NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Bill proposes state park entrance fees

Bucks County
Horsham water customers to receive PFAS reimbursement

Chester County
West Chester proposal would increase taxes by 32%

Delaware County
Nick’s House perseveres in long court battle

Montgomery County
Deed scam targets Montgomery County homeowners

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program now matching up to $1,500

 

News Briefs Archive May 25, 2020

 

General News

Gov. Wolf reopens real estate by executive order
On May 19, the Wolf administration issued new statewide real estate guidance (PDF) that opens up the industry with uniform rules across all markets and eliminates much of the confusing and contradictory information that had been put out in previous documents. Specifically, it completely eliminates the Department of State memo from April 28 and all the confusion it created. It allows three people to be present at a property, and allows real estate offices to open. The guidance applies to “all businesses in the real estate industry, which includes real estate professionals, appraisers, notaries, title companies, settlement service providers, escrow officers, home inspectors, mortgage loan originators, processors, and underwriters, and other necessary office personnel including IT professionals and back office staff necessary to maintain office operations.” The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® has a thorough explanation of the new rules on its JustListed blog.
Source: PAR JustListed; 5/20/2020

Governor’s order omits HB2412’s municipal inspection language
Gov. Wolf’s executive order reopening real estate activities throughout the state achieved many of the goals Realtors® and legislators had sought in House Bill 2412, which the governor vetoed. One significant difference, though, was language in the bill that eliminated municipalities’ abilities to conduct use and occupancy inspections during the pandemic. That provision was not included in the governor’s order, meaning Realtors® are still required to obtain resale certificates in municipalities that require use and occupancy code inspections before property transfers. Many municipal governments are still partially closed due to the conoravirus outbreak. Realtors® should keep in mind:

  • Act 133 is still in effect. If a municipality has conducted a U&O inspection, it must issue a resale certificate — at least a temporary access certificate. We recommend calling to schedule inspections as early as possible.
  • Many municipalities have altered their U&O procedures. Some are issuing conditional U&O certificates without a full inspection, on the condition that buyers (and in some cases sellers and agents) sign affidavits stating that certain items like smoke detectors are already in place and that any issues revealed during the eventual inspection will be the responsibility of the buyer.
  • The Suburban Realtors Alliance is available to help you through specific issues. We continue to track news and public legal notices, and we've been assisting members with their municipal issues throughout the region.

For more information, visit the SRA’s coronavirus information page.

Deadline to apply for mail-in ballot is May 26
May 26 is the last day to apply for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballot in Pennsylvania. To participate in mail-in voting a person must be registered to vote. The last day to register to vote was May 19. Click here to view the election calendar, apply online for a mail-in ballot and see other election resources. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® has launched a vote-by-mail campaign to remind members that the process is “safe, secure and simple.”

Pennsylvania opens property tax and rent rebate application process early
Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed House Bill 1076 that authorizes early distribution of property tax and rent rebates for Pennsylvania homeowners and renters age 65 and up, and widows, widowers and people with disabilities age 50 and older. The program typically begins July 1. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters. Half of Social Security income is excluded. There is no cost to apply for a rebate, and the deadline to apply is Dec. 31. Visit the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue's website for details.
Source: Reading Eagle; 5/20/2020

Phased reopening of Pennsylvania state parks and forests announced
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is undertaking a phased reopening of state park and forest facilities. Details of the reopening can be found here — including the plan for reopening, a reopening map and other important information.
Source: Jenkintown Borough; 5/19/2020

Bucks County

Back to Work grant applications accepted May 26 only
The Bucks County Board of Commissioners has allocated $6 million to establish the Bucks Back to Work Small Business Grant program. The program provides up to $25,000 or 25% of annual operating expenses, whichever is lower, in funding to Bucks County’s small businesses and sole proprietors that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Click here (PDF) for an overview that provides basic information on eligibility, use of funds, the application process and expectations of the program. Applications will only be accepted on Tuesday, May 26, between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. Bucks County Commissioners Chairwoman Diane Ellis-Marseglia emphasized the county wants to help business owners but urged them to focus on preparing to enter the so-called yellow phase of the state plan, which allows most businesses and day cares to open under strict safety precautions. No southeastern Pennsylvania counties have entered the yellow phase. Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo reminded residents and business owners that they risk having serious penalties imposed, including losing state-issued business licenses and violating insurance policies, if they reopen earlier than allowed by the state. He added the county would face financial penalties, too, if it allowed businesses to reopen in violation of the governor’s order, risking millions in discretionary federal CARES Act money the state can distribute.
Source: Bucks County & Bucks County Courier Times; 5/18/2020

