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 28, 2018

 

General News

Pa. may soon have to provide more equitable funding for schools
Inequality in educational opportunity has been a worsening problem in Pennsylvania since the mid-1980s. Of the state’s 500 school districts, more than 200 urban and rural districts are seriously disadvantaged — a 2015 Education Trust study found that the highest-poverty districts in Pennsylvania received 17 percent less annual funding per student than affluent districts, the second worst school funding gap in the nation. School districts with low property wealth levy some of the state’s highest property taxes but barely raise $2,000 to $5,000 per student, while high-property-wealth districts easily raise more than $13,000 to $15,000 per student. Even after getting fairly high state subsidies under the current state/local hybrid funding system, disadvantaged districts must operate their schools with many thousands of dollars less per student than affluent districts. And while affluent districts receive negligible state subsidies, they are able to top off their spending from their own deep local pockets. Over the years, advocates for distressed rural and urban districts have persistently filed lawsuits to try to bring justice to the disadvantaged districts, only to be rebuffed by state lower court judges who have feared entry into what was seen as a political dispute better left to the legislature and the governor. Recently an advocacy group made a major breakthrough and succeeded in getting a “King’s Bench appeal” before the state Supreme Court, and the court intervened in a case originally filed in 2014 (William Penn School District et al v. PA Dept of Education). The upcoming trial, which will likely take place in the late fall of this year, will be followed by the published decision of the state Supreme Court, which could happen near the end of this year or early in 2019.
Source: York Daily Record; 5/17/2018

Industrial development ramps up in region
Developers in the region are once again developing industrial building space on speculation. Such properties — used for manufacturing, or to warehouse and distribute goods — are in high demand. They are typically nondescript one- or two-story buildings ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 square feet, used by an array of companies. The overall industrial vacancy rate in the Philadelphia metropolitan area stands at 5.9 percent, and in some submarkets it has sunk lower than that. There’s ample demand and a limited supply, and rents are on the rise.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 5/18/2018

Municipal database receives software update
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance maintains a database of municipal information, with a focus on local point-of-sale inspection ordinances, on our website for the members of the Bucks County, Montgomery County and Suburban West associations of Realtors®. The website recently underwent a software update. Members should not see any changes to the website, and the login process for the municipal database remains the same. If you experience any trouble logging in, please contact our staff at sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

SRA offices closed on Memorial Day
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance office will be closed on Monday, May 28, in observance of Memorial Day. Members requiring information about municipal real estate regulations or Alliance policy statements should consult the website.

Bucks County

Application materials resubmitted for Falls waste treatment facility
Elcon Recycling Services has resubmitted application materials to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the fourth time. Elcon seeks to build a hazardous waste treatment facility on a 23-acre site in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex. The treatment facility would process between 150,000 and 210,000 tons of chemical and pharmaceutical waste each year using a “thermal oxidation” process it says would limit toxic releases from the facility. Environmental groups and concerned citizens say the facility is simply a waste incinerator, and they are concerned about potential drinking water contamination. The DEP has rejected the company’s application materials three times before. The agency now has 90 days to review the new submission. If it is found to be complete, the agency will then initiate a 10-month review process of the actual technical materials. Falls officials have not taken a public stance regarding the proposed project.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/20/2018

EPA study gets attention from Congress
A draft report on perfluorinated compounds made headlines last week after publicly released emails showed an apparent effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the White House and Department of Defense employees to potentially suppress or delay the report’s release. The emails were obtained by the nonprofit Union of Concerned Citizens. The study, completed by a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found PFAS potentially could cause health impacts in some individuals at levels 10 times lower than what the EPA currently says is safe. Thirteen congressional lawmakers, including Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-13) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8), called for “the immediate release of the HHS study” by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. In addition to the release of the study, the lawmakers issued a “demand” for an explanation and noted the EPA is considering the creation of a formal safe drinking water regulation for the chemicals. Over the past few years, 16 public wells and about 140 private wells were shut down due to contamination from perfluorooctanioc acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate in Bucks and Montgomery counties. The former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster and former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham, along with the active Horsham Air Guard Station, are thought to be the source of the contamination. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have been reporting on the issue and, as a public resource, have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available to subscribers and nonsubscribers on their websites — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/23/2018

