Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Biden administration extends forbearance and foreclosure protections
Big developments move forward in Bucks
Phoenixville to consider repeal of per capita tax
Media’s open space, parks and recreation survey closes soon
Lower Merion ranked among best places to live and work from home
‘Once-in-a-generation’ anti-poverty plan sends $4.5M to community groups
State lawmakers seek to end gerrymandering
A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers is looking to remove politicians from the process of drawing congressional districts in the commonwealth. State Sen. Tom Killion (R-9), of Delaware County, introduced legislation designed to end congressional gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 1023, which has Democratic and Republican co-sponsors, would establish an 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw congressional district lines. “Citizens should pick their legislators, not vice versa,” Killion said. “The current congressional redistricting process, in which legislative leaders propose a congressional redistricting plan that is then presented to the General Assembly for approval, is irreparably broken.” The Independent Redistricting Commission would comprise a randomly selected group of voters from both major political parties, independents and third-party members, according to Carol Milligan, director of communications for Senate Republicans in Harrisburg.
Source: Daily Local; 2/26/2020
Registration is open for PAR’s Public Policy Training
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) has scheduled a series of Public Policy Regional Training sessions. The interactive sessions are beneficial for members who are new to PAR’s advocacy efforts, as well as seasoned veterans. Attendees will learn about specific areas where member involvement is critical to the success of the Realtor® Party and how to play a crucial role in that process. The training is free and open to any PAR member, but space is limited and pre-registration is required. A session will be held on Wednesday, April 15, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Radisson Philadelphia Northeast, in Trevose, Bucks County. More information and other session dates can be found on the PAR website.
Upper Southampton Authority begins sewer lateral inspections
Upper Southampton Municipal Authority now requires sewer lateral inspections in addition to sump pump inspections at point of sale. The lateral inspection must be completed by a NAASCO-certified vendor and include a video of the lateral. Please contact the Upper Southampton Municipal Authority for the sewer lateral inspection report form and more information. The authority plans to add the forms and inspection criteria to their website soon.
Tullytown to discuss proposed fire tax referendum
Tullytown Borough Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at the borough building, 500 Main St., Tullytown, to receive public comment on a resolution to add a ballot question referendum for the primary election in April. The question would be whether to raise the fire company tax to four mills. State law authorizes the borough to levy a tax of up to three mills for the purpose of supporting and making appropriations to local fire companies, but the rate can be raised higher if the question is submitted to voters in the form of a referendum. Council may vote on the resolution following the public hearing. A complete copy of the proposed resolution is available on the Tullytown Borough website (PDF).
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/25/2020
Lower Makefield April ballot to include liquor referendum
About 900 petition signatures were gathered over the past month in an effort to place a referendum on the April primary election ballot to permit liquor licenses at taverns, restaurants and other establishments in Lower Makefield Township. The township has been “dry” since 1949. The Lower Makefield Business Association created a website — Your Town Your Choice — to push the initiative and set up three locations to allow residents to sign the petition. The association believes that allowing liquor licenses will generate more revenue for the township and greater opportunities for businesses. Getting the referendum to the ballot was made easier after a state law sponsored by state Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-31) decreased the number of signatures required to get a liquor license referendum on the ballot to a flat 500. State law would permit the township 11 liquor licenses, a number that could be increased by the township supervisors.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/19/2020
Durham Township cuts administrator hours
Beginning March 1, the Durham Township office is scheduled to be open only four hours a day, from 8 a.m. until noon. Without a public vote or notification of residents, supervisors cut the township’s administrator/secretary job and salary in half. Dani McClanahan has held the position since 2017 and has received a monthly stipend. The stipend came to an end in December. At the township’s reorganization meeting in January, a motion to appoint her for the year at $25.97 per hour, for eight hours a day, was abruptly tabled and not taken up again in subsequent meetings. The change to four hours was revealed during the public comment portion of a February meeting. Supervisor Bartley E. Millett said the decision was “not set in stone,” while Supervisor Richard Johnson remained silent. Supervisors Chair Kathleen Gentner was absent from the meeting. Visit the township website for current hours and meeting information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 2/20/2020