Bucks settles class action lawsuit; saves millions
A class action lawsuit that left Bucks County taxpayers on the hook for as much as $68 million has been settled for significantly less. Under the proposal submitted for consideration in the U.S. Eastern District Court in Philadelphia, county taxpayers would still be required to pay up to $14 million in obligations and legal fees to end the nearly seven-year class action suit brought over its Inmate Lookup Tool. The county, which does not admit liability in the agreement, could pay as little as $7.5 million in claims and legal fees. The agreement is subject to approval by U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone, who oversaw the civil case. Last May, a federal jury found Bucks County violated the state’s Criminal History Record Information Act when it posted confidential information about inmates incarcerated in Bucks County Correctional Center between 1938 and 2013. The jury awarded approximately $68 million in punitive damages. Under the proposed settlement agreement, tens of thousands of class action members would each get $600 and the plaintiff’s attorneys would get roughly $4 million in legal fees. Notices will go out later this year to eligible class action members.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times & LevittownNow.com; 5/19/2020

Middletown hires new director of building and zoning
Middletown Township’s new building and zoning director, Pat Ennis, started in the position as the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing the closure of the municipal complex. Since then, the department has been working remotely — continuing to review permits and conducting inspections of new construction and outdoor and unoccupied structures. Ennis is a trained engineer with expertise in stormwater and floodplains. He replaced retiring building and zoning director Pat Duffy.
Source: LevittownNow.com; 5/18/2020

Chester County 

Lawmakers call on Wolf to move Chester County to 'yellow'
Three Republican state legislators representing Chester County wrote Gov. Tom Wolf to request the county immediately be moved to the yellow phase of the COVID-19 phased recovery plan and detach it from Philadelphia for the purposes of regional reopening metrics. “While Chester County long-term care facilities and hospitals have experienced a high number of illnesses and deaths from [COVID-19], few cases have been reported in our general population,” wrote Rep. Tim Hennessey (R-26), Sen. Tom Killion (R-9) and Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160). “Across the county, COVID-19 hospitalization rates are declining, and most patients fall within the expected high-risk groups.” According to the most recent figures reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Chester County has recorded 2,008 cases of COVID-19, or 0.38% of its U.S. Census Bureau estimated population of about 525,000. “If we do not act now, the economic damage, already severe, will only worsen,” the legislators wrote, adding that some factories and small businesses are on the verge of closure. A separate group of legislators in Bucks County have introduced legislation, House Bill 2541, to allow county commissions to reopen business.
Source: Daily Local; 5/15/2020

County launches weekly newsletter
Chester County Government is launching a weekly newsletter to keep residents informed on current information specific to the county, such as COVID-19 updates, county programs and services, and other news. View the first issue, published May 15 and subscribe on the county website.
Source: Chester County; 5/15/2020

County planners conduct trail feasibility study
The Chester County Planning Commission is seeking public input on trail development through an online survey. The Southern Chester County Circuit Trail Feasibility Study seeks to identify an opportunity for the development of a continuous, off-road, multi-use trail to connect the boroughs and growth areas in southern Chester County to the Brandywine Trail and the Circuit — the Greater Philadelphia region's network of over 800 miles of existing and planned multi-use trails. The effort is part of Landscapes3, the county's comprehensive plan, which recommends creating a county-wide, interconnected trail network. The survey is open through July 31. Links to both English and Spanish versions can be found on the county planning commission website.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission

Great Valley budget vote scheduled
The Great Valley School Board will vote on a 2020-2021 proposed final budget at a virtual meeting on Monday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m. The $109.4 million budget calls for a 2.56% property tax increase from 21.55 mills up to 22.1 mills. The proposed budget (PDF) and meeting information are available on the district website.
Source: Daily Local News; 5/18/2020

