originally planned for the May 29 meeting, the district posted a notice on its website prior to the meeting saying school board members were planning to table the vote. The school board is looking into securing emergency funding from the state legislature, according to the notice. “Over a year ago, the board established a legislative committee and has been actively working to engage with our legislators as we work to move the district forward,” the notice said. Board President Dean Snyder said the school board is also considering other ways to adjust the budget. The budget is set at about $178 million. Under the tax increase of 8.4 percent, or 2.95 mills, included in the budget, the property tax bill would increase by about $317 for the average taxpayer in the district. The proposed budget can be viewed on the district website. The district encourages community members to share their ideas and suggestions on the budget by emailing budgetfeedback18@casdschools.org. Under state law, public school districts are required to pass their final budget by June 30. There are two school board meetings currently scheduled in June: a committee meeting on Tuesday, June 12, and a regular meeting on Tuesday, June 26. Since the budget must be approved at a public meeting, the board would have to vote on budget adoption at one of these meetings or schedule a special school board meeting.
Source: Daily Local; 6/1/2018

West Chester School Board passes budget with 2.8 percent tax hike
Due in part to increased enrollment, rising employee salary and benefit costs, and state mandates raising the cost for special education, the West Chester Area School Board voted to increase the property rate tax by 2.8 percent for the 2018-2019 school year budget. The real estate tax rate for Chester County will increase by 0.59 mills to 21.2723 mills. The rate for Delaware County will increase by 0.87 mills to 16.0761 mills. An average assessed home in Chester County is now about $184,000, and the average assessed home value in the Delaware County portion of the district is $285,000. A mill is a tax levy of one-tenth of 1 percent for assessed property value. At a 2.8 percent rate increase, the average tax hike would be $109 for Chester County residents and $247 for Thornbury Township, Delaware County, residents. The budget uses $6.6 million from the district’s designated fund balance, leaving approximately $15.7 million in an undesignated fund balance.
Source: Daily Local; 5/31/2018

$850K grant awarded to Chester County airport
The state has awarded an $850,000 grant to G.O. Carlson Airport, located in Coatesville, to be used for construction of a new apron — the area where aircraft are parked, unloaded or loaded, refueled or boarded — and hangar facilities. The funding was awarded through the state Department of Transportation's Aviation Transportation Assistance Program. The grant is a part of $9.8 million in grants doled out to 17 similar projects across the state. The hangar improvements are estimated to cost about $1.6 million.
Source: West Chester Patch; 5/29/2018

Oxford Area School Board passes budget
The Oxford Area School Board adopted a final budget for the 2018-2019 school year during its May 15 meeting. The $69.3 million general fund budget is an increase of about $700,000 over the 2017-2018 budget, but tax rates will remain unchanged at 31.1484 mills. Many property owners qualify for a tax reduction through the homestead/farmstead exclusion. Money for this reduction is given to school districts by the state out of a fund derived mainly from state gambling tax refunds and Philadelphia tax credit reimbursement funds. These funds total $1.57 million this year for the district’s 5,631 qualified homesteads and 187 qualified farmsteads. The maximum homestead/farmstead reduction is about $271.
Source: Daily Local; 5/30/2018

Delaware County

Developers unveil plans for Drexeline Town Center
At an Upper Darby zoning application hearing, applicant MCBH Drexeline Plaza LP gave specifics of its plan to demolish all buildings, except Anthony’s Restaurant, on the 16.5-acre Drexeline Town Center on State Road. The developer applied for 12 variances and one special exception for the project, for building height restrictions, a self-storage building, apartments and location of loading docks in the C-2 traditional general commercial district. Zoners tabled a decision until next month after concerned residents urged officials to take their time and study the proposal. MCBH spokesman Dan Shabel gave an overview of the project that combines four separate parcels into one. “The trend today is mixed use,” Shabel said. “Residential is a key component on large projects.” Plans are to construct a 142-unit apartment building, an 800-unit self-storage building that looks like an apartment building, a Wawa convenience store, an expanded Shop Rite supermarket (increased from 50,000 to 75,000 square feet), a medical center, an underground parking garage for 190 vehicles and a walking trail along the Darby Creek. The zoning hearing board will render a decision at its meeting on Thursday, June 28.
Source: Daily Times; 6/4/2018

