NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Infrastructure reform among 2019 NAR policy priorities

Bucks County
Warminster tax hike must be approved by court

Chester County
Landscapes3 adopted by Chester County Commissioners

Delaware County
Cost of new middle school in Clifton Heights to be evaluated

Montgomery County
Norristown budget includes $1.8M deficit

Philadelphia County
City council downsizes new protections for renters in ‘Good Cause’ bill
 

 



 

News Briefs Archive May 21, 2018

 

General News

Governor Wolf signs Act 18 of 2018
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 18 of 2018, relieving the potential for double taxation on the local income of Pennsylvania residents. The new law benefits many taxpayers who live in one taxing jurisdiction but work in another. It amends several items within Act 32 of 2008, which brought sweeping changes to how Pennsylvania collects local earned income taxes. While Act 32 made the collection process simpler across the state, an unintended consequence of that law allowed some collectors to limit local credit provisions, resulting in some Pennsylvania residents being taxed twice on the same income. Act 18 of 2018 prevents this practice and makes collection more uniform across the state. It also prohibits penalties against those with no income who do not file a local tax return and provides clarification of withholding tax rates for employees who are on a temporary assignment outside their usual tax jurisdiction. Act 18 of 2018, which takes effect July 3, also includes a provision adding limited oversight of the tax collection system by the Department of Community and Economic Development and a prohibition on the assessment of any earned income tax imposed more than five years after the date on which the tax should have been filed, except in cases of fraud.
Source: PICPA.org; 5/4/2018

Tax breaks could pressure some Philly suburbs to cut taxes, too
Delaware County, which includes part of Philadelphia’s wealthy Main Line suburbs, and several other counties in Pennsylvania are among 117 U.S. counties that are most “at risk” from financial pressure and high-income taxpayer rebellion — or flight — due to changes in U.S. tax policy, according to a new report from S&P Global Ratings. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced federal tax rates, but also reduced tax deductions for people who pay a lot of state and local taxes. S&P, which rates debt for borrowers based on how likely analysts think they are to pay money back to investors and bondholders, reviewed IRS tax return data and the U.S. Census community survey to generate multiple lists, including: the top 10 percent of U.S. counties for the proportion of taxpayers who itemized their federal tax benefits; where peoples’ state and local tax deductions tended to be more than $10,000 a year, the new limit for the federal tax deduction; and where state and local tax rates are highest. By effectively increasing the state and local tax burden in those counties, “the tax act may dampen incentives to buy higher-priced homes, or at least decrease demand for houses where the combination of state and local taxes paid by a taxpayer” is more than $10,000 a year, S&P writes. “This could eventually limit home price growth and lead to more tax appeals,” leading to a drop in these state and local governments’ tax collections. Pennsylvania has a flat personal income tax and many exceptions in its business income tax, but local tax rates vary considerably, with suburban Philadelphia districts levying high property taxes. Tax reform will also benefit states and counties with lower tax rates and lower taxes on high income earners by making them still more attractive, compared with high-tax areas, S&P added. These “low-tax jurisdictions could conceivably see increased demand for housing and faster revenue growth.” S&P identified more than 700 counties likely to benefit, by comparison, many of them rural.Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/7/2018

Bucks County

Tai wins 178th District special election
Solebury Township Supervisor Helen Tai won the special election to represent the 178th District in Harrisburg. Tai, a Democrat, won 6,359 votes, or 50.4 percent of the vote, over Republican and former Council Rock School Board Member Wendi Thomas who earned 6,263 votes, or 49.6 percent of the vote. Tai’s campaign focused on “bringing reform to a state government that has passed late budgets, caused our state credit rating to be downgraded repeatedly, and experienced unprecedented levels of partisanship.” The 178th Legislative District includes Northampton, Wrightstown, Upper Makefield and Solebury townships and New Hope Borough.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 5/16/2018

