Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs

Bucks County
Bucks sheriff sales go online

Chester County
Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program

Delaware County
Brandywine Battlefield property purchased

Montgomery County
Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords


News Briefs Archive March 22, 2021


General News

PUC offers help to households, businesses with past-due bills
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has approved a measure requiring the state’s utilities to offer extended payment plans to customers with past-due utility bills. The measure, approved by the commission on March 11, applies to all PUC-regulated electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications and steam utilities. Depending on their income level, consumers will be able to obtain a repayment plan of 1, 2 or up to 5 years to address their arrearage. PUC Chairwoman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille introduced the motion, noting that public health and financial factors are still impacting consumers, businesses and utilities across the state, including continued COVID-19 infections, unemployment and substantial past-due balances for utilities.
Source: Daily Local; 3/15/2021

Suburbs will get a regional vaccine clinic, but details are uncertain
After leaders in the Philadelphia suburbs warned this week that it could take three to five months to inoculate everyone in the top-priority 1a group who wants a shot, Pennsylvania officials assured Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester counties that the area “is prime to secure” one of the state’s regional vaccine sites and could see a boost in doses in as soon as two weeks. Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said as much in a three-page letter to southeastern Pennsylvania leaders and lawmakers, in which she also defended her department against criticism that it has not been transparent with its vaccine-allocation data and that it has not distributed shots equitably. The regional suburban site will be able to vaccinate “high volumes” of residents soon after the state’s weekly shipments of Johnson & Johnson one-shot doses start arriving around March 28, Beam said. She asked the counties’ leaders to “find consensus on a centralized location” with a large capacity to house the clinic.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/16/2021

PennDOT wants comments on plan
PennDOT is seeking public feedback on the state’s Transportation Performance Report, which is a first step in the state’s transportation program planning process. The report is available online, along with a survey that is open until April 14. The agency will also host a virtual public forum on Tuesday, March 23, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., which will be accessible via Zoom and Facebook Live. The public will be able to submit transportation-related questions to PennDOT during the forum.
Source: Reading Eagle; 3/8/2021

PFAS found in 72% of drinking-water samples in Philly’s suburbs
PFAS “forever chemicals” have been detected in 33 of 46 public water locations in Philadelphia’s suburban counties, or 72% of samples, although none exceeded totals of federally suggested limits, according to an Inquirer analysis of new state data. In a broader sampling of 22 counties throughout the state, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found PFAS in only 35% of 114 sites tested. Similarly, none of those exceeded the current federal Environmental Protection Agency guideline of 70 parts per trillion, although some scientists contend there are no safe levels. The Inquirer looked at results for Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties. The data indicate most PFAS samples were found in Bucks and Montgomery, which was expected because of past contamination from military bases, and that’s where the state focused most of its effort. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/17/2021

Emergency Rental Assistance Program rolls out across Pa. counties
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) launched the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) last week, using federal funds to provide assistance to renters, landlords and utility providers who have been affected by the pandemic. Under the program guidelines, eligible households may apply for assistance, with funding paid directly to the landlord or utility provider. An “eligible household” is defined using the following criteria:

  • Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19
  • Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability
  • Has a household income at or below 80% of the area median 

DHS is administering the ERAP for counties with populations under 200,000, while counties and cities with populations above 200,000 are administering their own programs with direct funding from the U.S. Treasury. For more information, read the PAR JustListed article, which links to other resources.
Source: PAR JustListed; 3/11/2021

Bucks County

Realtor® Town Hall with Bucks County Commissioners is March 19
The Bucks County Association of Realtors (BCAR) and the Suburban Realtors Alliance (SRA) will host a virtual town hall with the Bucks County Commissioners on Friday, March 19, at 10:30 a.m. The commissioners will give a general update on the state of the county, discuss real estate issues and provide an update on the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions from attendees will also be accepted. The event is open to BCAR members and affiliates. Registration is free, but space is limited. Register for the virtual town hall here.