Economic roundtable with chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee held
State Sen. Pat Browne (R-16), of Allentown, the chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, brought his roundtable to Delaware County in the midst of taking a tour of the state to see what communities’ priorities are. “We’re visiting all parts of the state primarily because we’re trying to respond to what we believe is a different financial situation for Pennsylvania and to take input from community business leaders as to what the priorities should be,” he explained. On hand were state Sens. Tom Killion (R-9), of Middletown, and Tom McGarrigle (R-26), of Springfield. Browne said the Delaware Valley will have a pivotal role in whatever occurs with Pennsylvania’s finances. “The conversation for the Southeast is always going to be ... targeted to how we compliment what happens, rather than trying to solve problems,” Browne said. “The economic receipts that come out of this region are what make what we do in Harrisburg possible. Five counties [are] 50 percent of our total receipts.”
Source: Daily Times; 5/31/2018

Radnor eyes cleanup services for Wayne business district
Small businesses in Wayne are struggling to compete with the rise of online vendors and new downtown areas in surrounding communities. That was the message to the board of commissioners from interim Ward 1 Commissioner Matt Marshall and a group of businesspeople from the Wayne Business Association. Steve Norcini, township engineer, said a company had responded to the township’s request for proposals with a $141,000 bid to keep the streets and sidewalks in the Wayne business district clean. The area includes Lancaster Avenue from Aberdeen Avenue to Banbury Way, including North Wayne and South Wayne avenues, and West and Station avenues. However, after some discussion, commissioners asked Township Manager Robert Zienkowski to come back with plan for a township employee to dedicate his or her time to doing that work. “Wayne is a thriving downtown,” said Marshall at the meeting. However, its present condition “doesn’t display the best of Radnor Township,” citing fall leaves still piled up, sidewalks and curbs needing repairs, and cigarette butts and other trash have accumulated. “The idea of the Wayne District Overlay was a walkable downtown,” he said. “I think it’s a small price for the township that we show a better face.” Chris Todd, president of the Wayne Business Association, told the board that while every business in Wayne is not a member of his organization, all pay mercantile taxes. “We’re asking the township to spend mercantile tax money back into Wayne,” he said. Ardmore and Media use part of their business taxes to fund street cleaning.
Source: Daily Times; 6/1/2018

West Chester School Board passes budget with 2.8 percent tax hike
Due in part to increased enrollment, rising employee salary and benefit costs, and state mandates raising the cost for special education, the West Chester Area School Board voted to increase the property rate tax by 2.8 percent for the 2018-2019 school year budget. The real estate tax rate for Chester County will increase by 0.59 mills to 21.2723 mills. The rate for Delaware County will increase by 0.87 mills to 16.0761 mills. An average assessed home in Chester County is now about $184,000, and the average assessed home value in the Delaware County portion of the district is $285,000. A mill is a tax levy of one-tenth of 1 percent for assessed property value. At a 2.8 percent rate increase, the average tax hike would be $109 for Chester County residents and $247 for Thornbury Township, Delaware County, residents. The budget uses $6.6 million from the district’s designated fund balance, leaving approximately $15.7 million in an undesignated fund balance.
Source: Daily Local; 5/31/2018

Montgomery County

Hatboro extends discrimination protections
Hatboro Borough Council recently voted to extend discrimination protections to members of the LGBTQ community. The ordinance makes it unlawful in Hatboro to discriminate against a person in matters of employment, housing, commercial property acquisition and public accommodations on the basis of that person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The ordinance also establishes a five-member Human Relations Commission in Hatboro that will investigate discrimination complaints. Hatboro council voted 4-3 to pass the ordinance. Voting against the ordinance were council members George Forgeng, David Rich and Robert Hegele. Supporting the ordinance were Board President George Bollendorf, Vice President Dave Stockton, Elle Anzinger and Nicole Benjamin. The state’s Human Relations Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, religious creed, national origin, sex, disability and handicap, but does not extend protections to include actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Over 40 Pennsylvania municipalities approved their own protections for LGBTQ citizens after efforts to amend the state’s Human Relations Act with comparable protections have stalled.
Source: Public Spirit; 5/29/2018

Spring-Ford budget to increase taxes 2.35%
The Spring-Ford School Board passed a proposed final budget for the 2018-2019 school year that includes a 2.35 percent tax increase. If finalized, the millage rate will increase 0.6157 mills to 26.8599 mills, which would amount to an annual increase of about $154 for a home assessed at $250,000. The recent vote advertises the proposed final $164 million budget for 30 days and the board will meet again on Thursday, June 28, to finalize the spending plan.
Source: Times Herald; 6/6/2018