Forgotten Tullytown landfill eyed for homes
In the 1950s, Levitt & Sons operated a sand and gravel quarry in Tullytown between Route 13, Levittown Parkway and Levittown Lake. Owner William Levitt gave a 10-acre parcel to St. Michael the Archangel Church, where the current church and K-8 school sit. In 1958, the church purchased the adjoining quarry site from Levitt and regulatory records show the quarry was converted into an unlined landfill in 1959, which operated into the 1970s. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ordered the dump to close in 1973 because it was being operated as “an illegal solid waste disposal facility,” but the dump continued to run illegally until late 1974. Dumping was again observed at the property in 1975 and again in 1980. Despite the apparent violations of DEP orders, the church was not fined and there are no records of any effort made by the church to clean groundwater at the site, as ordered. Now, 50 years later, the site is being considered for a large housing development by McGrath Homes. Early sketch plans have presented up to 120 townhomes and a 55-and-older apartment complex with 316 units. The developer is working with the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority through the initial stages of a state environmental assessment program and presenting plans to Tullytown Borough Council. The redevelopment authority and McGrath homes say the site is subject to extensive environmental review through the DEP’s Act 2 land reuse program and that any hazards will be eliminated before residents move in. The parcel is one of the last remaining undeveloped parcels in Tullytown that could spur new revenue for the borough, which is facing fiscal challenges following the closure of Waste Management’s large landfill last year.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/11/2018

Habitat for Humanity Bucks County presents ‘Safe at Home’ workshop
Habitat for Humanity Bucks County will present a “Safe at Home” workshop on Wednesday, June 6, at 7 p.m. at the Quakertown Library, 401 W. Mill St. The workshop is for homeowners and those who assist homeowners to stay safe at home. Attendees will learn how to modify a home within a budget, learn about new ideas for how to live safely at home and see products that make a home accessible. For more information, contact Karen Reever at 215-822-2812, ext. 304, or k.reever@habitatbucks.org.
Source: Habitat for Humanity Bucks County e-news; 5/11/2018

East Rockhill seeks court injunction on quarry
East Rockhill Township has filed court papers in the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas seeking a court-ordered injunction to stop operations at the recently reopened Rockhill Quarry. According to the filing, the township is seeking an injunction that would stop the quarry from constructing or operating as an asphalt plant, as well as prevent it from making any additional “land development improvements” until securing approval and permits from the township. The injunction references key claims made by the township in regard to zoning: that the quarry was abandoned and needs new permits before restarting, that the land is not zoned for an asphalt plant, and that the quarry did not seek necessary permits before starting new land development and structure improvements. The quarry operator, Richard E. Pierson Materials Corp., has a $224 million contract with the Pennsylvania Turnpike to use rock from the quarry for a repaving project on the Northeast Extension.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/16/2018

Chester County 

DASD approves preliminary budget
The Downingtown Area School Board approved the preliminary 2018-19 budget of $220 million without a tax increase. It will be the sixth consecutive year that a Downingtown budget has been approved with no property tax increase. The final budget is set for adoption at the school board meeting on Wednesday, June 13. Downingtown Superintendent Emilie M. Lonardi was pleased with the board’s support for the budget. “Although we are not increasing taxes, we are still able to provide our students with a top-notch education,” Lonardi said. “Downingtown will continue to be educationally innovative, provide individualized professional development opportunities for our teachers, update security and complete our one-to-one device initiative, K-12. Kudos to our board and our finance team for making this all possible.” District CFO Richard Fazio noted that prudent fiscal planning and concern for the taxpayers of the Downingtown Area School District were key to maintaining the 27.182 real estate millage. A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The Downingtown Area School District is the largest school district in Chester County and has 16 schools. It has been designated as a Triple A school district by Moody’s, a national financial rating agency, and has earned the Meritorious Budget Award for sound financial budgeting 13 years in a row.
Source: Daily Local; 5/12/2018

Chester County tax payers hit with lower hike under UCFSD proposed budget
Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials are poised to adopt an $87 million budget that reflects the lowest tax increase in the past 20 years. “I believe this is a budget that meets the needs of our students in both a fiscally responsible and sustainable way,” Superintendent John Sanville said at a public budget meeting. Chester County homeowners will see a 0.35 percent increase in taxes in the 2018-19 school year, while Delaware County (Chadds Ford Township) homeowners will see a 6.43 percent increase in taxes, for a weighted average of a 1.56 percent tax hike. If the budget is adopted as presented, the average Chester County homeowner will pay $26 more in taxes per year, while Delaware County homeowners will pay an additional $397 in taxes. Last year, Chester County homeowners got hit with an average $191 increase in taxes, while Delaware County homeowners paid an average of $18 more in taxes per year. Not all school board members were comfortable with hiking taxes more than 6 percent in Delaware County. “For the people in Delaware County, this is a real thing,” said school board member Gregg Lindner. “They will see their tax bill go up in one year $400 on average. It’s a real difference and we will hear about it.” The proposed budget is available for public inspection at the administrative office until Tuesday, May 29. The vote to adopt the budget is slated for Monday, June 18.
Source: Daily Local; 5/14/2018

