NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Gov. Wolf reopens real estate by executive order

Bucks County
Back to Work grant applications accepted May 26 only

Chester County
Lawmakers call on Wolf to move Chester County to 'yellow'

Delaware County
Chester Upland ordered to open its doors to charters

Montgomery County
Pottstown gets $300K EPA cleanup grant

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia area homes sold quickly in April

 

News Briefs Archive May 18, 2020

 

General News

HB 2412 — to safely reopen real estate — headed to Gov. Wolf’s desk
The state House and Senate have both passed House Bill 2412, which now heads to Gov. Wolf’s desk for his signature or veto. The bill, introduced by Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144), would allow real estate to be designated as an essential and life-sustaining industry and allow some level of in-person real estate services in all counties in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) is expected to issue a Call-to-Action for Realtors® to urge the governor to sign the bill into law. Read more about HB 2412 on the PAR website, and please be sure to thank our elected officials who voted in favor of the final bill in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Statewide ban on evictions and foreclosures extended to July 10
As record numbers of Pennsylvanians are out of work due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Gov. Tom Wolf, along with Attorney General Josh Shapiro, announced an executive order meant to keep people housed. The order bars home foreclosures and evictions through July 10. A previous state Supreme Court order forbade evictions through May 11. Last week the Wolf administration issued recommendations aimed at stemming foreclosures and evictions and providing help to people experiencing homelessness. The state's Department of Human Services has activated the Commonwealth's Sheltering Taskforce and is working with local and state partners to coordinate resources for people without housing. In addition, the state Department of Community and Economic Development is accepting applications for Emergency Solutions Grants to assist with rapid rehousing of those experiencing homelessness, street outreach, homelessness prevention and emergency shelter activities.
Source: Reading Eagle; 5/7/2020

May 26 is deadline for mail-in ballot requests
May 26 is the last day to apply for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballot in Pennsylvania, but elections officials encourage voters to request mail-ballots as early as possible. To participate in mail-in voting a person must be registered to vote. The last day to register to vote is May 19. Click here to view the election calendar and other election resources. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors has also launched a vote-by-mail campaign to remind members that the process is “safe, secure and simple.”

Forbearance becomes a ‘scarlet letter’ on credit reports
According to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in March, mortgages in forbearance as a result of COVID-19 have to be reported as “current” on credit reports. But the law doesn’t mention the comments section, and that’s where forbearance notations are going. Any reference to forbearance on a credit report, including in the comments section, can be a “scarlet letter” for an applicant hoping to get a new mortgage, said David Stevens, the former head of the Mortgage Bankers Association. Such a notation can impact the ability to refinance or buy a home for as long as a year after the forbearance period ends. “I think the intent of lawmakers is that forbearance would not harm your credit, when in fact that label may do just that,” Stevens said.
Source: HousingWire; 5/12/2020

Bucks County

County to launch Economic Recovery Task Force
Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie said the county is planning an Economic Recovery Task Force as COVID-19 mitigation measures begin to ease. The task force will look at “steps the county can take to help business reopen,” guidelines to help businesses, and how the county’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief money could be deployed to help small businesses. Bucks County was awarded a local relief grant of $109 million under the federal CARES Act, according to Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick’s office. Bucks County was one of only seven in the entire state to receive the federal funds through the program. Before the county can figure out how to distribute CARES Act funds, it still needs to total the cost it has spent on COVID-19, including personal protective equipment, other supplies and overtime for staff. Harvie said task force members will be business owners, representatives from local business groups, and others with backgrounds in labor and finance.
Source: Levittownnow.com; 5/2/2020

Visit Bucks County – Support Local initiative
Visit Bucks County – the official tourism promotion agency for the county –normally posts information about things to do in the county for the coming summer. While tourism and planned gatherings are on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, the agency has posted valuable information for residents and businesses. Head to the Visit Bucks County website for information on county parks, educational resources and more. Click here to see takeout and delivery information for local restaurants and the VBC Support Local campaign.