Delaware County

Chester Upland ordered to open its doors to charters
A Delaware County judge has issued an order that would open up all grades in the Chester Upland School District to outsourced management as part of a financial recovery plan. The order includes a directive for the district's receiver to solicit requests for proposal (RFPs), and for the district to consider “the potential need for strategic options in managing and delivering pre-kindergarten – 12th grade schools, or any variation thereof.” Under the language of Act 141 of 2012, which dictates Chester Upland’s “Financial Recovery Status,” the district could convert an existing school or schools to charters if doing so would result in financial savings. Chester Community Charter School, the largest brick-and-mortar charter school in the state with more than 4,300 students, filed a petition in November asking the court to direct the district and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue RFPs on charters taking over elementary schools in the district as part of its financial recovery plan. Michael Churchhill, an attorney representing parents opposed to school conversion, said, “[T]he important thing is for the public to realize that the wheels have been set in motion to destroy the system of the schools as they currently exist and put them into private hands, and they ought to consider carefully where these proposals are coming from and the quality of them.”
Source: Daily Times; 5/16/2020

Delco now has the region’s highest 14-day rate of COVID cases
Delaware County has the highest 14-day per capita rate of residents with COVID-19 of all the counties in the Philadelphia region, according to state data. The county had 263 new cases for every 100,000 residents over the past 14 days, slightly above Philadelphia’s 251. But Delaware County’s 14-day total of new cases has stayed steady for about a month, while those of Philadelphia and Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester Counties have dropped. Experts say there’s no one clear answer as to why Delaware County has had less success flattening the curve. They point to its concentration of elderly residents, its lack of a dedicated health department unlike the other suburban counties on its borders, and its density — the second-highest in the state. But what is clear is that the county needs to dramatically lower those numbers before starting to reopen. Wolf has said one criterion for counties and municipalities in easing shutdown restrictions is getting below 50 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days.
Source: Inquirer; 5/19/2020

County Council moves to dissolve DELCORA
Delaware County has moved to dissolve the county’s public wastewater authority — Delaware County Regional Water Authority (DELCORA) — and take over its responsibilities. The surprise move, which came in the form of a county council draft ordinance, escalates the county’s efforts to block the $276.5 million sale of the sprawling public sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania. The council is set to vote on the ordinance on Wednesday, June 3. DELCORA serves 165,000 customers in 42 towns in Delaware and Chester Counties. The sale has not yet closed and is pending approval by Pennsylvania utility regulators. “This week, we are taking another step to reverse an overtly political and backhanded deal orchestrated by the former Republican majority," Brian Zidek, council chairman, said in a statement. The council had said the sale was designed to prevent an important patronage stronghold from falling into Democratic hands when political control of the county changed. DELCORA and Aqua Pennsylvania maintain that the legally binding sales agreement cannot be undone by the county. Read more here.
Source: Inquirer; 5/18/2020

Fair Housing Task Force plans virtual meeting
The Delaware County Fair Housing Task Force will hold a virtual meeting via Zoom on Friday, May 29, at 10 a.m. Representatives of the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania will give a brief presentation on fair housing issues related to COVID-19. Attendees will be asked to share issues and resources with the group related to serving the community during the pandemic. Register in advance for the meeting here.
Source: Housing Equality Center of PA; 5/19/2020

Montgomery County

Pottstown gets $300K EPA cleanup grant
U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D, PA-4) announced that the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield program. The program seeks to clean contamination out of old industrial and commercial sites to ready them for redevelopment. The grant is specific to two census tracts in Pottstown — the downtown area from South Washington Street east, and properties along Keystone Boulevard. “This project will launch the environmental cleanup of neglected properties and boost the revitalization efforts that have been ongoing in Pottstown,” Dean said in a press release. Click here for more.
Source: Digital Notebook blog & Pottstown Mercury; 5/11/2020

Montco coronavirus relief fund tops $600K
A Montgomery County program to support local relief efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic raised about $600,000 through May 13. The MontcoPA COVID-19 Response Fund will be used to assist county nonprofit organizations. The program has awarded 101 nonprofit organizations a total of $322,000 to support a variety of basic-needs programs, including food pantries, senior care programs, and rent and utility payment programs for low-income residents. Officials expect a sharp increase in safety-net services due to the pandemic. The fund is a unique partnership between local government and organizations. “More funds are urgently needed to support the ongoing efforts of our first responders and our safety-net organizations,” County Commissioner Ken Lawrence said. To contribute to the fund or to apply for grants, residents and organizations can click here.
Source: Times Herald; 5/19/2020