Phoenixville Borough names task force to study rail service
Phoenixville Borough Council has endorsed the mayor’s rail service task force. Mayor Peter Urscheler named a 20-person community task force to examine the feasibility of establishing commuter rail service to the borough.  Thomas E. Frawley Consulting LLC will conduct the study. Frawley is an engineer and attorney with expertise that spans planning, engineering, procurement, start-up, operation, management, and marketing of transportation systems. The current study will examine two alternatives: The “greenline” alternative would utilize diesel light rail technology to operate along public roadways, in addition to using rehabilitated existing rail freight tracks and new private right-of way. The primary advantage of the greenline is that it also serves the substantial and growing employment and residential centers in the Great Valley; the primary disadvantage is that for riders traveling between Phoenixville and Philadelphia, it would require a change of trains at Paoli. Another disadvantage of the greenline alternative is that the project would be capital intensive and would require several years to design and build. The other alternative is commuter rail service directly to Philadelphia via Norristown. This alternative would utilize dual-powered locomotives able to operate both on the non-electrified Norfolk Southern (NS) track between Phoenixville and Norristown, and on SEPTA’s electrified track through the Center City Connector Tunnel. The primary advantage of the commuter rail alternative is that it provides a one-seat-ride between Phoenixville and Philadelphia. The primary disadvantages are that it requires resolution of issues related to access to NS’s freight tracks and SEPTA’s Norristown Line and Center City Tunnel. A significant advantage of the commuter rail alternative is that, from a technological perspective, it could be implemented quickly and at relatively lower cost.
Source: Daily Local; 5/15/2018

City and state officials tour development projects in Coatesville
Coatesville City officials met with members of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for a tour of active sites and projects in the city that are funded in part through the department. City Manager Michael Trio and Economic Development Administrator Sonia Huntzinger led the tour, and the group included DCED Deputy Secretary Rick Vilello, Coatesville City Council members Linda Lavender-Norris and Deborah Bookman, and other DCED officials. The Coatesville Gateway Project at the intersection of First Avenue and Lincoln Highway will bring road improvements to realign the intersection, reduce traffic congestion and replace the sidewalks. Development projects on First Avenue, including a restaurant, sports bar, and retail and office space, are also planned. A new train station is slated to be constructed closer to Fourth Avenue, along with a parking garage and an office building. City Hall is currently being renovated and upgraded to improve the energy-efficiency of the building and add space for a district court, which will be leased to the county. Streetscape projects, park improvements, and an affordable housing project were also highlighted on the tour. For more information on redevelopment projects in Coatesville, visit www.2ndcenturyalliance.org.
Source: Daily Times; 5/11/2018

Delaware County

Country club sues Media over rezoning proposal
Broomall’s Lake Country Club, a nonprofit country club that has been battling Media Borough for 20 years over a dilapidated dam and roadway on West Third Street, has taken the fight to federal court over a rezoning proposal. The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims Media is retaliating against the club for attempting to have the borough meet its obligations to repair the dam and roadway through the courts. The dam separates properties owned by the borough and the club. Changing the zoning from its current “residential” designation to a “municipal, educational, recreational and community use” district would diminish the property’s value by approximately $5 million and convert it to public use, according to the complaint. The club argues that moving forward with the zoning changes would effectively result in private property being taken for public use without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and a denial of property without due process, in violation of the 14th Amendment. The club is seeking a declaratory judgment, an injunction against any further efforts to rezone the property, and compensatory and punitive damages. Borough Solicitor Bob Scott did not have a comment.
Source: Daily Times; 5/11/2018