Hilltown approves Orchard Road homes
Hilltown Township supervisors unanimously approved plans submitted by Hallmark Homes to build a 15-home subdivision on 23 acres on Orchard Road. The approval is predicated on Hallmark meeting certain conditions, which the developer has indicated will be met. Hallmark would like to break ground on the development this summer, and will demolish an existing farmhouse and accessory structures. The development, called The Arbors at Hilltown, will be served by public water and sewer. According to Richard Carroll, a principal with Hallmark Homes, more than 700 seedlings will be planted as part of a reforestation initiative.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 5/23/2018

Solebury Township posts supervisor vacancy
The Solebury Township Board of Supervisors has announced a vacancy on the board. Electors of Solebury Township who have resided in the township for at least one year and who are interested in appointment to fill the vacancy on the board of supervisors should submit a letter of interest, including a resume, to Dennis H. Carney, Solebury Township Manager. Letters can be delivered to the Solebury Township Municipal Building, 3092 Sugan Road, PO Box 139, Solebury, PA, 18963, and must be received by Thursday, June 7, at 4 p.m. Special meetings of the board of supervisors will be held on Tuesday, June 12, at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 13, at 10 a.m., and Thursday, June 14, at 1 p.m., to interview candidates and for consideration of any other business that may come before the board. It is anticipated that a vote on the appointment will be made at the regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 19, at 7 p.m. All meetings will be conducted at the Township Building. Click here for more information.
Source: Solebury Township e-news; 5/23/2018

Chester County 

Proposed tax increase could cost average worker $113 more per year in West Chester
In a bid to rein in pension costs, West Chester officials are considering raising the Earned Income Tax from 1 to 1.25 percent. State law gives municipalities and school districts the legal authority to levy a tax on individual gross earned income/compensation and net profits. The tax is based on the taxpayer’s place of residence and not their place of employment. The EIT is separate from the Pennsylvania personal income tax. The West Chester Area School District and the borough currently split the income from the 1 percent EIT levy, which is determined by income listed on a taxpayer’s W-2 form. The borough would keep the entire increased amount. Unfunded pension liability runs more than $15 million. Raising taxes 0.25 percent would generate an additional $1.69 million per year. According to Borough Manager Michael Perrone, by conservative estimates, that amount would pay off the pension debt and the $4 million Other Pension Employee Benefits fund balance by 2033. A taxpayer with an annual salary of $45,000 now pays $450 in EIT; that number would jump $113 per year, to $563, if the tax were increased by a quarter percent. A wage earner making $100,000 would pay $250 more per year. Finance Committee Chair Bernie Flynn said the borough “can’t keep kicking the can down the road. It’s the elephant in the room that we’ve got to pay attention to — we don’t want to get caught with $20 million [in unfunded liability] in two years.” The borough has not raised property taxes since 2011.
Source: Daily Local; 5/20/2018

West Brandywine comes out against proposed CASD tax hike
Coatesville school directors have adopted a preliminary $178 million 2018-19 budget that includes a tax hike of 8.45 percent, or 2.95 mills. If adopted as presented, the average taxpayer in the district would pay about $317 more per year in taxes. In reaction to this, West Brandywine supervisors have adopted a resolution opposing Coatesville Area School District’s proposed tax increase. The resolution, unusual for a municipality to adopt, states the tax increase would “have an adverse impact on the value and homes and property located within the boundaries of West Brandywine Township and throughout the entire school district.” Opposition has been strong to the budget, and many residents have attended town hall meetings expressing displeasure to school officials. Some district residents created a petition on the website Change.org urging the school board not to raise taxes. The district is coming off two consecutive years of overspending the budgeted expenditure levels. Cathy Taschner, Coatesville Area School District superintendent, said in a statement that many factors are to blame for the massive tax hike proposal: “Those factors include charter school [costs] ... increasing special education costs and pension costs. The current proposed budget does provide for an increase for the teacher contract.” The proposed budget can be viewed on the district’s website, www.casdschools.org. Community members can share their ideas and suggestions about the budget by emailing them to budgetfeedback18@casdschools.org.
Source: Daily Local; 5/20/2018

Kennett Square’s western edge flourishing
Several developments are nearing completion in the western edge of Kennett Square. A 5.2-acre property known as Cannery Row, which is located near the boundary between the Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township, is nearing completion of its first phase, and all of the approximately 11,300 square foot building has already been leased. Located adjacent to Magnolia Place and Victory Brewing off of Mill Road, Cannery Row consists of ground floor commercial spaces with studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments above. A dog park, public plaza and on-site parking finish off this project that will soon offer a new walkable destination for Kennett Square’s thriving downtown. Last year, construction of a sidewalk that extends from the central business district all the way to the western edge of town, at Victory Brewing, was completed. The project is unique because it involved cooperation between Kennett Square and Kennett Township officials. Just over 1.3 acres sits on the borough side, and 3.9 acres are in the township. When all phases are completed, the 36,000-square-foot development will include a mix of stores, offices, a restaurant and two-story apartments.
Source: Daily Local; 5/17/2018

