NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
PUC seeks comment on terminations and consumer protections

Bucks County
Middletown to consider anti-discrimination ordinance

Chester County
West Chester’s new budget reality — $9 million in cuts

Delaware County
County drafts housing plan

Montgomery County
Public input needed for Montco Pikes roadway plan

Philadelphia County
How will the repeal of the fair housing rule affect Philadelphia?

 

News Briefs Archive May 4, 2020

 

General News

How did your Pa. House member vote on HB 2412, which would allow real estate services to reopen?
House Bill 2412 passed out of the Pennsylvania House in a 125 to 77 vote and now moves to the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144), would allow real estate services, utilizing CDC guidelines, to be conducted uniformly across the state. “Yesterday was a big victory for families in the commonwealth in need of housing, as well as our Realtor® professionals who are struggling in this pandemic,” said Polinchock, who served as PAR’s 2016 president. “Passing HB 2412 displayed the legislature is confident that our practitioners can conduct business safely and per CDC guidelines, while helping Pennsylvania’s economy recover from the brink of devastation.” Read more about it on the PAR JustListed blog, and learn whether your House member supported HB 2412 and your industry here. If you’re not sure who your member of the House is, find out here.
Source: PAR JustListed; 4/29/2020 

PAR provides guidance on state’s revised guidelines for real estate
On Tuesday afternoon, the Department of State issued newly revised guidelines that somewhat expand the types of in-person real estate services that can be conducted by licensees. There has been – and continues to be – a great deal of confusion over just what is and isn’t permitted. There are still a lot of holes and inconsistencies in the revised guidance (as there were in the original). Hank Lerner, director of law & policy at the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR), posted an article highlighting a number of explanatory scenarios that might help make the guidance somewhat clearer. Read it on the PAR JustListed blog.
Source: PAR JustListed; 4/30/2020 

SRA webinar covers PA reopening plan, how to apply for federal funding
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) hosted a virtual town hall on Friday, April 24, to provide legislative updates at the local, state and federal levels on efforts to protect and support real estate during the coronavirus outbreak. A video recording of the one-hour webinar is posted on the SRA blog: SRA Hosts Legislative Town Hall with NAR, PAR. Speakers included Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® director of public policy Alex Charlton, National Association of Realtors® (NAR) political representative Drew Myers, NAR director of federal housing and commercial policy Megan Booth, and SRA president/CEO Jamie Ridge. Among the topics discussed were Gov. Wolf's three-phase plan to re-open the state, and how Realtors® can take advantage of federal relief and stimulus programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). In describing Gov. Wolf's color-coded reopening plan, Charlton explained that: "We do have clarification from the governor's office that real estate is a yellow-phase industry. So, at a minimum, once a region goes yellow, real estate is able to operate and get back to work. We are pushing for a statewide opening of real estate, because it's a better process for our industry."  

Mortgage lenders demanding higher credit scores
Mortgage lenders are battling economic uncertainty by raising minimum credit scores, requiring higher down payments, triple-checking employment status and even eliminating certain loan types altogether. As job losses reach staggering heights due to the coronavirus pandemic — more than 16.8 million workers have filed jobless claims in the past two weeks — lenders worry the unemployment numbers will translate into mortgage defaults and late payments down the road. Chase recently announced that it would raise its minimum credit score requirement to 700 and hike the minimum down payment up to 20%, from 3.5%. Lenders large and small across the country are following suit. Wells Fargo and US Bank both adjusted their minimum score requirement to 680 (including for FHA and VA loans, which typically feature credit-score requirements as low as 580). As people work from home, borrowers also face challenges in locating the appropriate person to verify employment. About 80% of FHA loans are taken out by first-time homebuyers. Because these loans have less stringent requirements, such as lower down payments and credit scores dipping into the mid to high 500s, there’s a correlation between first-time buyers and low down payments, high loan-to-value ratios, and lower credit scores. The average FICO score for Americans in 2019 was 703, according to a report by Experian. However, that average falls below 700 for every age group under 50, which will affect the ability of Gen Xers and millennials, the largest share of homebuyers, to get a mortgage. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/23/2020 

