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 7, 2018

 

General News

Realtors® visit Harrisburg in support of House Bill 1981
More than 100 Realtors® visited the state Capitol on May 1 to urge legislators to pass House Bill 1981, the First-Time Homebuyers Saving Account legislation. The day started with a press conference in the Capitol rotunda, where PAR President Todd Umbenhauer spoke of the many first-time homebuyers he has seen struggle to come up with money to cover closing costs. State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-3), co-sponsor of the bill, said: “Our research shows that 80 percent of Pennsylvanians support the creation of a First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account Program. I believe it’s because homeownership is the embodiment of the American dream.” The program would help consumers overcome the obstacles to homeownership, such as student loans and low-paying job opportunities, that can make it difficult to save for a down payment. Michelle Fournier, a recent first-time homebuyer, spoke at the press conference about how much money she had spent on rent over the past 15 years, and how student loans impacted her ability to purchase a home earlier. After the press conference, Realtors® met with their representatives to further advocate for the First-Time Homebuyers Saving Account Program. See a photo from the press conference on Facebook. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® created an easy-to-use form to help people contact their legislators in support of the legislation.
Source: PAR JustListed; 5/3/2018

Fair Housing Alliance releases trends report
Each year, the National Fair Housing Alliance compiles and analyzes housing discrimination data and trends throughout the nation to provide a comprehensive understanding of the state of fair housing. More than 28,000 housing discrimination complaints were reported in 2017, representing a slight increase from 2016. The majority of these complaints, 71.3 percent, were handled by private, nonprofit fair housing organizations like the Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania. To read the full report, click here (PDF) .
Source: Housing Equality Center of PA; 5/1/2018

Consumer interest trends toward sustainability, say Realtors®
According to a recent National Association of Realtors® (NAR) report titled “Realtors® and Sustainability 2018,” 61 percent of Realtors® said that consumers are interested in sustainability. The report, which stems from NAR’s Sustainability Program, surveyed Realtors® about sustainability issues in the residential and commercial real estate markets and the preferences they are seeing in consumers in their communities. “Consumers continue to make it clear that environmentally friendly features and neighborhoods are an important factor in deciding where and what home to buy,” said NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall.
Source: NAR; 4/24/2018

Bucks County

Legal battle over Rockhill Quarry intensifies
Activity at the long-dormant Rockhill Quarry began again last December after the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) allowed operator Richard E. Pierson Materials to begin blasting and crushing at the site. However, the newly crushed rocks, destined to be used to reconstruct a seven-mile stretch of the Northeast Extension north of Lansdale, have remained on site because East Rockhill Township has denied the company the permits it needs to truck the rock away. Concerned citizens have packed meetings since December, with the most recent zoning hearing board meeting attracting about 175 residents at the Pennridge High School auditorium. The meeting lasted over four hours, and much of that time was spent assessing whether about 50 residents who sought “party” status to the proceedings should be granted it, allowing them to intervene in the hearing and even cross-examine witnesses if desired. Interested parties appeared before the board, explaining how far they lived from the quarry and why they felt they would be impacted by its operations. Most residents said they were concerned about the noise, air pollution, truck traffic, and contamination of the aquifer and their drinking water wells. Residents up to a mile away claimed they feel blasts at the quarry and hear other noise. Attorneys for the quarry objected to most residents who live more than 500 feet away from the quarry receiving party status, as that distance is specified in the township’s zoning code. But the determinations ultimately fell to the Zoning Hearing Board, who denied some residents, although several residents outside the 500-foot radius were accepted. The remainder of the hearing was spent with Pierson attorney Robert Gundlach Jr. questioning East Rockhill Township Manager Marianne Morano. Morano is the employee responsible for interpreting and executing the town’s zoning rules, and she informed Pierson earlier this year that it would need a special exception to resume full operations. Grundlach’s line of questioning suggested he wanted to build a case that Morano had been influenced by others in the decision to require a special exception and was making vague or unreasonable requests of Pierson in order to continue operations. After reaching the allotted time for the meeting space, the hearing was continued. The board will resume the hearing at its next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, May 16, at 6 p.m. in the Pennridge High School auditorium.
Source: The Intelligencer; 4/29/2018