Rep. Fitzpatrick, county commissioners join call to close Rockhill Quarry
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R, PA-1), of Middletown, echoed the calls of state Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-31) for the shutdown of operations at the Rockhill Quarry. “The Rockhill Quarry is located in a residential area, with over 11,000 students attending school less than five miles away,” Fitzpatrick said in a news release. The Bucks County Commissioners also released a statement urging for a total shutdown of the quarry. The quarry reopened in February 2018 for the first time in decades, but quarrying work was stopped in December 2018 on orders from the state Department of Environmental Protection after asbestos was discovered. East Rockhill Township has also been engaged in a legal battle with the quarry in federal district court.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 2/20/2020
East Coventry considers sump pump inspections
East Coventry Township supervisors will consider adopting an ordinance (PDF) that would update Chapter 18 of the township code to add a new subsection, “Sump Pumps and Other Prohibited Discharges into the Public Sanitary Sewer System.” The goal of the new language would be to ensure that groundwater is not improperly deposited into the public sanitary sewer system. The ordinance would also establish enforcement procedures, including mandatory inspections upon resale of the property and the issuance of violation notices, and penalties for violations. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Monday, March 9, at the township building, 855 Ellis Woods Road, Pottstown. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance is providing commentary to the board of supervisors to ensure that the ordinance is within the bounds of the Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (Act 133 of 2016).
Source: Mercury; 2/24/2020
Kennett Square mayor: ‘Everybody wants to build here’
So many people want to live in Kennett Square, developers are running out of space to build homes, businesses and restaurants. “We are constantly getting building requests from developers,” Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick told members of Longwood Rotary Club. “Our borough codes department is staffed by three people, and they have dozens upon dozens of applications sitting in front of them for rehabs and new construction and development. Our planning commission constantly hears from developers who want to build.” In the past few years, Kennett Square has become known throughout the region as a destination town, with events like the Mushroom Festival, the Mushroom Drop, the Kennett Run, the Kennett Brewfest and many more. In fact, in the past five years, five brewpubs have popped up, and council even handcrafted an ordinance encouraging them. According to official census figures, Kennett Square, which encompasses 1.1 square miles, is home to nearly 7,000 residents. The borough is entering its fifth year without a tax increase, boosted largely through income received by new construction. Fetick said officials are at a point where they have to balance whether they encourage more construction, which keeps tax hikes at bay and increases the tax base, or to turn it away and let residential homeowners pay more in taxes.
Source: Daily Local; 2/22/2020
Kennett officials debate what to do with historic Isaac Allen House
Kennett Township supervisors heard a presentation by historic preservation planner Robert Wise on the historic significance of the Isaac Allen House and the options to preserve it. The house, which sits on the Chatham Financial property on McFarlan Road, is a small, two-story stucco building, also known as the Cox tenant house. Several years ago, Chatham investigated what could be done with it, found no suitable use and applied for a demolition permit. Research showed the earliest known resident was there in 1751, and the property itself was purchased in 1713. The commission members recommended against demolition and proposed the building be stabilized and given signage to help people understand its significance in township history. Wise said the house might be one of the oldest in the township. He called it a “simple, vernacular, colonial two-story stone house” that was enlarged over the centuries. An addition was put on in the 1920s or 1930s, Wise said. The alterations are extensive enough, he said, to make it ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It would cost around $10,000 to simply stabilize the house to keep animals and water out, allowing it to sit for a relatively long time without sustaining further damage. More expensive options including removing the addition and keeping the original stone part of the house, which would cost from $16,000 to $30,000, Wise estimated. To entirely restore the stone exterior and renew all the windows, doors and roofing, and add new hardware and shutters would cost about $150,000 to $250,000, he said.