Collection firm brings in back taxes for Chester
The City of Chester’s partner in conducting business tax audits, eCollect Plus, collected $2 million in new tax revenues from more than 300 businesses since it commenced collections for the financially distressed city. The total amount collected is almost half of the $4.5 million eCollect identified for the city in 2012 as unpaid business taxes. eCollect has been taking collection actions since that time by utilizing analytics and field audits in conjunction with a legal team. The majority of unpaid taxes were uncovered from out-of-state businesses operating in the city. “Our method and technology has allowed us to find businesses that refused to comply with the city of Chester’s business tax regulations,” said Michael Hill, an eCollect partner. “These are new tax revenues going into the city’s coffers that can be used to pay for essential services, benefiting all citizens of the City of Chester.” Chester is a financially distressed community as designated by Act 47 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. eCollect has provided the city with the expertise in conducting field audits and identifying tax revenues that prior city tax collectors did not know existed.
Source: Daily Times; 5/12/2018

New time, venue for meeting on future of Don Guanella site
A meeting to present development plans for the Don Guanella Village site has been moved to a new venue and time. Carlino Commercial Development will meet with the public on Monday, May 21, as announced, but the open house it’s hosting will now be at Cardinal O’Hara High School starting at 6 p.m. Carlino is looking to develop the 38 acres of the original Don Guanella site, plus 9 more acres, for a mixed-use development. Carlino Principle Peter Miller and a team of consultants will be on hand to give specifics about the development plan. Approximately 380,000 square feet of retail space are slated for the site, including a four-story self-storage facility and a four-story senior living building. A bigger development was previously proposed by Goodman Properties but was nixed in 2016.
Source: Daily Times; 5/17/2018

New hotel ready to open in Marple
Marple Township’s first hotel, the 110-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, looks over the Blue Route from its address at 100 Lawrence Road. Building the hotel was a three-year, $15 million investment, and the hotel is just one part of the development project that will include a grocery store, gym and townhouses as construction continues. Marple Board of Commissioners President Joe Rufo welcomed the hotel and future development on the 30-acre land. “This is exactly the type of development the township needs, and we appreciate the revenue. And the place looks absolutely tremendous,” he said.
Source: Daily Times; 5/15/2018

Taxes to rise in Upper Darby schools proposed budget
Homeowners in the Upper Darby School District are looking at the highest tax increase in years if what was worked into the proposed final budget remains in the final budget when adopted next month. The proposed $209 million budget would add over 40 faculty/staff positions and increase the district’s capital reserve while creating a shortfall of $12.4 million and implementing a 3.4 percent tax increase, the highest bump to real estate taxes in the district since 2012-13. Even with the recommended tax increase bringing in approximately $3.2 million in added revenue, the district would still need to tap $9.2 million from their fund balance to keep a balanced budget. Such an action would deplete the fund balance by almost half. Comments from the board and public are reserved until a special voting meeting on Tuesday, May 22, when the proposed final budget will be adopted. The district’s budget may still change before its final adoption in June.
Source: Daily Times; 5/16/2018

UCFSD proposed budget calls for steep tax hike in Delaware County
Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials are poised to adopt an $87 million budget that reflects the lowest tax increase in the past 20 years. “I believe this is a budget that meets the needs of our students in both a fiscally responsible and sustainable way,” Superintendent John Sanville said at a public budget meeting. Chester County homeowners will see a 0.35 percent increase in taxes in the 2018-19 school year, while Delaware County (Chadds Ford Township) homeowners will see a 6.43 percent increase in taxes, for a weighted average of a 1.56 percent tax hike. If the budget is adopted as presented, the average Chester County homeowner will pay $26 more in taxes per year, while Delaware County homeowners will pay an additional $397 in taxes. Last year, Chester County homeowners got hit with an average $191 increase in taxes, while Delaware County homeowners paid an average of $18 more in taxes per year. Not all school board members were comfortable with hiking taxes more than 6 percent in Delaware County. “For the people in Delaware County, this is a real thing,” said school board member Gregg Lindner. “They will see their tax bill go up in one year $400 on average. It’s a real difference and we will hear about it.” The proposed budget is available for public inspection at the administrative office until Tuesday, May 29. The vote to adopt the budget is slated for Monday, June 18.
Source: Daily Local; 5/14/2018