Shakeup in the Pennridge school board
The Pennridge School Board made some changes to leadership at its April 23 meeting, along with appointing a new solicitor and accepting the resignations of two members. All of the changes came about after the majority of the school board voted to remove Board President Christine Yardley. A statement from the school board read: “A majority of the Board voted to remove the Board President — who by prior agreement of the Board pursuant to Board Policy 005 serves at the pleasure of fellow members — because the majority did not feel that its policy choices and directions were being implemented by prior leadership. As part of this change, the majority also felt that it would be better served to work on an interim basis with a different legal counsel with whom the Board has already worked and who the Board was confident could provide even-handed and judicious counsel as to the state of the law as well as all of the Board’s options under the law.” Megan Banis-Clemens, who was vice president, is now president, and William Krause is the new vice president. The Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott law firm is the new solicitor. It was also announced that Yardley and Ada Miller will be resigning from the school board on June 19. Public comment against the moves warned of partisanship in the school board and a reminder that 7,000 students rely on a cohesive school board to make decisions for their future. Those in favor said the change was needed. Resident Lee Rush said, “I guess time will tell how this unfolds, but it’s a very serious time, and I hope that you’ve all searched your hearts and souls about what you’re undertaking.”
Source: The Reporter; 5/2/2018

Bensalem School District conducts resident survey
The Bensalem School District is conducting an online survey to see how the district can do better and slow the loss of students to charter schools. The survey can be taken here until Friday, May 11. The survey asks residents to rate the school district’s reputation in the community and its commitment to educational excellence and equity. The district has budgeted to pay $17 million in charter school tuition next year. Under Pennsylvania law, public school districts are required to pay their per-pupil costs as tuition for any student living within their boundaries who chooses to attend a charter school.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/2/2018

East Rockhill to create new comprehensive plan
East Rockhill supervisors approved the hiring of the Bucks County Planning Commission to help the township create the municipality’s next comprehensive plan. A comprehensive plan details how a community wishes to manage development, protect natural resources and preserve open space, and serves as an important guide for helping to shape a municipality’s evolution. The creation of a comprehensive plan will require public feedback and the township expects to begin working on the plan in September. The last update to East Rockhill’s comprehensive plan was in 2005.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 4/26/2018

Chester County 

Avon Grove will build a new high school
The Avon Grove School Board has approved construction of a new high school and renovations to existing buildings. Plans call for the new high school to be built on the district’s Sunnyside Road property and to serve grades nine through 12. The existing high school will be renovated to become a middle school for sixth through eighth grades, and Fred S. Engle Middle School building will be repurposed, possibly to provide an alternative revenue stream. Other district buildings would also be renovated to have secure entry areas. Modular trailers serving as classrooms will be removed.  “It’s time we moved on and got those children in classrooms after all these years,” board member Bonnie Wolff said. She noted that there are 20 modulars buildings in the district, some of which have been in place for 17 years. Avon Grove is currently operating at 141 percent functional capacity and offering 31 percent less square footage per student than comparable districts in the region. The $127 million price tag for the construction and renovation project passed with a 5-4 vote of the board, and the district is looking to increase taxes each year to the limit allowed by the state’s Act 1 index. Board member Charles Beatty, who voted against the expenditure, calculated that the final results would effectively be a 25 percent tax hike. The proposed 2018-19 budget stands at $97 million and includes a 3.1 percent tax increase. A final vote to adopt it will come in June.
Source: Daily Local News; 4/28/2018

Phoenixville to sponsor feasibility study for passenger rail line to Philly
Following a presentation by developer Manny DeMutis, Phoenixville Borough Council agreed that the borough would sponsor an official feasibility study, funded by DeMutis’s firm, to explore the possibility of creating a SEPTA passenger rail link between Phoenixville and Philadelphia. Ideas for a rail link between the two cities that could lessen congestion along the Route 422 corridor have been swirling for years, and developers are now proposing two potential options. The first involves extending the Norristown/Manayunk line into Phoenixville, which would be less expensive due to its use of existing infrastructure. The second, “greenline” option would connect the two cities through the Paoli Train Station, which could be complicated by right-of-way issues since it would likely pass through private property along Route 29. SEPTA recently approved a plan to extend the Norristown High Speed Line into King of Prussia but has not yet commented on the Phoenixville proposals. The borough council is expected to hear more details and vote on Tuesday, May 8, on whether to create a task force for the project.
Source: Phoenixville Patch; 4/18/2018

West Chester School Board eyes tax hike
The West Chester Area School District is citing growing enrollment as a reason for a three-year series of tax increases that would begin with its proposed $253 million budget for the 2018-19 school year. The budget would hike taxes 3.2 percent for Chester County homeowners, adding about $127 to the average tax bill, and 5.1 percent for Delaware County residents of the district, adding $265 to their average annual bill. It would use $6.3 million from the district fund balance. The budget anticipates a $9.9 million increase in expenses that reflects rising state-mandated pension costs, special education costs and charter school tuitions. It calls for adding five more teachers to the roughly 1,400-employee roster, and sets aside $1 million for staffing expenses for a new elementary school slated to open in 2020. “Because we anticipate the need for approximately $3.3 million in additional staffing due to enrollment increases over the next four years, we have to begin to plan for that,” Superintendent Jim Scanlon said. “We will not be able to generate that amount of money in one budget year due to limits on tax increases. We have to phase this expense in over the next three budget cycles.” The school board will vote on the final budget on Wednesday, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Spellman Administration Building, 782 Springdale Dr. The proposed final budget can be viewed on the district website.
Source: West Chester Area School District; 4/2018