Construction in Pa. can resume, bringing relief but continued fear of fallout
All construction businesses can resume work in Pennsylvania as of May 1, marking a turning point for builders and contractors. Development has been booming in the Greater Philadelphia region, and while some builders said they would resume work immediately, others said clients had canceled projects, which could leave buildings unfinished indefinitely. Even with the commonwealth lifting its moratorium on construction a week earlier than expected, firms and employees now have to contend with industry resuscitation in accordance with strict new rules, play catch-up with skeleton crews, and consider the possibility of fewer new clients in coming months. The Wolf administration issued guidelines on how construction sites should operate to protect workers from the coronavirus, but local governments can now add their own set of policies on top of the state directives.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/28/2020 

Realty Transfer Tax exemption for beginner farmers
Farmers are now eligible to apply for a new realty transfer tax exemption through the Pennsylvania Farm Bill under Act 13. The exemption applies to owners of preserved farms who transfer the farms to qualified beginner farmers. A beginner farmer is someone who has demonstrated experience in the industry or a related field with transferrable skills, has not received federal gross income from agriculture production for more than 10 years, intends to engage in agricultural production in Pennsylvania, and has obtained written certification from the Department of Agriculture confirming beginner farmer status. The bill helps remove a cost impediment and incentivizes farmers to cultivate more land. Click here for more information.
Source: Montgomery County Planning Commission Stalk Talk Newsletter; 4/2020

Bucks County

Morrisville School District ‘fighting a losing battle’ with budget
The Morrisville School District is facing a $1.5 million budget deficit for the 2020-2021 school year. To cover the shortfall, the district will consider cutting programs and staff. The financial shortfall will also have an immediate impact on student learning from home — the school board voted to cancel a $217,000 order of roughly 650 Chromebooks and a $5,000 payment for internet hot spots meant to help its 1,059 students continue online learning through a continuity of education plan mandated by the state Department of Education. The district anticipated paying for the devices through a state grant, but its application was rejected. Other funds are expected to come from a portion of the $2 trillion federal CARES Act, but no timeline has been provided as to when those funds will be received, officials said. The school board also approved an economic furlough resolution that could pave the way for cuts to all athletic and kindergarten programs, fine arts and music programs, and electives courses throughout the district, as well as the furlough of an assistant principal, an administrator, four support staff members, a pupil support position, and a media specialist. The board also may consider a 2.79% tax increase. In a letter on the district’s website, Superintendent Jason Harris said he would appeal to Gov. Tom Wolf for more funding. He urged residents to reach out to state legislators requesting more state aid.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/27/2020

Northampton Township to resume inspections
Beginning May 1, the Northampton Township Building and Codes Department will be open and staffed on a limited basis. The building remains closed to the public. Permits are being accepted, reviews completed and inspections scheduled. Given the unique aspects of each project, the township recommends calling the office to discuss in advance to discuss projects and make arrangements for submission of any materials. View the news release here.
Source: Northampton Township; 4/27/2020

Warminster to consider changes to sewer ordinance
Warminster Township supervisors will consider a draft ordinance replacing Chapter 18, Part 1, of the municipal code, regarding wastewater disposal. The ordinance would “update Articles A through F to meet current PA DEP requirements,” according to the public notice. A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held during a regular supervisors meeting on Thursday, May 7, at 7 p.m. The full text of the ordinance is available on the Warminster Township website. The public notice states that the public is invited to attend the meeting at the Warminster Township Building and provide public comment, but that is likely an oversight, as the township buildings are closed due to the public health emergency. No alternate meeting information relating to Covid-19 procedures is available for this meeting. Please contact Warminster Township for more information.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/28/2020

Solebury postpones open space spending
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Solebury Township planned to borrow $5 million for open space conservation funding. Supervisors Chair Mark Baum Baicker said, “When the coronavirus crisis first hit, initially, municipal bond rates dropped and we decided to try to make lemonade out of lemons and expedite that borrowing to late April to take advantage of potentially incredibly low rates.” After thinking it through, and seeing rates increase, the supervisors have opted to put off any borrowing because the pandemic is likely to impact tax revenues.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 4/23/2020

