NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
New nationwide flood model says U.S. is unprepared

Bucks County
Neshaminy School District passes budget with tax increase

Chester County
County to help fund two affordable housing projects

Delaware County
Springfield schools increase taxes by 2.25%

Montgomery County
Lansdale to adopt comprehensive plan

Philadelphia County
Small Philadelphia landlords can apply for loans to offset missed rent due to pandemic

 

News Briefs Archive June 15, 2020

 

General News

Pitt Study: Pa. municipalities could lose $3.4B in tax revenue in next two years
A new University of Pittsburgh study paints a dire picture of the finances of Pennsylvania’s municipal governments as they struggle to fill a revenue hole caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, released by the university’s Center for Metropolitan Studies, states the biggest hits to municipal bottom lines include:

  • A 15% to 50% loss in amusement tax revenue
  • A 9% to 28% loss in earned income tax revenue
  • A 10% to 30% hit to business tax collections
  • A 10% to 40% reduction in parking tax revenue
    Click here for the full article from Pennsylvania Capital-Star. A nationwide forecast from Kiplinger is also stating that the outlook for state and local finances is “not good.” States and cities may face a massive shortfall of $500 billion or more by the end of fiscal year 2021. State sales tax receipts and income tax revenue have cratered, and cities are seeing declines in tax revenue, plus increased spending to combat the virus. Kiplinger also reports that property taxes generally hold up better during recessions than sales and income taxes — but they could begin to suffer if office and retail vacancies pile up.
    Source: Pennsylvania Capital-Star; 6/4/2020 & Kiplinger; 6/5/2020

Wolf announces $225M grant program for businesses impacted by coronavirus
Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $225 million grant program to support small businesses that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible businesses will be able to use the grants to cover operating expenses during the shutdown and transition to reopening, and for technical assistance including training and guidance for business owners as they stabilize and relaunch their businesses. Any business with less than $1 million in sales or fewer than 25 employees can apply for help. A list of Pennsylvania’s community lenders can be found at the Opportunity Finance Network website. The funds will be available through three programs:

  • $100 million for the Main Street Business Revitalization Program for small businesses that experienced loss as a result of the governor’s March 19 order closing all non-life-sustaining businesses and that have or will incur costs to adapt to new business operations related to COVID-19.
  • $100 million for the Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program for small businesses that experienced loss as a result of the business closure order, that have or will incur costs to adapt to new business operations related to COVID-19, and in which socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51% interest and also control management and daily business operations.
  • $25 million for the Loan Payment Deferment and Loss Reserve Program, which will allow the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) the opportunity to offer forbearance and payment relief for existing portfolio businesses that are struggling due to the impact of COVID, as well as shore up the financial position of the CDFIs that are experiencing significant increased defaults in their existing loan portfolios.

Click here for more information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 6/8/2020

Bucks County

Doylestown launches ‘Operation Doylestown’ to help business community
The Borough of Doylestown is working with local businesses to establish creative outdoor spaces to allow for safe reopening practices as the community begins to recover from COVID-19. Doylestown businesses began reopening efforts on June 5, when Bucks County was moved into the yellow phase of the state reopening plan. As businesses adapt to the new guidelines, visitors were welcomed with outdoor dining, sidewalk shopping and increased curbside pickup services. Operation Doylestown derives its name from a nationally recognized campaign, Operation 64, which was designed to preserve and revitalize the town in 1964. Now, the borough is working with the business community to establish longer-term solutions. Additional uses of common spaces in town are being developed, including outdoor seating gardens to help expand the capacity of local restaurants and an outdoor shopping area. As reopening progresses, the plans will expand to help meet the demand and needs of the community. To learn more about Operation Doylestown and how to support small businesses, click here.
Source: Doylestown Borough

Bristol Township reopens park amenities and administration building
Bristol Township reopened park amenities and has reopened parts of the administration building to the public as of June 8. Masks and social distancing are required in the buildings. In addition, a drop box for tax and sewer payments is also available. Playgrounds at the parks are open, and modified summer camp information will be forthcoming from Bristol Township Parks and Recreation. The township is coordinating with the Bucks County Housing & Community Development Department and finalizing a submission to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund a program for mortgage and rental assistance. Visit the township website for updates.
Source: Levittownnow.com; 6/5/2020