Source: Daily Local; 2/25/2020
OJR selling 22 acres for $1.2M
Owen J. Roberts School District will sell a 21.55-acre parcel of land to Pennsylvania American Water for $1.2 million — a sum that exceeds by over $1 million the district’s 1996 purchase price. The land at 830 Brown Drive in East Vincent Township was acreage carved out of the former Pennhurst estate. It was sold to the district in 1996 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for $135,250, which was 50% of the appraised value of the land. The sale is expected to go through in mid-April. District officials had bought the property 24 years ago with an eye on building a future school there to accommodate population growth, according to the board’s building and grounds committee chairwoman, Melissa Booth. However, with the completion of the new East Vincent and East Coventry elementary schools in 2017 and 2018, respectively, the parcel was no longer needed. The $1.2 million proceeds will go directly into the capital fund budget for maintenance, repairs and future planned capital projects.
Source: Daily Local; 2/25/2020
Property owners have 10 days to schedule informal appeal of tentative assessment
Delaware County started mailing out notices of new tentative values to property owners on Feb. 14. View the municipal mailing schedule here (PDF). Property owners who wish to appeal their new valuations have just 10 days from the notice date to sign up for an informal review. Property owners who do not agree with the valuation can request an informal review of their properties by calling 888-773-7056 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or by visiting the Tyler Technologies website. All informal hearings will be completed by May 15, and the final updated property values will be sent in July. At that time, formal hearings will begin with the county’s Tax Assessment Appeals Board. All hearings — both the informal and formal appeals — are free to the public. More information about the reassessment can be found on the county’s project website.
Source: Daily Times; 2/7/2020
SRA creates reassessment web page
The Suburban Realtors Alliance website has a webpage with information about the Delaware County Reassessment Project. The page provides an overview of the project, its history and timeline, and links to other resources. Visit the page on the Alliance website.
How Delco reassessment affects agreements of sale and existing contracts
Comprehensive reassessments, such as the one underway in Delaware County, may change the assessed value of a property resulting in a change in property taxes. This can raise questions about Realtors’ responsibility, if any, to provide notice to buyers preparing to enter into an Agreement of Sale — or who are already under contract — to purchase property subject to a reassessment. Paragraph 17 of the Agreement of Sale, “Real Estate Taxes and Assessed Value,” provides notice to buyers about the possibility and effect of re-assessment or appeal of current assessment. Buyer agents should use the opportunity presented by this paragraph to alert potential buyers about any known re-assessment prior to the buyer executing the agreement of sale. Article 2 of the Code of Ethics requires Realtors® to avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation or concealment of pertinent facts about the property or the transaction. If the buyer has questions or concerns, the buyer agent can direct the client to available resources. Delaware County provides a Reassessment Project webpage, which includes links and contact information for buyers on many aspects of the reassessment. For more information about reassessments, including the seller’s obligation to notify a buyer of a change in the property’s assessed value, click here.
Source: Suburban West Weekly; 2/26/2020
Delco to spend $2M to battle lead-paint poisoning
Each year approximately 400 children in Delaware County are stricken with lead poisoning, for which there is no cure. The majority of cases could be easily prevented with proper testing, and thanks to $2 million in grants, families and landlords that serve low-income individuals are now eligible for the crucial testing. Delaware County was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to conduct lead remediation in low-income homes with pregnant women and children under the age of 6. The Delaware County Lead Poisoning Prevention Coalition announced that the grant and existing funds now total $2 million. Statistically, lead poisoning in Delaware County is higher than the national average and highest among suburban Philadelphia counties. Lead-based paint remains the main source of childhood lead poisoning. There are many houses in the county that were constructed before the lead-paint ban went into effect, and four out of five housing units in the county were built prior to the ban. Of the 49 municipalities in the county, the following have been identified as being the hardest hit by lead: Haverford, Clifton Heights, Upper Darby, Lansdowne, East Lansdowne, Yeadon, Aldan, Darby Borough, Collingdale, Colwyn, Sharon Hill, Lower Chichester, Chester, Upland, Chester Township, Trainer and Marcus Hook. Remediation may be available to families who meet certain income and household sizes. Information can be obtained by calling the Community Action Agency at 610-352-5555 and the Delaware County Office of Housing and Community Development at 610-891-5425.