Chester County 

Chesco schools get $22.7 million in emergency funding
Chester County school districts, universities and charter schools will get more than $22.7 million in federal aid through the Education Stabilization Fund under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Of that amount, public school districts serving Chester County can expect to receive more than $5.6 million in total funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The estimated allocations by district can be found on state Sen. Andrew Dinniman’s (D-19) website. More support is expected to become available through block grants and additional emergency funding necessary to meet local schools’ and higher education institutions’ revenue and budget needs.
Source: Daily Local; 4/25/2020 

County commissioners extend essential-services-only policy, but ease park closures
Chester County Commissioners extended the county government’s essential-services-only operation to May 15 at all county buildings. The commissioners also announced a gradual re-opening of all seven county-owned parks. Black Rock Sanctuary, Wolf’s Hollow and Exton Park will re-open on May 6, and Hibernia Park, Nottingham County Park, Springton Manor Farm and Warwick Park will re-open on May 12. “The continuation of essential-services-only helps to protect the health and safety of Chester County’s 2,400 full- and part-time employees, as well as anyone from the public,” said Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. Click here for the full press release.
Source: Chester County; 4/29/2020 

New orders cloud possible sale of Chester Water Authority
Chester City Council recently voted to begin negotiations with three bidders vying to purchase the Chester Water Authority (CWA) who responded to a request for proposal put out earlier this year. The three include the CWA itself, Aqua Pennsylvania and American Water Pennsylvania. The day after the council’s vote, the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) issued an “Emergency Action Plan” for Chester that, among other things, prohibited the city from selling, leasing or otherwise monetizing any assets valued at more than $10,000 without DCED approval. The following day, Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Spiros Angelos issued an order indicating any sale of CWA assets must be approved not only by the city, but also by Chester and Delaware counties, where the bulk of the authority’s customers live. The city asserts that, as the original incorporating municipality, the city alone has authority to transfer the assets of CWA. The CWA has argued that selling its assets would be “a counter-productive theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from ratepayers throughout Chester and Delaware counties.” The CWA, which dates back to 1866, serves a total of about 200,000 people spread throughout 17 Delaware County municipalities and 16 Chester County municipalities. Its board was once entirely under the city’s control but now includes three representatives each from the city, Delaware County and Chester County.
Source: Daily Times; 4/25/2020 

Chester County launches second economic impact survey
With the announcement of Pennsylvania’s phased re-opening plan, Chester County officials and economic development partners are seeking input on how the region can prepare for gradual re-openings in a way that protects the public health and minimizes negative impacts to the economy. The input of local business is critically important in this effort. Local business owners and representatives are asked to take a short online survey
Source: Chester County; 4/2020

Delaware County

Delco council opens $1.75 million grant fund for small businesses
Delaware County businesses are about to get a boost, thanks to $1.75 million being made available by county council through the new Delco Strong Small Business Support Program. “It’s for companies who have 50 employees or fewer, and it covers up to $7,500 for rent payments, mortgage payments or inventory,” Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said. A website for the program is live, and the application period will open May 6. Only 16 companies in Delaware County were able to submit applications for the state’s Working Capital Access program that ran out of money in five days. Likewise, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans also ran out of funds. The SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program, with an initial $349 billion that was gone in two weeks, reopened after Congress passed a $484 billion package to help small businesses and hospitals. Those funds are also expected to evaporate quickly.
Source: Daily Times; 4/24/2020 