Coatesville school district set to pass 8.4% tax hike
The Coatesville Area School Board approved by a 6-2 vote a proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year that includes a tax increase of 2.95 mills, or about 8.4 percent. The $178 million budget includes a pay increase for teachers, a new lease for student computers, new books, continued remediation for students in need, special education costs, planning for a new elementary school and continuing pre-school. The main drivers of the expanded budget are nondiscretionary expenses, including special education placements, charter school tuition and pension costs, according to a presentation made during a recent board meeting. The school board is inviting feedback on the budget at a series of public meetings, including one on Tuesday, May 8, at 6 p.m. at East Fallowfield Elementary School, 2254 Strasburg Road, and via emails to budgetfeedback18@casdschools.org. The school board will hold committee meetings on Monday, May 7, at 6 p.m. at Coatesville Area Senior High School, 1445 E. Lincoln Highway. The proposed budget can be viewed on the district website. The board is scheduled to vote on adopting the final budget at its meeting on Tuesday, May 22, at 7 p.m. at the high school.
Source: Daily Local News; 4/29/2018

State Sen. Dinniman files legal complaint against pipeline
State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) filed a formal legal complaint and a petition for interim emergency relief with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to prohibit construction of the Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2x pipelines in West Whiteland Township. Since Pennsylvania lacks regulation on the placement of intrastate pipelines, Dinniman said he was employing a rarely used quasi-legal process through the PUC to bring relief to residents in the pipelines’ path and establish a precedent regarding the commission’s jurisdiction over the placement and safety of hazardous materials pipelines. The complaint centers on West Whiteland because that is where the PUC ordered an emergency stop to pipeline drilling earlier this spring. “However, if successful, we expect it to have ramifications on the entire pipeline process in the commonwealth,” Dinniman said. The complaint states that the pipeline construction is unsafe at the location and that Sunoco has failed to take reasonable efforts to warn and protect the public from danger. In other pipeline news, new holes have appeared near the pipeline in Thornbury Township, though Sunoco denies they are sinkholes, and Sunoco won an eminent domain challenge brought by Media residents whose property lies in the path of the pipeline.
Source: Daily Local News; 4/28/2018, and Daily Times 5/1/2018

Delaware County

Marple Newtown considers tax hike
The Marple Newtown School Board voted unanimously to adopt a 2018-19 proposed final budget of $85.4 million, including a tax hike. The district decided in January that any tax increase would not exceed 2.4 percent, the limit imposed by the state without special exceptions. The proposed budget is a 5.1 increase over the current year. The major drivers of the increase are salaries, benefits and debt service for building renovations, and the district modeled an increase in the budget for discussion purposes, according to Business Director Joe Driscoll. The budget is available for review on the district website, though it may be amended before a final adoption vote, which is slated for the June 26 board meeting. Last year, Marple Newtown was one of the few districts in the region to cut taxes while shaping a budget.
Source: Daily Times; 4/29/2018

New middle school under consideration in Upper Darby
The Upper Darby School Board will price out the cost of constructing a third middle school for the district. The board voted to commission a study of the financial implications of the project after hearing a report from the facilities committee, which has been working to determine the most suitable learning spaces for more than 8,000 elementary and middle-school students. In November, Assistant Superintendent Dan McGarry said that future enrollment in the middle schools was becoming an issue. Years of study of how to deal with the growing student base had focused on elementary schools, but with no room to expand at Beverly Hills Middle School and more than $25 million worth of capital improvements needed at Drexel Hill Middle school, the priorities changed. Updated information about board meetings can be found on the district website.
Source: Daily Times; 4/29/2018

Chester Upland posts two board vacancies
The Chester Upland School Board has two vacancies. Any district resident looking to apply to join the board may send a resume to Chester Upland School District Board, Administrative Offices, 232 W. 9th St., 1st Floor, Chester, PA 19013, Attention: Anthony Johnson, President. Resumes must be received no later than Wednesday, May 23, to be considered. The school district website is www.chesteruplandsd.org.