Source: Daily Times; 2/21/2020
County warns of fake census mailer
The Delaware County Complete Count Committee was recently made aware of a letter being sent to some residents that mimics the official U.S. Census. Forms titled “2020 Congressional District Census” were mailed to some residents of Delaware County from the Republican National Committee. These forms are not connected to the official U.S. Census. The official U.S. Census questionnaire will be mailed from the U.S. Census Bureau to Pennsylvania homes by mid-March, and it will also be available online. It will not ask for political party affiliation or solicit a monetary donation. “There is a risk that some people will fill out this form and believe they have completed the official Census, and then not respond to the official Census, which will cause an undercount,” said Michael Ranck, chairman of the Complete Count Committee. Other organizations may be sending similar misleading letters. Anyone with questions can contact the Delaware County Complete Count Committee at 610-891-4931 or DelcoCounts@co.delaware.pa.us.
Source: Delaware County; 2/26/2020
First test for Lower Merion bamboo ordinance
Lower Merion Township passed a bamboo ordinance in 2016 that regulated bamboo if it grew onto township property or too close to the right-of-way. The ordinance was later amended to address bamboo that crossed onto private properties, and mandates the property owner of the home where the bamboo originated must remove it from the neighboring property. The bamboo ordinance is getting its first test, as resident Judith Lang filed a complaint with Lower Merion about bamboo from a neighboring property encroaching into her backyard. According to Bob Duncan, assistant township manager, the original notification about the spread of the bamboo went to the previous owner of the neighboring property but not to the new owners. After the required 30 days had passed, the township notified the new owners, Cesar and Jennifer Garcia, of the violation. The Garcias went before the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners to request an extension for the removal requirement until the end of the year. In speaking before the building and planning committee, Jennifer Garcia previously said they knew nothing about the need for the bamboo to be removed when they purchased their house last year. In the end, commissioners split 6-6 on a 120-day extension and settled on a 60-day extension that was recommended by the building and planning committee. The cost to remove the bamboo is estimated at between $8,000 to $15,000.
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 2/25/2020
North Penn School District expands real estate tax rebate program
The North Penn School Board voted unanimously to approve another expansion of the school district’s real estate tax rebate program. The program gives residents who meet certain age or low-income qualifications a rebate on their school property taxes. The board voted to increase the rebate level to 40% of the state level and to offer supplements. District business director Steve Skrocki said eligibility for the supplements is vetted by the state and confirmed by the district when residents apply. "The supplemental program, the way that it works is: If an individual pays more than 15% of their total income in property taxes, they're eligible for an additional 50% of the base [rebate] amount," he said. "For example, if someone receives $650 in a rebate, depending on how much they pay on their real estate taxes, they could be eligible for another $325 in supplements, bringing their grant total to $975.” It is the second school district in Pennsylvania to offer the local rebate program, and the first to do so with supplements. Click here for more information about the North Penn tax rebate program.