Lower Southampton zoning officer resigns
Lower Southampton zoning officer Jeffrey Bartlett has resigned his position to take a township manager position in another county. Bartlett replaced the previous zoning officer, William Oettinger, less than a year ago. Oettinger was ousted from his fire marshal job in January after a majority of the board did not support reappointing him; he is suing the township under the state’s whistleblower law claiming he was demoted and terminated in retaliation for exposing questionable practices under his zoning office predecessor.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 6/9/2020

Bucks County Intermediate Unit coordinating reopening plans for county school districts
Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released guidelines for schools to reopen amid the pandemic. Part of that guidance mandates that schools have an approved safety plan in place, which includes social distancing measures and mask wearing. The Bucks County Intermediate Unit (BCIU) is coordinating with the 13 public school districts in the county to plan ahead for the fall. School leaders and county officials have been holding regular teleconferencing meetings to plan for a "wide variety of scenarios facing our school communities this summer and fall," according to the BCIU. While planning will occur at the county level, district-specific plans must be approved by each local school board before schools can reopen. The safety plans must encompass several elements, including identifying a pandemic coordinator or team to lead response efforts, state officials said. There must be steps in place to protect high-risk children and staff, as well as processes for monitoring students and staff for symptoms. The safety plan must also include guidelines for hygiene practices and processes for cleaning and disinfecting. The plan must address the use of face masks, protocols for social distancing and procedures for restricting large gatherings.
Source: Doylestown Patch; 6/9/2020

Chester County 

Kennett school board approves final budget
In a unanimous vote, the Kennett School Board approved an $88.2 million budget for the 2020-2021 school year with a 1.74% tax increase. The tax hike is less than the 2.42% that had been floated in earlier versions. School board member and finance committee chair Michael Finnegan said the decision was made based in part on assurances that state funding would not be reduced from last year. Real estate owners will pay a millage rate of 31.4852 mills, and the tax increase adds $97 to the bill for an average assessment of $369,000.
Source: Chester County Press; 6/9/2020

West Chester works to balance budget mid-year
The West Chester Borough Finance and Revenue Committee has scrambled to overcome a substantial deficit and prepare a revised proposed budget for 2020 that doesn’t tap into “rainy day” reserve funds. Salary freezes, credit card fee payments for parking meters and elimination of overtime for non-emergencies were all discussed in a bid to overcome the estimated $4.2 million deficit, caused in part by the coronavirus pandemic. The committee considered a salary freeze starting in 2021, for 18 months, but such a move would need to be negotiated with the employees’ respective unions. The committee only makes suggestions; the full borough council will likely consider a replacement budget at the July meeting.
Source: Daily Local; 6/5/2020

Kennett Township releases preliminary financial report
Kennett Township has released a preliminary financial report for 2020, showing fund balances and how actual revenues and expenses compare to budgeted amounts. The report, which will be updated monthly, gives township officials and residents an idea of how the municipality is recovering from recent financial problems. This time last year, former Kennett Township Manager Lisa Moore was being investigated for allegedly embezzling more than $3 million from the township’s finances, and supervisors were learning that the township’s financial situation was nothing like what they thought it was. In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted earned income tax revenue. Real estate and transfer taxes are close to the budgeted amount. The preliminary financial report can be found on Page 18 of the June 3 township supervisors meeting agenda (PDF).
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 6/7/2020

Downingtown school board passes $230 million budget with no tax increase
The Downingtown Area School Board approved the 2020-2021 district budget, and for the eighth year running, the budget has been approved with no school property tax increases. The unanimous vote approving the $230.8 million budget shows a 1.99% increase in expenses over last year’s budget. The budget includes $226.6 million for operations with $4.2 million set aside in a contingency fund, which the school board may use based upon need and the strength of the economy.
Source: Daily Local; 6/11/2020