Delaware County considers asking court for more time for reassessment
Logistical difficulties related to the coronavirus pandemic have Delaware County Council considering whether to request more time to complete a court-ordered comprehensive property reassessment project. The project is now in the informal hearing stage, with 11,000 total hearings scheduled. They were expected to take place in person but are now being done over the phone. Formal assessment appeals are slated to take place from June through October, but that timeline is in question. Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said that people are upset they don’t have access to records. “Everyone is entitled to due process,” Councilwoman Christine Reuther said. “I endorse the notion there has to be an appeal process and people have to be able to get the information they need to form an appeal. If circumstances suggest that we can’t do that, then I think that becomes a reason to go to a court … to talk to them about moving it back.” In 2017, then-Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles B. Burr ordered a countywide reassessment, stemming from a pair of assessment appeals that noted a lack of uniformity. Council hired Tyler Technologies, and values are expected to be in place for the 2021 taxing season. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance has created an information page about the Delaware County reassessment project.
Source: Daily Times; 4/24/2020 

Upper Darby Township orders furloughs, pay cuts for employees
Facing a revenue shortfall of $2 million, Upper Darby is partially furloughing dozens of its employees while administrators take a pay cut effective May 4. “As of the end of March, we were already maybe $2 million off of last year,” township Chief Administrative Officer Vincent Rongione said. “As a result, at the management level, myself and a few high-level managers are taking a 10% reduction in pay. Other department heads are taking a 5% reduction ... [and] we are going to end up furloughing 55 workers.” All of the impacted workers will retain their health and pension benefits, and the administration intends to bring them all back. The township has approximately 450 employees. The furloughs don’t affect police, fire, sanitation or public works employees. The township plans to ask Delaware County if municipalities can get assistance through the $98.8 million in federal emergency funding recently awarded to the county. There are restrictions placed on that funding, and it’s uncertain if that money can be distributed to municipalities.
Source: Daily Times; 4/27/2020 

William White named new Radnor Township manager
The Radnor Township Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a motion naming Interim Manager William White as the permanent township manager. In February, Robert Zienkowski resigned from the position he had held for a decade. He abruptly left the township after receiving a 30-day suspension. Board President Jack Larkin said the board needed to solidify White’s leadership. A graduate of Ashland University with a master’s in business administration and an undergraduate degree in accounting, White has been working for Radnor Township in the Finance Department since July 2010.
Source: Daily Times; 4/24/2020 

New orders cloud possible sale of Chester Water Authority
Chester City Council recently voted to begin negotiations with three bidders vying to purchase the Chester Water Authority (CWA) who responded to a request for proposal put out earlier this year. The three include the CWA itself, Aqua Pennsylvania and American Water Pennsylvania. The day after the council’s vote, the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) issued an “Emergency Action Plan” for Chester that, among other things, prohibited the city from selling, leasing or otherwise monetizing any assets valued at more than $10,000 without DCED approval. The following day, Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Spiros Angelos issued an order indicating any sale of CWA assets must be approved not only by the city, but also by Chester and Delaware counties, where the bulk of the authority’s customers live. The city asserts that, as the original incorporating municipality, the city alone has authority to transfer the assets of CWA. The CWA has argued that selling its assets would be “a counter-productive theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from ratepayers throughout Chester and Delaware counties.” The CWA, which dates back to 1866, serves a total of about 200,000 people spread throughout 17 Delaware County municipalities and 16 Chester County municipalities. Its board was once entirely under the city’s control but now includes three representatives each from the city, Delaware County and Chester County.
Source: Daily Times; 4/25/2020

Montgomery County

Norristown resumes limited use and occupancy inspections
Officials from the Municipality of Norristown have announced that they are prepared to resume resale inspections of owner-occupied single-family, residential dwellings during the current COVID-19 disaster/emergency declaration. The inspections are subject to the following conditions:

  1. The transfer inspection is for a sale/transaction that was executed prior to March 18, 2020;
  2. The transfer inspection will be performed by a member of the Municipality’s Code Department, who will be wearing the appropriate PPE;
  3. The seller’s agent or representative must be physically present at the inspection (and also participate in the inspection) and be wearing the appropriate PPE (masks, gloves, and foot coverings at all times) as well as the appropriate social distancing; and
  4. The inspection report will be generated within 24-48 hours following completion of the inspection and the municipal code inspector will not be allowed to remain after the inspection to discuss with the seller/agent any general findings or issues identified as has been offered in the past as a professional courtesy.