Source: The Reporter; 2/24/2020
Pottstown school budget has $2.6M deficit
The first look at a preliminary $66.7 million budget for the Pottstown Area School District includes a $2.6 million deficit. Business manager Maureen Jampo said the deficit is driven by rising charter school tuition costs and the loss of tax revenue due to lower assessed real estate values in 2019. Charter school tuition costs have risen 44% in two years for Pottstown, from about $2.25 million to $3.24 million. Pottstown school officials have joined a statewide effort to lobby for reform to Pennsylvania’s 20-year-old charter school law, specifically how tuition is calculated. The school district also lost $2.5 million in assessed real estate value, resulting in the loss of about $104,700 in tax revenue at the current millage rate of 41.96 mills. The district can raise the tax rate by a maximum of 3.8% for the coming school year — but even then the district would still face a shortfall of $1.5 million. Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez pointed out that if Pennsylvania’s fair funding formula were in place for all education funding, Pottstown would be receiving an additional $13 million a year in state aid. He also said the preliminary budget figures will become more accurate as updated information is received.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 2/21/2020
Jenkintown Community Alliance annual meeting is March 3
The Jenkintown Community Alliance (JCA) is a nonprofit organization focused on promoting Jenkintown and the Old York Road Corridor’s strengths and opportunities as a place to live, work and shop. JCA is bringing back its annual community meeting to discuss what it has been doing the past few years and to discuss the future. The meeting will be held Tuesday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at Church of Our Savior, 821 Homestead Road. Click here for more information.
Source: Jenkintown Borough; 2/25/2020
Philly’s finances might not be strong enough to ride out severe recession
A severe economic downturn would trigger painful cuts to Philadelphia services, and upcoming challenges will test Philadelphia’s fiscal stability, according to Kenney administration officials and a government watchdog group. Although Philadelphia is better prepared for the next economic downturn than it was for the Great Recession in 2008, “we still have tremendous weaknesses in our fiscal health,” city budget director Marisa Waxman said. The key risk to city government’s revenue projections was economic growth, said Harvey Rice, executive director of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA), which oversees city finances. Rice doubted that city finances could weather a severe economic downturn and warned the city was not putting away enough reserves. The city’s fund balance last year was 9% of its general fund spending; the Government Financial Offices Association recommends a fund balance of 17%. Waxman, Rice and others provided insight into city finances during a hearing before the City Council Committee on Fiscal Stability and Intergovernmental Cooperation ahead of Mayor Jim Kenney’s budget proposal. For now, the economy continues to hum along, filling city coffers and putting the city on the best fiscal footing in decades. In fiscal year 2019, the city logged a $438.6 million fund balance, or surplus. This year, the Kenney administration put away the city’s first deposit in the Budget Stabilization Reserve ($34.2 million) and another $20 million into a recession fund.
Source: Pennsylvania Capitol Star; 2/25/2020
Street sweeping will include parking restrictions this year
Residents in some Philadelphia neighborhoods will have to start moving their cars for street sweeping this summer, the city has announced. The Streets Department will expand a pilot street-cleaning program that began in six neighborhoods last year, Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams said, but with parking restrictions added. The pilot program used leaf blowers to move trash around cars instead of requiring residents to move them for sweeping equipment. As a result, the cleaning took too long and got off schedule. The neighborhoods and streets that will get parking restrictions have not yet been determined. Williams said he hopes to “at least double the size” of the pilot program for this year’s sweeping efforts, but neighborhoods and budget details have not been finalized. Neighborhoods in the pilot program, chosen because they had the most litter, included parts of West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia, Kensington, Strawberry Mansion, Logan and South Philadelphia. The city plans to resume the pilot program in those neighborhoods in April, without parking restrictions. Signs requiring alternate side parking for two-hour periods on weekly street-cleaning days will go up in neighborhoods this spring, but cars will not need to be moved until July and tickets will not be issued until August. Philadelphia stopped its residential street-sweeping program in 2008 due to citywide budget cuts. All of the 30 most populous cities in the United States have a street-sweeping program, and 80% of those cities sweep residential streets at least once per year. Half of those cities enforce parking restrictions, according to Philadelphia’s review of other cities’ programs.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/21/2020
Activists call for affordable housing amid gentrification
A group of housing activists, accompanied by one of city council’s new progressive members, Kendra Brooks, rallied at City Hall to demand protections for renters and homeowners as gentrification forces make housing increasingly unaffordable. About 50 protesters were in attendance from One PA, a statewide racial and economic justice group. One PA has put forward two proposals for discussion in city council: universal rent control and protections for homeowners who have fallen behind in their property-tax payments due to sudden tax increases.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 2/21/2020