Kennett Township officials eye formal role for environmental council
Kennett Township may soon take a more formal approach to considering the effects of development on its natural resources. The township has traditionally worked to preserve its natural areas, and it has a number of easement-protected open spaces. Environmental issues typically bring large crowds to the township supervisors’ meetings. Now the supervisors are considering giving the township’s environmental advisory council (EAC) a more formal role in the land-development approval process. Lisa Moore, the township manager, told the supervisors that the EAC was interested in playing a more structured, systematic role. They would like to offer input at planning commission meetings, go on site walks, look at new sketch plans, and speak with developers and engineers about the projects and its possible environmental concerns. Scudder Stevens, chair of the commissioners, said the EAC was always intended to be part of the process. Moore said the planning commission had reviewed and agreed with the concept, and was seeking the supervisors’ approval.
Source: Daily Local; 5/19/2018

Delaware County

Public meeting scheduled for tax reassessment initiative
Delaware County is currently in the process of conducting a court-ordered countywide reassessment of property values. A public informational meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 29, at 6 p.m. at the Rachel Kohl Community Library, 687 Smithbridge Road, Glen Mills, to provide details about the process and answer residents’ questions. A Reassessment Hotline has also been set up for residents to call with any questions or concerns: 610-891-5695. More information about the reassessment can be found on the Delaware County Reassessment website.
Source: Concord Township; 5/22/2018

Hundreds attend Don Guanella developer’s open house
The public got its first up-close view of development plans that are proposed for the site of the former Don Guanella Village in Broomall. Carlino Commercial Development Principal Peter Miller hosted an open house for members of the community to speak with development consultants on the project in potential impact areas of traffic, economy and environment. The event drew hundreds to the gymnasium of Cardinal O’Hara Catholic High School for an informal gathering. Carlino intends to develop 52 of 213 acres between Sproul and Reed roads. The property is currently owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with a non-contingent sale of agreement with Carlino. Forty-seven acres are proposed for redevelopment to include approximately 380,000 square feet of commercial space, including a 115,000-square-foot Wegmans and 19 other stores, restaurants and retail spaces. Also proposed is a senior living center of 150 units and a four-story self-storage facility. Developers are holding on to 166 acres of recreation area in the open green space on the vast piece of property, with five of those acres being converted to soccer fields for community use. No plans have been officially submitted to Marple officials yet. Preserving the open space of the property, which includes miles of trails, has been a popular sentiment within the community since a previous development proposal spurred the creation of a community group, Save Marple Greenspace. Land preservation and traffic remain the two biggest points of contention for the project. Information on the project can be found at the developer’s website, www.marpletowncenter.com, and on the Marple Township project website.
Source: Daily Times; 5/22/2019

Ridley schools see increases in taxes and spending
The proposed final 2018-2019 Ridley School District budget of $107.6 million, approved by the school board at its May meeting, shows a real estate rate increase of 0.83 mills, bringing the total millage rate to 40.73 mills, or about $4,070 for a house assessed at the district average of $100,000. That’s an $84 increase for a home with that assessment. Last January the school directors approved a resolution saying the district would not seek exceptions to raise taxes beyond the adjusted Act 1 index, which limits district tax increases to 3.1 percent. Final approval of the budget will take place at the board’s meeting on Monday, June 11, which is one week later than the usual first Monday of the month school board meeting.
Source: Daily Times; 5/12/2018

Radnor approves 10-year lease for Willows mansion
The Radnor Board of Commissioners approved a 10-year lease with the nonprofit Willows Park Preserve (WPP) for the mansion at the Willows. The township will pay $100,000 to the group to get things rolling after the lease is signed and its 501(C)(3) nonprofit status is obtained. The township is putting up $1.8 million to renovate the mansion. In turn, the WPP will contribute $1 million from a donor and will operate the facility for the public once it is renovated. Joseph Reiser, chair of the WPP board, said that they will allow the township to appoint two members to the WPP board.
Source: Main Line Times; 5/20/2018