Bucks voters must wear masks
Voters in Bucks County will be required to wear face masks for the June 2 primary election, according to an emergency order from the health department. Masks will be provided to the judges of elections for distribution, but residents should bring face their own face coverings to the polls, said Diane Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Bucks County Board of Elections and the county commissioners. The elections board also voted to relocate two locations temporarily for safety reasons, and elections director Thomas Freitag said he expects more requests for poll relocation in the coming days. The already approved changes impact voters in Springfield — where voters who previously cast ballots at Zion Lutheran Church will now vote from the Springtown Fire Company — and Warminster, where a polling place located at the Ann’s Choice retirement community was relocated to William Tennent High School. Visit the Bucks County Board of Elections website for the most up-to-date information for polling place changes.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/7/2020

Taxes steady in Pennridge School District budget, but next year uncertain
Property owners in the Pennridge School District will see a fourth year without a property tax increase if the proposed budget for 2020-2021 is finalized without change. But the district’s business manager, Sean Daubert, painted a grim picture of the financial challenges facing the district. Daubert told the board he expects local revenue from the earned income tax, local services tax, real estate transfer tax and interest income to decline. He also expressed reservations about the state’s ability to support public education at current funding levels. A prolonged shutdown of the economy would drag these negative impacts into 2020-2021 and possibly into the 2021-2022 fiscal year, potentially spreading the impact to real estate revenue, which accounts for 78% of all district revenue. Rising unemployment — 3,779 district residents filed for benefits between March 1 and April 21 — “could have devastating effects on the district’s finances,” he said.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 5/7/2020

Chester County 

UCF budget would affect Chesco, Delco residents differently
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board voted on a proposed final budget for the 2020-2021 school year that calls for $90.2 million in spending. The budget predicts $89.8 million in revenue and pulls $440,000 from the district's unassigned fund balance. It includes a freeze on salaries, as well as a 5% across-the-board cut in spending from the current budget. If approved, the property tax rate for the district's Chester County municipalities would be 29.07 mills — a 0.31% decrease from 2019-2020 — while the rate for Chadds Ford Township property owners would be 25.99 mills, a 1.09% increase. Overall, the weighted average is a decrease of 0.02%. The disparity is due to how the two counties assess properties. A final budget vote is slated for the school board’s Monday, June 15, meeting.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 5/12/2020

Chesco Visitors Bureau maintains list of open businesses
The Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau has a list of local businesses that are open during the coronavirus outbreak. The list is categorized into restaurants offering takeout, which are grouped by region, and other categories like breweries and garden centers. It notes special deals being offered by the businesses, like those donating portions of their sales to frontline workers.
Source: Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau; 5/13/2020

Chester County secures permission for COVID-19 antibody testing
After nearly a month of intensive efforts by Chester County Government to overcome restrictions imposed for antibody testing, the county is now able to begin point-of-contact testing for essential function individuals who are on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis. Full-scale antibody testing of healthcare, first-responder and long-term-care facility individuals is being conducted at two locations — Longwood Gardens and the county’s Public Safety Training Campus in South Coatesville. Testing involves a simple pin-prick test kit manufactured by Chester County-based Advaite. Chester County is the first in the commonwealth to undertake antibody testing. “If this provides us with results we are expecting, we hope to be able to expand antibody testing to additional priority level tiers, to help us manage this crisis. It also will give us more information as we plan and prepare for the safe re-opening of Chester County,” said County Commissioner Michelle Kichline.
Source: Chester County; 5/8/2020

Otten, Muth submit joint comments on proposed pipeline projects
State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-155) and state Sen. Katie Muth (D-44) submitted joint statements to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) expressing concerns over the safety of one pipeline project and transparency in the permit review process for another. The legislators cited concerns about unstable soil conditions in the Mariner East pipeline segment HDD-310 in Uwchlan and Upper Uwchlan townships, noting the risk of additional sinkholes and the pipeline operator’s failure to address questions raised by residents and DEP about ground stability. They also submitted a joint statement expressing their objection to the cancelation of public hearings on a major modification request to Mariner East pipeline segment HDD-280. “While the cancelation of an in-person hearing in April was understandable and unavoidable, the DEP must not move forward with its permit review process until a public hearing can be held,” Otten said. Read more here.
Source: The Mercury; 5/12/2020

Delaware County

Ridley School Board OKs proposed budget with tax increase
The Ridley School Board approved a proposed 2020-2021 final budget of $113.5 million with a real estate tax increase of 1.4 mills, for a total millage rate of 42.7 mills. The tax increase for a property assessed at the average of $100,000 will be $139, if the budget is finalized. The proposed budget shows an increase in expenses of $2.4 million over the current budget. Final adoption will be at the board's Monday, June 8, meeting, which Superintendent Lee Ann Wentzel hopes will be a face-to-face meeting. The superintendent outlined some of the factors that contributed to the increase in expenditures for the coming school year, including special education expenses that are going up 13.5% due to the lack of corresponding federal funding. Medical benefits are increasing by 5.89% and prescription drug costs are going up 8.78%. Reductions in expenses for 2020-2021 listed in the budget presentation include the replacing of retiring staff only as needed, restrictions of temporary positions and overtime, reducing discretionary spending, pausing capital projects, and prioritizing the use of grant funds.
Source: Daily Times; 5/9/2020