State Sen. Dinniman files legal complaint against pipeline
State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) filed a formal legal complaint and a petition for interim emergency relief with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to prohibit construction of the Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2x pipelines in West Whiteland Township. Since Pennsylvania lacks regulation on the placement of intrastate pipelines, Dinniman said he was employing a rarely used quasi-legal process through the PUC to bring relief to residents in the pipelines’ path and establish a precedent regarding the commission’s jurisdiction over the placement and safety of hazardous materials pipelines. The complaint centers on West Whiteland because that is where the PUC ordered an emergency stop to pipeline drilling earlier this spring. “However, if successful, we expect it to have ramifications on the entire pipeline process in the commonwealth,” Dinniman said. The complaint states that the pipeline construction is unsafe at the location and that Sunoco has failed to take reasonable efforts to warn and protect the public from danger. In other pipeline news, new holes have appeared near the pipeline in Thornbury Township, though Sunoco denies they are sinkholes, and Sunoco won an eminent domain challenge brought by Media residents whose property lies in the path of the pipeline.
Source: Daily Local News; 4/28/2018, and Daily Times 5/1/2018

Montgomery County

Lower Merion School District proposes 2.4% tax increase
Lower Merion Superintendent Robert Copeland presented the proposed final budget to the board of school directors and public at a recent board meeting. The budget calls for a 2.4 percent tax increase and a budget expenditure increase of 2.83 percent. If finalized, the millage rate would increase from 28.074 to 28.7477 mills. A property assessed at the school district average of about $250,000 would see a real estate tax increase from $7,038 to $7,206 — an increase of $169. The district’s total spending will be over $272.7 million for nearly 8,600 students, with total spending per student at over $31,500. The district will use about $3.7 million from its fund balance to help balance the budget. The budget is scheduled to be finalized at the board’s June meeting.
Source: Main Line Times; 4/26/2018

Lansdale posts council vacancy
Lansdale Borough is seeking a resident of Ward One to fill a council vacancy. Jason Van Dame stepped down last week to take a position within the borough’s code department. Any borough resident who lives in Ward One (click here for map) and has lived there for at least one year is invited to submit a resume and letter of interest to Stacie Maile, borough recording secretary, at SMaile@lansdale.org or by mail to Council Vacancy 1, 1 Vine St., Suite 201, Lansdale, PA, 19446, or deliver it in person during normal business hours. Resumes will be accepted through Thursday, May 31, and council is expected to make a final decision by the Wednesday, June 20, business meeting.
Source: The Reporter; 5/2/2018

Souderton Area School District proposes tax hike
The proposed budget for the Souderton Area School District includes a 2.4 percent tax increase. The proposed increase would set the tax rate at 29.6201 mills. For the owner of a home assessed at the district average of about $150,000, the tax bill would be about $4,443, for an increase of about $104. A mill is a tax of $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. There will still be a budget gap of $3.1 million after the proposed tax increase, down from nearly $5.2 million at a previous meeting. Visit the school district website for the proposed final budget and upcoming meeting information.
Source: Souderton Independent; 4/25/2018

Hatboro-Horsham works to decrease budget gap
Since the first budget presentation in January, the administration of the Hatboro-Horsham School District lowered an anticipated budget shortfall from $1.3 million to $530,000. District officials were able to cut expenses by about $739,000 through staff retirements and subsequent health care cost decreases, equipment replacement and lowering of life insurance costs. Revenue was added through basic and special education subsidies, earned income tax increases and participation in certain federal programs, said Superintendent Curtis Griffin. Griffin said district administrators will continue to work on the budget in preparation for final adoption in June.
Source: The Public Spirit; 4/29/2018

Philadelphia

Philadelphia neighborhoods named ‘greenest’
Two Philadelphia neighborhoods nabbed spots on the top ten list of greenest homes in the nation compiled by Redfin — Chestnut Hill was third and Spruce Hill was fourth. More than half of homes sold in the Chestnut Hill area were advertised as having green features and sold for, on average, about $40,000 more than the median average of $440,000. Spruce Hill homes were also more likely to be green at 59 percent, but green homes actually sold for less than the median average, at $335,900, compared to $350,000. Data of real estate listings sold between January 2017 and April 2018 that included one or more green features was used, and the neighborhoods with the highest percentage of green homes landed in the top 10. According to the report, Philadelphia is “committed to reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 by focusing on the efficient use of clean energy, creating zero waste plans, expanding bike sharing and bike lanes, and using green stormwater infrastructure to manage stormwater.”
Source: PARJustListed; 4/26/2018

Bill requiring independent appraisals on city real estate deals likely to pass
Philadelphia City Council took a step toward requiring independent appraisals in advance of the sale of city-owned properties assessed by City Hall at values exceeding $200,000. Council's Committee on Public Property and Public Works unanimously passed Councilman Allan Domb’s bill requiring independent appraisals of municipal property transactions. The legislation could be passed by the full council and sent to Mayor Jim Kenney for his signature as soon as next week. “Every major city has a law that requires when they buy and sell property they have a third-party appraisal,” Domb said after the hearing. “We should have it not only on [sales], but on every lease we negotiate.” If signed into law, the only properties exempted from the required pre-acquisition independent appraisal would be those obtained through sheriff sales or eminent domain.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 5/1/2018

 


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