Montgomery County

Fight over Stoneleigh Garden continues
In early May, Lower Merion School District officials sent out letters of intent to purchase four different properties in the township for a future middle school. Superintendent Robert Copeland cited increasing enrollment problems in the district as the reason for the property search. The four properties under consideration are: a portion of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood; the Lower School of Friends’ Central in Wynnewood; 6.9 acres of Stoneleigh Garden (the former Haas Estate) in Villanova; and the Islamic Foundation property, also in Villanova. At first the district was only interested in 6.9 acres of Stoneleigh Garden, but it subsequently informed Natural Lands that it wanted to see the entire 42-acre site. Natural Lands formally took ownership of the property in 2016 after it was donated by the Haas family. A public opening of Stoneleigh Garden took place Mother’s Day weekend. At last count, over 12,000 signatures had been collected on a petition to save Stoneleigh from condemnation by the Lower Merion School District. Supporters of Stoneleigh packed a recent school board meeting and public comment went on for hours, with residents being allotted three minutes to speak. Lower Merion Township Commissioner Scott Zelov said he has never heard so much anger from residents and went on to call on the district to rescind its consideration to use Stoneleigh. The district has posted an update on property acquisition in the Newsroom section of the Lower Merion School District website. Natural Lands has posted information about its efforts at www.savestoneleigh.org.
Source: Daily Times; 5/23/2018

Tax hike planned for Pottstown School District
The Pottstown School Board voted 7-2 to adopt a preliminary $62.7 million budget that will raise taxes by 3.5 percent — the maximum allowed under Act 1, the state inflation index. If finalized, it will mark the first tax increase in four years. A home assessed at the borough median of about $79,000 can expect to pay about $99 more in school property taxes. District Business Manager Maureen Jampo said challenges to property assessments are the driving force behind the need for a tax increase. According to Jampo’s budget presentation, reductions in assessments and refunds on reassessed properties cost Pottstown taxpayers a combined $2.2 million in revenues, including approximately $937,000 in lost tax revenue due to the Pottstown Hospital property coming off the tax rolls. School board member John Armato cited the unfair method used in Pennsylvania to fund public education as another factor. The General Assembly adopted a “fair funding formula” two years ago to correct for things like high local taxes, cost of living and poverty rates in specific districts, but the state currently funnels less than 10 percent of its education funding through that formula.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/21/2018

EPA study gets attention from Congress
A draft report on perfluorinated compounds made headlines last week after publicly released emails showed an apparent effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the White House and Department of Defense employees to potentially suppress or delay the report’s release. The emails were obtained by the nonprofit Union of Concerned Citizens. The study, completed by a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found PFAS potentially could cause health impacts in some individuals at levels 10 times lower than what the EPA currently says is safe. Thirteen congressional lawmakers, including Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-13) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8), called for “the immediate release of the HHS study” by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. In addition to the release of the study, the lawmakers issued a “demand” for an explanation and noted the EPA is considering the creation of a formal safe drinking water regulation for the chemicals. Over the past few years, 16 public wells and about 140 private wells were shut down due to contamination from perfluorooctanioc acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate in Bucks and Montgomery counties. The former Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster and former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham, along with the active Horsham Air Guard Station, are thought to be the source of the contamination. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer have been reporting on the issue and, as a public resource, have made all of the reporting about the water contamination issue available to subscribers and nonsubscribers on their websites — http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/horsham-pfos and http://www.theintell.com/news/horsham-pfos. Maps of the contaminated areas have been added to those sites, along with recent news articles and efforts by area congressmen to fund testing and cleanup. Realtors® are encouraged to reach out to specific municipalities for more information regarding water safety in areas where they do business.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/23/2018

North Penn budget advances with tax increase
The North Penn School Board voted 5-3 to adopt a proposed final budget for 2018-19 that includes a 3.4 percent tax increase. The school board started budget discussions in January facing a nearly $9 million budget gap. A 3.4 percent increase would raise $5.8 million in new revenue, leaving a deficit of $2.9 million to be covered by district reserve funds. A home assessed at the district median of $147,000 would see a property tax increase of $124 if the budget is finalized without further changes. The North Penn Finance Committee meets on Tuesday, May 29, at 6:30 p.m., and the full board meets on Tuesday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m., both at the district Educational Services Center, 401 E. Hancock St., Lansdale. The budget is scheduled to be finalized on Thursday, June 21.
Source: The Reporter; 5/21/2018