Delco leaders call on Gov. Wolf to prioritize reopening state’s ‘economic engine’
Officials in Delaware County are asking Gov. Wolf to aid the Philadelphia region as it looks to eventually reopen, including by increasing diagnostic testing and separately assessing new coronavirus cases in its nursing-home population against those among the rest of the population. In Delaware County, 70% of deaths and 20% of all positive cases are from long-term care facilities. The Democratic-controlled council said if Wolf would assess the cases in the community outside nursing homes, the county may begin to at least partially reopen. “We are not calling on the governor to reopen Delaware County until we can safely do so. … We are calling on the state to give us the necessary resources to meet these targets as soon as we can," Delaware County Councilman Kevin Madden said. Gov. Tom Wolf has said he would “take into account” how much community spread is occurring outside nursing homes and other congregate-care facilities, and balance that with the statewide reopening criteria. State Sen. Tom Killion (R-9), of Delaware County and several Republican state representatives from Bucks County joined in the call for a modified metric. “A general shutdown in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic was justified," Killion said in a statement. “However, we now know this virus disproportionately affects our seniors and those with underlying conditions. ... Adhering to the metric previously announced without consideration of congregate care home cases will delay the reopening of our region for weeks if not months.” Eight Republican state representatives from Bucks County signed a letter to the governor and the health secretary in favor of this revised metric, as did Bucks County’s three-member, Democratic-controlled board of commissioners. Read more in the Inquirer.
Source: Inquirer; 5/5/2020

Delco Chamber maintains a list of open local businesses
The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce has added a “Delco Take-Out Map” to its website — an interactive map and list of businesses open during the coronavirus public health restrictions. The map is separated into sections for carry-out restaurants and other essential businesses. Business owners can use the “add an establishment” tool to include their business. To view the map, visit the Delco Chamber’s coronavirus page and scroll down to the “Support Small Business” section.
Source: Delco Chamber; 5/13/2020

Concord opposes sale of CWA
At its May 12 meeting, Concord Township Council passed a resolution opposing the sale of the Chester Water Authority (CWA). The township holds that the City of Chester has no "legitimate ownership claim over any of the assets that belong to Chester Water Authority," and that CWA should not be sold to get the city out of a financial bind. The resolution states the sale of the CWA to a for-profit entity "would have a detrimental impact on the utility rates" and would be “an egregious abuse of power" when the public is so focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Concord Township Council members urged the governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to "advocate for the best interests of over 200,000 Chester Water Authority ratepayers." Kennett Township supervisors recently unanimously passed a similar resolution, with Vice Chairwoman Whitney Hoffman noting that a lot of residents have been emailing them about the issue.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 5/13/2020

Concord plans to reopen municipal building with precautions
Concord Township Council announced that the municipal building will reopen with safety restrictions on Monday, May 18. The reopening will be for essential business only, and there will be social distancing and other safety requirements, according to Township Manager Amanda Serock. Residents are asked to be patient during any delays, as personnel will work in shifts.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 5/13/2020

Chester to livestream meetings on Facebook
The City of Chester will livestream all public meetings on its Facebook page as Chester City Hall remains closed to the public. Visit the city website for the full meeting schedule. Residents or taxpayers who wish to provide a public comment can submit their comment in advance via email, with their name and address, to acleveland@chestercity.com. The subject line of the email should include “Public Comment Submission” and the meeting name and date.
Source: Daily Times; 05/11/2020

Montgomery County

Lower Pottsgrove to amend sewer inspection requirements
Lower Pottsgrove Township will consider an amendment to the current sewer inspection process. The meeting will be held Thursday, May 21, at 7 p.m. via the Zoom platform. The amendments to the sewer inspection process include: applying for the inspection no later than 15 business days prior to settlement, with an additional fee if not filed in a timely manner; a non-appearance fee for missed inspection appointments; the addition of a conditional certificate that will allow for property transfer prior to repairs identified in the inspection; repairs must be completed within 60 days; and penalties for noncompliance. Contact Lower Pottsgrove Township for more information about attending the virtual meeting and how to submit public comments.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/13/2020