Delaware County

Judge temporarily blocks Delco takeover of DELCORA
Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozor granted the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA) a temporary stay on county council’s ordinance to terminate the authority. The order came one day after the council voted 4-0 to approve an ordinance that would dissolve the authority and bring all of its funds, assets, operations and liabilities under county control. The ordinance would prevent a pending $276.5 million merger between DELCORA and Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Inc., unanimously approved by the DELCORA board last year. County council has also filed suit against the creation of a trust to receive the sale proceeds, which DELCORA and Aqua say would be used as a “rate stabilization fund” for customers in the face of approximately $1.2 billion in new and ongoing capital costs in coming years. DELCORA and the county council each contend that ratepayers will be hurt if the other party prevails in the fight over the authority’s future. Read more here.
Source: Daily Times; 6/5/2020

SRA hosts Realtor® Town Hall with U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance hosted a virtual Realtor® Town Hall with U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5) on June 11. The conversation covered COVID-19 relief efforts like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and SBA loans, and broader legislative topics relevant to real estate like remote notarization. Watch a recording of the town hall on the Alliance blog.

Upper Darby announces $350K grant program for small businesses
Township officials announced the launch of Upper Darby Rebuild, an effort to disperse $350,000 to small businesses through $2,500 grants. The program is being funded through the U.S. Community Development Block Grant CARES Act funding for businesses of 25 or fewer employees. Priority will be given to businesses in the low-to-moderate income census tracks and those that have not received funding from other programs. An information session will be held via Zoom on Monday, June 15, at 11 a.m. The link will be available on the township website.
Source: Daily Times; 6/10/2020

Newtown Square considers creation of tree commission
Newtown Township will consider adopting an ordinance that would establish a commission “to protect, manage, and exercise stewardship of the trees.” The draft ordinance defines the mission of the commission, and authorizes it to establish rules and regulations to encourage the planting of appropriate shade trees, provide for the proper maintenance of the trees, protect shade trees, and provide guidelines for the removal and replacement of shade trees. A hearing will be held during the supervisors meeting on Monday, June 22, at 7 p.m., at the township building, 209 Bishop Hollow Road. The draft ordinance can be reviewed on the township website.
Source: Daily Times; 06/08/2020

County seeks public input on housing and community development plan
On May 20, Delaware County Council adopted a preliminary list of projects to be undertaken as part of its 2020 Annual Housing and Community Development Action Plan. The preliminary plan and proposed list of awards is available on the county website. More than $5.9 million in federal program funds were directed to public improvement, social service and affordable housing initiatives that will assist the county’s low- and moderate-income residents. The awards are very competitive — applicants submitted funding requests for more than $11 million in projects. Council will accept public comment on the proposed list of projects until June 22. Instructions on the various ways to provide comments can be found here.
Source: Delaware County

Montgomery County

Norristown discusses potential sale of sewer system
Norristown Council is considering the sale of the municipality’s sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania for $82 million. The council will vote on a proposed ordinance that "approves the sale of all the assets, properties and rights of the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority to the purchaser Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc." in a meeting on Tuesday, June 16, at 6:30 p.m. in Norristown Municipal Hall, 235 E. Airy Street. The Norristown Municipal Waste Authority (NMWA) provides wastewater treatment services to Norristown and West Norriton Township. Norristown has been exploring the potential sale of its sanitary sewer system with “due diligence” since 2017 and Aqua was the highest bid for purchasing the system. There have been three sessions to discuss the possible sale. Norristown officials pointed out that all discussions up to this point have been highly preliminary and that community involvement is welcome at every stage. For updates on the sale, visit Norristown’s website. If the sale is approved it would be roughly a year until settlement.
Source: Times Herald; 6/10/2020

Montco commissioners approve $2.2M in ‘Montco 2040’ grants, censure member
Montgomery County Commissioners last week unanimously approved $2.2 million worth of grant funding supporting $7.3 million worth of improvement projects around the county. The funding is geared toward implementing the goals of the county's comprehensive plan, Montco 2040, adopted in 2015. Click here for the full press release and the 15 projects receiving funding. At the same meeting, commissioners Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh and Vice Chairman Kenneth Lawrence, both Democrats, voted to formally censure Republican Commissioner Joe Gale for a June 1 statement titled “Riots & Looting In Philadelphia,” written on county letterhead. Gale, the lone Republican on the three-member commissioners’ board, compared the Black Lives Matter group to “far-left radical enemy combatants.” The censure resolution notes that if Gale were a county employee, he could be fired for violating the county ethics policy by using Montgomery County stationery to issue the statement. Gale has been defiant in the face of the censure and calls for his resignation from elected leaders in Plymouth, Whitemarsh, Conshohocken, Pottstown and Norristown.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 6/10/2020; & The Reporter; 6/5/2020