Hatboro-Horsham school budget hikes taxes
The proposed final budget for Hatboro-Horsham School District proposes a 2.4 percent tax increase for district property owners. If finalized in June with no changes, the school district tax rate would increase from 28.141 mills to 28.816 mills. A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. Horsham homeowners with a home assessed at the average of $181,148 would pay an additional $122 more next year. Homes assessed at the district average of about $122,000 would see an $82 increase. The final budget approval is scheduled for June.
Source: Public Spirit; 5/29/2018

Cheltenham sells sewer system
Cheltenham Township supervisors voted 6-1 to sell the township sanitary sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Inc. for $50.25 million. The sewer system services Cheltenham and also customers in Abington, Jenkintown and Springfield. Of the decision to sell, Commissioner Drew Sharkey said: “The township has not been able to provide a basic public service. When you realize you’re not capable of doing something, it’s best to get out of that business.” Aqua Pennsylvania already owns and services the township’s water system.
Source: Times Chronicle; 5/29/2018

Philadelphia

Council comes up with a city budget that won't increase Philly property taxes
Philadelphia City Council came up with a budget plan that increases money for city schools in the coming years and avoids Mayor Kenney’s controversial proposal to raise property taxes. Lawmakers balked at the idea of another real-estate tax hike after being flooded with phone calls from constituents complaining about the 2019 property assessments — many of which resulted in automatic tax increases. Lawmakers gave preliminary approval to an alternative budget and five-year plan that relies on other revenue streams and would bring in an additional $600 million for city schools by 2023. The revenue sources include:

  • $95 million in prison budget cuts
  • Up to $93 million in new revenue from increased delinquent tax collection
  • $340 million more from a reduction in planned cuts to the wage tax that Kenney proposed and council approved in committee last month
  • An extra $100 million grant from the city’s general fund to the school district

Council had previously given initial approval to increasing the real estate transfer tax to 4.278 percent and raising the homestead exemption to $40,000, which would be revenue-neutral. Kenney’s proposed $4.7 billion budget for 2019 — unveiled in March — included a 4.1 percent property-tax rate increase. The tax hike, along with the increase in the real estate transfer tax and a slower reduction in the wage tax, were expected to generate an extra $770 million over five years for the School District. Council President Darrell L. Clarke said there could be more changes to the budget in the next week or two: “There may be an additional action taken before we can conclude as it relates to support for schools.” Council’s last meeting of the season is Thursday, June 21. The budget is due June 30.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/6/2018

Philly congressmen seek federal help to fix 'unconscionable' condition of city schools
Philadelphia’s three congressmen urged House leaders to devote federal money to repairing the city’s schools, which are suffering from mold, deteriorated asbestos and peeling lead paint. The letter from Democrats Bob Brady, Brendan Boyle and Dwight Evans came in response to the Inquirer and Daily News series “Toxic City: Sick Schools,” which detailed the conditions and the devastating health consequences for school children. The three urged House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to include money for school buildings in any infrastructure program considered in Congress. “It is clear that public schools play an important role in the physical and cognitive development of our nation’s children; however, despite their importance, inadequate funding has led to outdated and unsafe school buildings,” the congressmen wrote. “While the responsibility for school buildings has historically fallen on local school boards and their taxpayers, the problems have risen to a level that we cannot ignore or brush off as merely a local problem.” An infrastructure bill, however, does not seem likely in the near future. While President Trump and Democrats have argued for a major infusion of spending — perhaps more than $1 trillion — they have differed over how to pay for it, and many Republicans have objected to such a large spending initiative.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 6/1/2018

North Philly station project backers should chase public cash and team with Temple, study says
The success of a plan to revitalize the blighted area around Amtrak’s North Philadelphia station into a new complex of homes, research labs and offices may hinge on whether its backers can tap more public money for the project and recruit Temple University and its health network as future anchor tenants, according to a study on the proposal (PDF). Public subsidies would help the developers of the North Station District project charge competitive rents for the area while still making an adequate return on their construction costs, and an association with Temple would signal a level of institutional support that has aided similar proposals, experts with the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a global real-estate research nonprofit, wrote in the report released this month. The report was completed at the request of Philadelphia’s Planning and Development Office with financial support from the project’s backers, a consortium of New York-based developers, consultants and investors including HFZ Capital Group, the Arete Group and Merchant Equity Group, with Synterra Ltd. of Philadelphia as a local partner. The ULI experts said in the study that the project “could be a catalyst for broader community development” in the surrounding section of North Philadelphia that suffers from high unemployment and low household incomes. Philadelphia Planning and Development Director Anne Fadullon said that the city has not fielded any specific requests for public assistance to aid the project, but that, “as the development progresses, the city would be happy to talk about how the community will benefit from the development and subsidies that might be available for it.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/29/2018

 


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