Tax increase planned in Upper Perkiomen School District
Residents in the Upper Perkiomen School District will definitely see a school property tax increase for the 2020-2021 school year — just how much of an increase is still up in the air. Administrators began the budget process facing significant shortfall. Impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak — including falling earned income tax, real estate transfer tax and interest earnings — have widened the gap by about $1.2 million, said district Business Administrator Sandra Kassel. A 3.48% tax increase will be the minimum tax hike. A Montgomery County property in the school district assessed at the median value of about $128,000 will see a tax increase of $136. In Berks County, a property at the median assessed value of about $101,500 would owe an additional $107. An extra tax hike, permitted within the Act 1 index, might also be necessary. District officials will still need to use $2.43 million from its reserve fund to balance the budget. Click here for virtual school board meeting information.
Source: Town & Country; 5/6/2020

County commissioners approve ‘pandemic election plan’
Montgomery County officials approved a plan to temporarily reduce the number of polling places by 60% for the June 2 primary election in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The consolidation plan, approved by a 2-1 vote by the county commissioners sitting as the county Board of Elections, will reduce the county’s polling places from 352 to 140. Commissioners Valerie Arkoosh and Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. voted in favor of the plan. Commissioner Joseph C. Gale opposed the final plan after an amendment to the plan he supported was not considered. Under the plan, officials will move polling places to empty public school buildings for the primary election only. Most polling locations will host three or more precincts in one location. A letter explaining the changes will be mailed to every voter impacted by the changes. The changes also will be published on the county voter services website.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/12/2020

Pottstown Borough Land Bank to host ‘Virtual Lunch & Learn’
Developers and other parties interested in learning more about the revitalization of Pottstown are invited to a “Virtual Lunch & Learn” program to hear more about the Pottstown Land Bank. The virtual program will be held on Monday, May 18, from noon to 1 p.m. The program will review important information about the Land Bank, how it will foster revitalization in Pottstown and how people can be involved. Registration is required. Click here for more information.
Source: Pottstown Borough

Luxury apartment complex planned in Fort Washington
Philadelphia-based Equus Capital Partners has acquired a 60,000-square-foot office building in Fort Washington for nearly $6 million. It plans to demolish the structure and convert the 14-acre property into a luxury apartment complex with 300 units. Equus bought the property at 1125 Virginia Dr. from ADP Inc. ADP plans to move its offices from its current location at the Fort Washington Office Park to elsewhere in the region. The property will eventually become the Madison Fort Washington apartment complex. A construction start date was not announced.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/11/2020

Tax collector vacancy in Pottstown
Pottstown Borough is seeking a qualified applicant to fill the tax collector position after the passing of Roy Reifsnyder. In 2016, Reifsnyder was appointed as Pottstown's tax collector after the person who won the election could not secure the bond necessary to fill the post. Borough council has 30 days to replace him, according to the borough code. To be appointed, an applicant must have lived in Pottstown for at least a year and be able to obtain a surety bond. Borough Manager Justin Keller said the job does not require much work, given that the borough staff performs most of the functions, and the salary is "a small amount." Those interested should send a letter or email to Keller at Borough Hall, 100 E High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464. Council may choose to publicly interview applicants at its meeting on Wednesday, June 3.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/13/2020

Philadelphia

Philadelphia launches COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program
Philadelphia has created the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, with the hope of helping up to 3,000 lower-income families throughout Philadelphia. Selected applicants will receive up to $2,500 in rent assistance over a three-month period. After three months, recipients can be reevaluated, and the help could continue for as long as one year. The money comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. To apply, you need to be a renter with an apartment or house in Philadelphia, have a current lease (in writing), and have lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic. Visit the program website for more information.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/12/2020

Push to expand Playstreets in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell is working to solve a problem that is plaguing cities nationwide. With city pools closed, camp options reduced, and rec centers limited, Ott Lovell is looking to Playstreets, a summer program that closes about 450 city streets to traffic from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and provides lunches or snacks for children and teens. While city officials have so far resisted calls to expand the number of streets closed to traffic for pedestrian use during the pandemic, they are considering an expansion of Playstreets. Residents can now apply for their street to be a Playstreet, by emailing or calling about the program. Ott Lovell said the program will allow the Parks Department to meet the kids where they are. Click here for more information.
Source: Whyy.org; 5/9/2020

 
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