Bucks County Planning Commission releases annual report
The Bucks County Planning Commission annual report shows the number of proposed single-family homes is the lowest it has been in several decades. There were 70 single-family homes proposed in 2020. By comparison, in 1987 that number was 7,666. Office space requests are also in steep decline while demand for multi-family housing and warehouse space has increased dramatically. Planning commission executive director Evan Stone said the rise in multi-family projects may help with “attainability” but “affordability is more of a challenge” that isn’t being addressed. Stone also said the increase in proposals for warehousing or manufacturing space is reflective of a shifting trend in how people obtain their goods. Click here for the full report.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/11/2021

Bucks anticipates $195 million in American Rescue Plan funds
Bucks County government anticipates receiving $121 million under the American Rescue Plan. In addition to the county money, municipalities across Bucks will share more than $74 million, according to estimates by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. Unlike previous economic stimulus funds in 2020 that came with a myriad of restrictions, the new law allows for broader discretion by officials to direct money where they see fit. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, American Rescue Plan funds could be used to make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, as well as address economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic through aid to households, small businesses, nonprofits, and industries like tourism and hospitality. Bucks County Commissioners Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia wants to prioritize economic relief and assistance to county businesses — including the county's pre-coronavirus $1.1 billion tourism industry that employs over 27,000 people — as well as public safety.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/12/2021

Downtown Perkasie meets historic district eligibility requirements
Perkasie Borough’s downtown area has cleared one hurdle in becoming a National Historic District. The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office determined the architecture in buildings in the area above the East Branch of Perkiomen Creek meets eligibility requirements for the National Register of Historic Places. Now the borough can move forward with a formal application to the National Park Service. Designation as a National Historic District could mean tax breaks and preservation incentives for some property owners.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 3/16/2021

Sellersville Borough manager retires
After a decade of service to Sellersville, Borough Manager David Rivet has retired. Rivet was borough manager as Sellersville officials increased focus on revitalization, and he worked closely with the Redevelopment Authority of Bucks County and the Bucks County Industrial Development Authority on the revitalization of the former U.S. Gauge property into the Sellersville Business Complex. Council members called Rivet an excellent administrator and wished him the best.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 3/3/2021

Chester County 

New LLC ‘flipping’ activity could lead to missing local construction permits, higher assessment amounts
During the past few years, the Chester County Assessment Office has observed an increase in the number of LLCs purchasing residential properties and making significant improvements without filing requisite permit(s) with the local municipality. These properties are then quickly ‘flipped’ to buyers who may be unaware of the missing construction permits. Based on this trend, assessment staff has begun a policy of reviewing all property transfers involving LLCs. This review process includes looking at possible MLS listings, comparing the information (including photos) to the existing property record card for discrepancies, and performing a field visit by the assigned assessor. These non-permitted improvements, such as finished basements, additional bathrooms or other additions, can lead to an Assessment Change Notice being sent by the county to the new owner. The new assessment change can lead to higher property tax bills from the county, municipality and school district. The SRA is aware of this new policy in Chester County, and is working with county officials to learn more about the parameters of the program. We are sharing our concern with the county that this type of practice could lead to the unintended consequence of creating inconsistent assessment amounts for similar properties in the same area. In the meantime, we want our member Realtors to be aware of this practice to ensure that their clients are protected in situations where there may be a higher risk that municipal construction permits are missing.