Jenkintown approves temporary 2020 tax reduction for Business Privilege & Mercantile Tax
As part of its efforts to support businesses during the COVID-19 emergency, Jenkintown Borough passed resolution 2020-17, providing for a one-time reduction to the 2020 estimated Business Privilege and Mercantile Tax deposit payments due July 15. The resolution lowers the payment to 80% of the previous year’s liability, instead of 100%. The decision will allow businesses to hold onto precious economic resources and will more closely approximate the actual taxes due in 2021. The borough had previously extended the deadline for this filing from April 15 until June 15. Questions may be directed to Rick Ware, finance director, at rware@jenkintownboro.com.
Source: Jenkintown Borough; 6/9/2020

Phased reopening of Montgomery County parks
Montgomery County officials announced that they will implement a “phased reopening plan” beginning for the county’s parks. Norristown Farm Park was the first scheduled to reopen on June 10. If that reopening goes smoothly, it will be followed by Lock 60, Green Lane Park, Upper Schuylkill Valley Park and Central Perkiomen Valley Park on June 15. Lower Perkiomen Valley Park and Lorimer Park in Abington will reopen on June 22. Visitors are requested to follow social distancing of at least six feet between non-household contacts and wearing of masks any time visitors will be near other park users.
Source: Main Line Media News; 6/9/2020

Philadelphia

Philadelphians ask mayor to rethink housing cuts
The federal government is giving Philadelphia tens of millions of dollars in emergency pandemic funding to help keep residents safe and housed, but proposed budget cuts will still leave a major gap in housing assistance programs in the coming year. The federal money targeted to help with housing costs — a portion of the $276 million Philadelphia received from the federal CARES Act — totals $26 million. But due to budget cuts proposed by Mayor Jim Kenney, along with projected drops in fee collections and the expiration of a bond measure, the amount of money going to two of the city’s main housing programs — the Housing Trust Fund and the Basic Systems Repair Program — is still set to drop by nearly $45 million in the new fiscal year that starts next month. “It’s a great thing that the government has reached out to do COVID stimulus money specifically to relieve pressures on housing issues,” Councilmember Helen Gym said. But, she added, “we are extraordinarily shocked, depressed, and appalled that the administration would have allocated a lot of the money away from the Housing Trust Fund and from urgent needs.” Click here for the full article.
Source: Whyy.org; 6/9/2020

Mayor Kenney rescinds proposed $19M increase to police budget
Following a request from Philadelphia City Council and nearly two weeks of protest and civil unrest, Mayor Jim Kenney has revealed his plan to reform the city’s police department. Acknowledging he faced a veto-proof majority on city council, Kenney’s first change was to rescind a proposed $19 million increase to the police department’s budget. Kenney also proposed creating an improved and independent civilian oversight board to replace the Police Advisory Commission. The prior budget called for a significant cut to the oversight commission. “This has been a humbling experience for me and members of my administration. Many of us have realized that, as progressive and inclusive as we think we are, we still have a lot to learn,” Mayor Kenney said. “This moment is a beginning.” Click here for more.
Source: Whyy.org; 6/9/2020

Schuylkill dredging set to begin
The construction of the Fairmount Dam in 1822 slowed the flow of the Schuylkill River and created Boathouse Row and the national racecourse. Since that time, sediment has built up in the three-mile stretch below East Falls — a natural outcome that makes regular maintenance dredging critical. But the Schuylkill, once dredged every 10 years, hasn’t been cleared since 2000. The sediment makes boat launches hazardous and impedes the safety of rowers competing on the racecourse. In 2019, the Schuylkill Navy’s River Restoration Committee finally raised the $4.5 million necessary to fund the project and keep rowers on the river. Dredging was scheduled to being in spring 2020, but the coronavirus shutdown led to a new start date for the project, June 1. Assuming no delays, the project is estimated to be finished by Dec. 13. Click here for specifics and some background.
Source: Whyy.org; 5/26/2020

 
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