Wissahickon School District proposed final budget includes tax increase
The Wissahickon School District adopted a proposed final budget totaling $107.78 million for the 2020-2021 school year. The proposed final budget includes a tax millage rate of 21.21, which is a 3.02% increase over last year’s rate of 20.59 mills. The proposed final budget is available to view on the school district website budget page. The Wissahickon School Board intends to adopt the final budget at its regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday, June 8. Visit the school district website for the most up-to-date meeting information.
Source: The Reporter; 5/6/2020

Upper Merion School District to finalize budget
The proposed final budget for the Upper Merion Area School District for the 2020-2021 fiscal year is available for public inspection on the district website. The proposed final budget will be presented for adoption as a final budget at a virtual school board meeting on Monday, June 1, at 7 p.m. Meeting information can be found on the school district website.
Source: Times Herald; 5/1/2020

Pennsburg postpones vote on reopening businesses against governor’s orders
Pennsburg Borough Council is considering a resolution drawn up by Mayor Vicki Lightcap that would allow businesses to reopen despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s order closing all “non-essential businesses.” The council had planned to consider the resolution at its May 26 meeting but has since canceled that meeting. According to a message on the township website, the council had not received the draft resolution as of May 20, leaving insufficient time for a thorough legal review and discussion. Borough Council President Diane Stevens also posted a clarifying statement on the borough's website: “Pennsburg Council did NOT permit businesses to reopen that aren’t allowed under the Governor’s orders. Council DID give permission for Mayor Lightcap to come up with a resolution for us to consider at our next meeting on May 26th. … To act immediately without proper checks and balances in place is reckless." If the borough of 3,800 residents moves ahead to defy Gov. Wolf's order, it would be the first community in southeastern Pennsylvania to allow businesses to reopen since state officials ordered most businesses to close because of the coronavirus outbreak. Click here for the Pennsburg Borough website and meeting information.
Source: The Reporter; 5/15/2020

Philadelphia

Philadelphia area homes sold quickly in April
Houses for sale in the Philadelphia region sold more quickly in April and at higher prices than they have in a decade, thanks to historically low mortgage rates and low housing inventory squeezed further by the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple listing service Bright MLS. The Philadelphia metropolitan area’s median sale price was $272,100, the highest for any April in the past 10 years and more than $32,000 higher than April of last year. "The properties that are out there, they’re moving and they’re moving at a nice price,” said Chris Finnegan, chief marketing and communications officer at Bright MLS, which is based in Maryland.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/18/2020

New apartment project planned along Schuylkill waterfront
PMC Property Group was granted a zoning permit for a 115-unit, 45-foot-high building on the northeast corner of 23rd and Cherry streets along the Schuylkill waterfront. The project site is diagonally across the street from another PMC project — the River Walk complex. PMC Vice President Adriano Calvanese said the company remains “confident in the strength and resilience of the Philadelphia market.”
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/19/2020

Software snafus could affect residents’ property tax bills
An effort that began in January to migrate property tax assessment records over to a new digital system — known as the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system — effectively “froze” many homeowners tax bills. The record-keeping freeze had the side effect of halting the automatic application of the 10-year tax abatement — setting up some homeowners who received the perk to be taxed at the higher, unabated rate. “The data had to be frozen late last year in order to be converted to the new system,” said Mike Dunn, a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney. “With the data frozen, we were not able to change any assessed values, such as … moving a portion of the assessment from taxable to exempt.” City officials had expected to finish transferring tax records to the new system by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, but delays have stymied progress and the end date is uncertain. Roughly 15,600 properties citywide currently benefit from the 10-year tax abatement, and it’s unclear how many have been affected by the record-keeping delays. Attempts to overhaul the Office of Property Assessments records system to the CAMA system — with the goal of making it more efficient and transparent — date back as far as 2013 and have been delayed for years. “There are all sorts of glitches and other paperwork processing errors with the abatement. This has been the case for years,” said Leo Addimando, head of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia. “The city has been responsive, even if slow, to fix these errors as they come up.”
Source: Plan Philly; 5/21/2020

 
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