If there are extenuating circumstances, the municipality would consider them in determining whether an inspection can be performed, understanding the various challenges including health risks/exposure, limited PPE supplies, and intended purposes of the transfer inspection process. Finally, the municipality states that the above conditions are based on present circumstances. As the governor begins to implement his phased reopening program and various state orders and guidance is amended or changed, the above will likely need to also be amended or changed. Realtors® should reach out to the Codes Department if they have any questions at 610-270-0441 or ASingh@Norristown.Org.

Pottstown school board eyes 3.8% tax increase
Pottstown Area School District Business Manager Maureen Jampo reported to the school board that the district may require a 3.8% tax hike for the 2020-2021 school year. The increase is the maximum allowed under the state’s Act 1 Index. The district is facing a budget deficit of $1.1 million. In addition to the tax hike, the plan calls for pulling an additional $991,000 out of reserves to balance the budget. Jampo said the borough lost another $2.2 million in assessed property value in the past year, siphoning off $105,000 in revenues from the next budget before calculations even began. The coronavirus pandemic will likely also affect revenues — current projections call for earned income tax revenues to be down by $220,000 over the current year. Jampo also removed some state funding from the basic education and special education subsidy of the draft budget in anticipation of state revenues falling flat due to the pandemic. The budget discussion touched heavily upon Pennsylvania's unbalanced education funding system, which this year will underfund Pottstown schools by more than $13.8 million. School board member Raymond Rose said, "Now is not the time to let up on advocating for fair funding.” He suggested people visit the Advocates for Pottstown Education Facebook page for an online meeting about how to advocate for fairer funding.
Source: Digital Notebook Blog; 4/24/2020 & Pottstown Mercury; 4/24/2020 

State board revokes Gibraltar Rock mining permit in New Hanover
New Hanover Township and a citizens group are celebrating after the permit for the mining project at the Gibraltar Rock quarry was revoked. According to a ruling from the state, the Department of Environmental Protection failed to consider how a clean-up project next to the quarry site would be affected by quarry operations. The win is the latest turn in a legal battle dating back to 2001, when the quarry was first proposed. It is unknown if Gibraltar will file an appeal with Commonwealth Court.
Source: The Reporter; 4/28/2020 

Upper Moreland superintendent announces retirement
Upper Moreland School District Superintendent Robert Milrod will retire on Aug. 3. Milrod served the district in other administrative roles before becoming superintendent of the school district 14 years ago. “Dr. Milrod has been a visionary leader when it comes to the education provided to the students of our district,” the school board wrote in a statement.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/14/2020 

Philadelphia

Report finds Philly metro area ‘moderately difficult’ for first-time homebuyers
A report released by Construction Coverage, a real estate assessment company, says the Philadelphia metropolitan region ranks among the U.S. cities where first-time buyers are likely to struggle more than the national average to find a home. The Philadelphia metro area is defined as a swath that spans Philadelphia, Camden and Wilmington. To find the toughest cities for first-time home buyers, Construction Coverage created a composite score for each location based on the following factors and using data from the Zillow Home Price Index and the U.S. Census data from 2018: home affordability (median millennial earnings as a share of home prices); unemployment among millennials; cost of living (compared to national average); and projected home value growth. The region ranked 26th out of 53 in the most unfavorable areas for first-time home buyers. Click here to read the “Toughest Cities for First-Time Home Buyers” report.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/21/2020

City’s water systems being clogged by wipes and PPEs
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney admonished residents on Tuesday for all the masks, gloves and disinfectant wipes that have ended up in the city’s sewers. The non-flushable materials bind together in the water pipes and arrive at processing plants as large balls of gunk, called “fatbergs” in the industry. So far 19 of Philly’s pumping stations have been “impacted” by PPE waste, he said, and the surge could create public health problems for the city that would outlast the pandemic. “Please do not flush any of these items down the toilet,” Kenney said. “These items should go into a wastebasket.”
Source: BillyPenn.com; 4/28/2020

 
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