Revitalization accelerating in Upper Moreland
A new $75 million project across from the Willow Grove Train Station is expected to accelerate the revitalization efforts being made in Upper Moreland. Ground was recently broken on Station at Willow Grove, a mixed-use walkable community with 275 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space at Davisville Road and Route 611. Upper Moreland formed a revitalization task force in 2011 and, with help from the Montgomery County Planning Commission, adopted a plan to be open to a variety of development and densities. Since then, changes have started to happen, including a revived park in the middle of town, a new road for better access, and a variety of businesses and retail centers. The momentum has Upper Moreland Manager David A. Dodies and task force chair Karen Houck excited for the future. “I believe once this development is completed it will positively affect the rest of the area and the area will be transformed over the next five years,” said Davies.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 5/18/2018

Philadelphia

City council advances tax bills, including real estate transfer tax hike
Philadelphia homebuyers would get squeezed by one tax bill advanced in city council, but homeowners would get relief from another. City council, meeting as the committee of the whole, approved three tax bills that the mayor requested. One was an increase in the real estate transfer tax, paid by homebuyers and sellers at closing. Another was an increase in the homestead exemption, which helps homeowners by exempting part of a home's value before taxes are calculated, from $30,000 to $40,000. The third reduces wage and business taxes, though the reductions are smaller than those previously adopted. But council held off on approving the real estate tax increase to fund schools — and the mayor's budget itself. Over the objection of five members, council approved an increase in the real estate transfer tax from 3.1 percent — already one of the highest in the nation — to 3.278 percent. The revenue will be used to offset an increase in the homestead exemption. In a statement after the hearing, Mayor Kenney called the votes “a great start toward providing adequate funding to the Philadelphia School District. … We look forward to further conversations — and votes — in the next few weeks.”
Source: KYW1060 and Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/23/2018

Bill would protect neighborhood groups from lawsuit-happy developers
City Councilman Bobby Henon has introduced a bill that would make city funds for insurance available to all registered community groups that hold zoning meetings regarding new development projects in their neighborhoods. The proposed legislation intends to protect neighborhood groups against lawsuits intended to silence their voices as projects go under public review. The legislation would cover Registered Community Organizations (RCOs), the designation for those groups that are certified by the city to review zoning changes. Developers are required to alert the local RCO when they are proposing a zoning change or a project large enough to trigger Civic Design Review, and then hold a meeting with the concerned community association. Although the recommendations made at these meetings are not binding, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) can find them persuasive. Neighborhood zoning meetings are often contentious, and developers are sometimes subjected to withering scorn. Civic associations say that these kinds of fraught interactions with real estate actors can result in revenge-minded lawsuits, especially if a ZBA vote doesn’t go a developer’s way. The term Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) is meant to describe cases where powerful actors with resources sue simply to intimidate and immobilize smaller actors. It is unclear exactly how much Henon’s proposal would cost. Directors and officers liability Insurance, often called D&O insurance, for such organizations costs at least $1,000 annually, and there are well over 250 RCOs in the city. Costs of up to $400,000 could be expected every year. If the city is able to buy insurance as an umbrella group, however, costs could be constrained.
Source: Plan Philly; 5/18/2019

Plan to stop water shut-offs sputters as rate hike looms
The Philadelphia Water Department is proposing another series of annual rate increases, which the independent Water, Sewer and Stormwater Rate Board has been reviewing in a series of hearings. The board will vote on the request in July, and customers will start paying the new, higher rates in September. Over three years, the proposed change would amount to a 10.6 percent increase — $87 to $95 per year for the typical customer. Water Commissioner Debra McCarty said her department needs the increase to pay for rising personnel costs and ongoing compliance with the federally mandated Green City, Clean Waters program. The program uses green infrastructure such as rain gardens, stormwater planters and porous pavement to intercept rainwater or filter it through the ground, preventing sewer overflows or runoff that pollutes rivers and streams. The department also cites the cost of replacing hundreds of old water mains that break every winter. For an estimated 60,000 low-income Philadelphia households, the city’s infrastructure needs feel abstract in the face of a daily struggle to keep the lights on and the tap running. At issue is the implementation of the department’s Tiered Assistance Program, or TAP, which offers a subsidy for households with income of less than 150 percent of the federal poverty rate. Households who have experienced a special hardship, such as recent unemployment or a death, can also qualify. For those enrolled, the department sets monthly bills at 2 to 4 percent of household income, reducing payments to as little as $12 a month. By charging lower-income customers amounts they can pay, the program is intended to reduce bill delinquency, and by some projections, may even prove revenue-neutral. City Council passed the program’s enabling legislation in 2015 with high hopes that it could help keep people from having their water shut off and even prevent blight by lifting economic pressures from at-risk homeowners.
Source: Plan Philly; 5/18/2018

 


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