Residents offer advice for Kennett Greenway
Residents in and around Kennett Township shared their visions for the Kennett Greenway in a recent bilingual survey that consultants will use to guide development of the 14-mile trail. The results, based on 820 responses, were presented at the March 3 township supervisors meeting. “This survey was very specifically designed to gauge the reactions to the future aesthetics and use of the greenway,” Claire Agre, co-founder of landscape architecture firm Unknown Studio, told the supervisors. Christina Norland, executive director of the Kennett Trails Alliance, described the Greenway as “a long-term infrastructure project that we hope will build a more connected and sustainable community.” When asked how they would use the greenway, 26% of respondents said they would use it to walk or exercise, 24% said they would use it to be in nature, 13% said they would be with family or friends, and 10% said they would use it for family biking, among other things.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 3/9/2021

County earns national award for excellence in financial reporting
The Chester County Controller’s Office received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for its 2019 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which was submitted in June 2020. The certificate, awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and finance reporting. The county has earned the accolade for 39 consecutive years now, a streak shared by fewer than 60 counties out of more than 3,000 nationwide.
Source: Daily Local; 3/13/2021

Recorder of Deeds changes fees
Effective March 22, the Chester County Recorder of Deeds office is revising fees in its fee schedule.
Source: Chester County Record of Deeds Office; 3/5/2021

Delaware County

Upper Darby updates resale application, adds ID requirement
Upper Darby Township updated its resale application on March 15, and now requires a copy of photo identification of both buyers and sellers. The Suburban Realtors Alliance has heard from a number of agents and brokers concerned about the new requirement, and is are coordinating with the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors legal team to determine its legality.

Parents seek emergency order in Chester Upland RFP process
Attorneys representing parents in the Chester Upland School District are seeking court intervention as the district evaluates recently received proposals that could result in some schools being taken over by charters. “This is a fast-tracked process, and parents must have a voice in determining who will be educating their children,” said Education Law Center legal director Maura McInerney. “We need a transparent process that is free from conflicts of interest, ensures a rigorous, high-quality education and results in actual cost savings to the district, as the law clearly requires.” The Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center, representing four parent intervenors and the Delaware County Advocacy and Recourse Center, filed an updated emergency petition asking Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozor to order the district to produce documents related to the bids and the process by which they will be evaluated. Chester Upland is under a “financial recovery status” designation as part of Act 141 of 2012. A “conversion” provision of the act allows the district to convert an existing school to a charter school as part of its recovery plan, if doing so would result in financial savings. The district put out requests for proposals last year to eight potential bidders and reported this week that it has received three bids — from Chester Community Charter School, which already has a presence in the district, as well as Friendship Education Foundation in Washington, D.C., and Arkansas, and Global Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Wednesday, March 31.
Source: Daily Times; 3/15/2021

 Upper Darby discusses new welcome center facility
Upper Darby Township officials recently hosted a virtual public presentation of the plans for the new Upper Darby Community Center. In January, Mayor Barbarann Keffer announced a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to build the multi-purpose facility at the Welcome Center at 7000 Walnut St. “It would be a big step in the right direction toward the revitalization of Upper Darby,” Keffer said. The new community center is part of the township’s five-year, $30 million capital improvement program, a third of which has already been approved by township council. The facility itself is expected to cost $5 million, and township staff anticipate reaching out for additional public and private grant money to fund it. Officials envision that the center would include after-school tutoring, computer access, adult education, recreational opportunities and an urban farming component in a community garden on the green rooftop. Architectural firm Buell Kratzer Powell is designing the center. A recording of the meeting is available here.
Source: Daily Times; 3/10/2021

Montgomery County

Commissioners talk vaccines and grants
The Montgomery County Commissioners marked one year of battling the COVID-19 pandemic and provided an update on vaccine operations at a recent briefing. The county is currently only giving vaccine appointments to people who qualify for Phase 1a. To learn more about the 1a criteria or to pre-register for an appointment, visit the county website. The commissioners also reminded hospitality industry businesses that the application window has opened for the MontcoStrong 2021 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program. Applicants are encouraged to review the program guidelines, FAQ and a video on the application process. Grant awards will range from $5,000 to $50,000. Applicants will be required to submit documentation of expenses incurred and paid during the eligible expense period.
Source: Montgomery County; 3/10/2021