Montgomery County

Pottstown eyes changes to fire code, removes sprinkler provision
Pottstown Fire Chief Michael Lessar Jr. recently asked the borough council to strengthen the borough’s fire code. According to Lessar, there are four major areas that need to be changed — fire protection maintenance reporting, fire alarms, sprinkler system requirements and certification for fire protection system providers. Lessar would like to improve fire alarm effectiveness by requiring providers to have certification and be hooked into a central station that can alert firefighters to a system going offline. Lessar also wanted council to require sprinkler systems in 10,000-square-foot buildings for new construction or when there is a change of use to an existing building; the current fire code requirement is 12,000 square feet. Peggy Lee-Clark, executive director of Pottstown Area Industrial Development, the borough’s economic revitalization engine, said the sprinkler change would be a problem. Renovations by tenants to older downtown buildings often involve a “change of use,” she said, and adding the cost of the sprinkler system may be a deal-breaker. Council agreed and removed the more restrictive sprinkler rules for existing buildings that Lessar provided. The borough will advertise a proposed ordinance that contains: suggestions for “verified fire protection providers,” requirements for a “cloud-based” data system to report fire alarm or sprinkler systems that may be malfunctioning, and more extensive requirements for fire alarm systems.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/14/2018 & 5/15/2018

Jenkintown 2035 Comprehensive Plan enters adoption phase
The Jenkintown 2035 Comprehensive Plan is entering the adoption phase. The final stages of adoption will include a series of meetings and hearings as regulated by the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Code. The borough planning commission will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, June 19, at 6:30 p.m. to present the 2035 Comprehensive Plan and compile final recommendations to borough council. On Wednesday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m., Jenkintown Borough Council will hold a public hearing at the regularly scheduled council meeting to consider adopting the Jenkintown Borough 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Click here for more information.
Source: Jenkintown Borough e-news; 5/14/2018

Conshohocken public hearing for comprehensive plan update
Conshohocken Borough Council will hold a public hearing on a comprehensive plan update for the borough, and may consider adoption of same, at its meeting on Wednesday, June 6, at 7 p.m. in Borough Hall, 400 Fayette St. A copy of the comprehensive plan update is available on the borough’s website, www.conshohockenpa.gov, and at the borough offices during normal business hours.
Source: Times Herald; 5/14/2018

Pottstown posts borough council vacancy
Due to the recent resignation of council member Dennis Arms, there is a Fourth Ward vacancy on Pottstown Borough Council. The term of office will be approximately 18 months or until the first Monday in January 2020. Interested individuals shall be a registered elector of the Borough of Pottstown and shall have resided in the Fourth Ward for at least one year immediately prior to his or her appointment. Candidates may submit a letter of interest, via email, to Interim Borough Manager Justin Keller, at jkeller@pottstown.org. Letters must be received no later than Monday, June 4, at 4 p.m.

Philadelphia

Proposed fire code upgrade could affect all rental properties
Three months after a North Philly family perished in a rooming house fire, City Council President Darrell Clarke and other Philadelphia officials want to see all such shared dwellings in the city equipped with hardwired electric smoke detectors. The new equipment would replace cheaper but less reliable battery powered alarms that are now common. The proposed regulation, co-sponsored by Clarke and Councilwoman Cindy Bass, would bring rooming houses in line with the requirements for apartment building owners. It is the first of several bills related to the controversial mode of affordable, multi-family housing that council expects to review in the coming weeks and months. The anticipated bills are part of an effort by Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Dave Perri to push forward a dramatic rewrite of the zoning code aimed at making houses where multiple unrelated tenants share bathroom and kitchen facilities legal to operate in more of the city's residential areas. To Perri, the new bill is a step toward pushing for hardwired smoke detector systems in all rental residences. Perri says studies show that fire deaths could fall by two-thirds if hard-wired smoke detector systems were installed in all properties. For a two-story home with a basement, the cost of installation would be about $500. “Ultimately, I would love to see hardwired interconnected alarms being put in all rental properties,” said Perri.  “But that would probably take a couple years to get a coalition together and get all that done. But immediately we can get those types of fire alarm systems put into [rooming houses].”
Source: Plan Philly; 5/10/2018

L&I ‘bundles’ violations for owners with multiple properties
Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I) is using new technology to learn whether a landlord with troubling violations at one property has other properties with violations. City landlords often operate via multiple privacy-protecting LLCs — limited-liability companies — that make them hard to identify. When a single property owned by an LLC is brought before a judge, it is hard to know if the violation is a one-off mistake or indicative of a broader pattern of bad behavior. L&I has a four-person research team using the LLC-cracking technology to learn whether a landlord has violations at multiple properties, even if there are different ownership structures and multiple partners. L&I can then “bundle” the cases to let a judge more easily make connections for neglected properties with violations.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/11/2018

 


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