Pottstown forums outline unfairness of Pa. education funding
A series of forums in Pottstown designed to highlight inadequacies in Pennsylvania’s “fair funding formula” for schools will run through April 11. According to David Mosenkis, data researcher for the interfaith advocacy group Power, Pennsylvania’s fair funding formula only governs 11% of the state’s education funding. Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, 354 of which benefit from the status quo, while 146 are shortchanged because the fair funding formula isn’t used for all funding. The problem, Mosenkis said, is that most of the 146 districts that are short-changed are larger and/or poorer with larger minority populations. The next forum will be held virtually on Sunday, March 21, and will feature state Reps. Joe Ciresi (D-146) and Wendi Thomas (R-178). Both will provide insight into the legislative process for educational funding in Pennsylvania, and Ciresi will talk about his role on the House Education Committee. Click here for information on the final two upcoming forums and to view recordings of the prior forums.
Source: Times Herald; 3/12/2021 & 3/13/2021

Bridgeport looks to improve train station
Bridgeport Borough Council unanimously approved a resolution to apply for a Montco 2040 grant for the Bridgeport Train Station Beautification Project. The borough is requesting roughly $181,000 in county grant funding for the project that is anticipated to cost a total of $226,000. The borough will cover the difference. Borough Manager Keith Truman said upgrades to the train station will include new curb and sidewalk installations, landscaping, and large themed murals.
Source: Times Herald; 3/11/2021

Limerick clarifies dual game land discussions
Two separate discussions about game land preserves — one about a plan for development in Linfield and another about an open space study — have led to some misunderstandings in Limerick Township. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the parcels — 100 acres in Linfield along the Schuylkill River and 230 acres off Game Farm Road — are both designated as State Game Lands No. 234. In Linfield, a developer has proposed as many as 1,200 housing units, plus some retail and commercial, on 200 acres at the former Publicker industrial site, which is adjacent to the game lands. The proposal would require rezoning the land from heavy industrial use. The other discussion is about an open space study for the entire township, which could involve identifying parcels to add to the game lands on Game Farm Road. Nothing is official or decided for either option.
Source: Times Herald; 3/11/2021


Philly says ‘desperately needed’ stimulus funding will help avert painful budget cuts
Philadelphia’s city government will receive about $1.4 billion from the massive coronavirus relief package enacted this month, which will help avoid the painful cuts Mayor Jim Kenney had warned about as he prepares his second budget proposal since the pandemic began. “It definitely will help the city recover faster,” city finance director Rob Dubow said. “This is desperately needed funding.” But officials cautioned that the federal money won’t by itself solve fiscal problems caused by the expense and economic impact of the pandemic, which Dubow said could last years. Officials said last month that they would have to fill a $450 million budget hole for the fiscal year that starts in July. Kenney warned that the city could not rely on savings to help fill that deficit, because the previous budget approved in June already depleted reserve funds to fill a $750 million budget hole. Of the $1.4 billion for Philadelphia coming through the stimulus package, half will be available within 60 days, officials said. The money can be spent to cover the cost of responding to the pandemic and to replace lost revenue. The city will also qualify for other funding from federal agencies, some of which may be funneled through the state, including programs for housing, rental assistance and the airport.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/16/2021

Philly skyline will go mostly dark at night to save birds
Some of Philadelphia’s most iconic skyscrapers, such as the Comcast towers, BNY Mellon Center and the Liberty Place buildings, will soon go dark overnight as their owners take part in a program to protect migrating birds from being lethally drawn to the lights. The new voluntary program, called Lights Out Philly, is an effort to prevent bird deaths as they migrate north in the spring and south in the fall, with most flying at night. Birds can become disoriented by artificial lights, causing them to strike buildings or windows. The lights also throw birds off migration paths, leaving them exhausted and confused, and vulnerable to various other threats. A dozen other building operators or owners in Philadelphia also have pledged support for the effort, including Brandywine Realty Trust, the city’s largest commercial landlord, Jefferson Center, One South Broad and 1515 Market St., according to an announcement of the program. The city’s skyline will go dark from midnight to 6 a.m. from April 1 to May 31, and again from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/11/2021


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