Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
With rental reforms stalled in the legislature, Wolf announces a workaround
Solebury officials review 2021 budget needs
Kennett Township starts budget talks
Upper Darby leaders unresponsive as residents and Realtors® struggle with broken U&O system
Norristown mandates local sewer authority be conveyed to municipality
Philadelphia Inquirer series: Pennsylvania tenants’ rights guide
Be mindful of local sign ordinances
Many municipalities in Southeastern Pennsylvania have adopted sign ordinances that limit how you display open house directional and “for sale” signs. It is important for REALTORS® to be familiar with what is permitted within municipalities where properties are listed. Failure to comply with municipal sign ordinances can result in fines and the loss of signage, and to more stringent laws being passed. Realtors® can review sign ordinances on the Suburban REALTORS® Alliance’s municipal database, which provides a comprehensive snapshot of local real estate-related regulations. The Alliance staff reviews proposed ordinances and submits comments to municipal officials based on established policies of the REALTOR® organization. If you have questions or concerns about a local ordinance, please contact the Alliance at 610-981-9000.
FEMA’s flood maps are failing millions
Recent impacts from flooding in Florida as a result of Hurricane Michael are an example of how FEMA’s flood maps — part of the troubled National Flood Insurance Program — are failing millions of Americans who own property in low-lying areas along costal zones, rivers or streams. The problems are made worse as more people build in risky areas, as FEMA fails to factor in how global warming is changing the climate. “There is a tremendous uncertainty in the accuracy of the mapping of these areas,” said Andy Coburn, the associate director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University. “It almost provides a false sense of security in terms of allowing people to understand what their flood vulnerability is.” The National Association of Realtors® is advocating for a long-term extension of NFIP along with reforms that would improve flood map accuracy and encourage the development of private market insurance options.
Source: InsideClimate News; 11/2/2018
Alliance office closed for Thanksgiving
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance office is closed on Thursday, Nov. 22, and Friday, Nov. 23, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. Members requiring information about municipal real estate regulations or Alliance policy statements should consult the website.
Bensalem voters approve tax increase for fire company support
A majority of Bensalem Township voters — 56.8 percent to be exact — voted in favor of a referendum to increase township property taxes by 1 mill to support local volunteer fire companies. The increase will add about $24 in property taxes to a home assessed at the township average of $23,600. The township’s six volunteer fire companies — Cornwells, Eddington, Newport, Nottingham, Trevose and Union — all members of the Bensalem Township Association of Fire Companies, campaigned for the increase. The referendum was approved for the ballot in late August.
Source: The Intelligencer; 11/7/2018
Former Stockburger property eyed for residential development in Newtown Borough
Newtown Borough Council recently got a first look at a conceptual plan for the former Stockburger property on South State and Court streets. Attorney Joe Blackburn, representing Nathan Torok of Rock Construction & Development LLC, attended the Nov. 7 borough council meeting to present plans for the property. The proposal would demolish the service station and replace it with two twin residential dwelling units, four detached garages and eight parking spaces. The plan also envisions the renovation and restoration of the two single family dwelling units at 209 and 211 Court Street — the buildings currently house six rental units. Another eight twin dwelling units would be built on “a sea of gravel and asphalt” behind the single-family homes. Blackburn also reported that the redevelopment will reduce the amount of impervious surface at the four sites from 98 percent to between 63 and 64 percent. Council took no action on the sketch plans.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 11/13/2018
Proposed budget available in Upper Southampton
The Upper Southampton Township Board of Supervisors introduced the proposed 2019 township budget on Nov. 7. The proposed budget is on file for public inspection at the township building, 939 Street Road, Southampton, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on the township website, www.ustwp.org. Final adoption of the 2019 budget is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m. at the Upper Southampton Free Library, Lower Level Meeting Room, 947 Street Road, Southampton.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/13/2018
Recorder of Deeds ‘Adopt a Book’ program focuses on preservation of historic documents
The Bucks County Recorder of Deeds has introduced an Adopt a Book program to save historic Deed Books, some of which date back to 1684. From documents signed by William Penn to post-Civil-War documents printed on paper made in part with recycled Union uniforms, these books are ink-faded, stained, frayed and in some cases, even moldy. While the documents have all been microfilmed, the books are still requested on a regular basis. The Recorder of Deeds is dedicated to restoring the deed books and preserving the history of Bucks County landowners. To that end, the office is having 700 of the oldest books treated and rebound, which will add up to 250 years to the life of the documents. The Adopt a Book program invites the community to become part of the process. Click here for more information. Forty-five volumes of Bucks County deeds recently underwent extensive restoration. Bucks County Recorder of Deeds Robin Robinson said: “To see this many books come into the department all at once is thrilling. This is the history of our county and our country that we’re able to preserve for future generations. People can come into the office and look through these books and see William Penn’s name, look for their relatives who were here from the beginning of Bucks County.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/14/2018
Coatesville SD invites Realtors to ‘Lunch-and-Learn’
The Coatesville Area School District (CASD) invites Realtors® to a lunch-and-learn event on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 10:30 a.m. at Coatesville Area Senior High School. Attendees will learn about some of the achievements taking place inside the district, from collaborations with Ivy League colleges to cutting edge instructional practices in K-12 classes, to expansive AP course offerings. Learn what CASD has done to become an amicable competitor with neighboring districts in test scores, SATs and college-bound graduates. A walking tour of the high school and an overview of the accomplishments will be followed by lunch catered by CASD culinary arts students at noon. The high school is located at 1445 Lincoln Highway, Coatesville. RSVP by Monday, Nov. 19, to Melanie Crescenz, 610-466-2433 or firstname.lastname@example.org. View a CASD brochure here.
Kennett Township officials gobbling up open space
Kennett Township officials have bought another large piece of open space as part of its ongoing effort to preserve its natural resources and bucolic charm. Earlier this year, Kennett Township officials said they would place a priority on acquiring open space, which reduces the amount of development that is possible in future year. Township Manager Lisa Moore announced the purchase of the 103-acre Spar Hill property at the board of supervisors’ meeting. The property is bounded by Burnt Mill, Center Mill and Old Kennett roads, Moore said, and it abuts the 68-acre Lord Howe property, which is also owned by the township. The land acquisition will allow for a passive recreation area with trails and open space for the entire community to enjoy. Moore said the acquisition took over a year to complete. As is typical with its open-space purchases, the township kept the location of the tract confidential until the negotiations were complete, for fear of attracting other buyers. The land will be open to the public as a passive recreation area with trails and open space. The proposed trails will connect to an adjacent property that has an open space and trail easement held by The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC). Moore said the township worked with TLC and its own land-conservation advisory committee to negotiate for the tract. The price was $3.2 million, with $1 million of that given to the township by the Mount Cuba Center. The acquisition is another step toward the township’s goal of preserving 30 percent of its open space. Currently, about 20 percent of the township is preserved.
Source: Daily Local; 11/12/2018
Sunoco plans hybrid pipeline
Already 18 months behind schedule, Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners announced that the pipeline builder will start shipping natural gas liquids along a hybrid pipeline in Chester and Delaware counties by the end of the year. Sunoco intends to connect three different-sized pipes along a 350-mile pipeline stretching from Marcellus shale deposits in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the former Marcus Hook, Delaware County, refinery. Plans originally called for construction of a 16-inch (Mariner East 2X pipeline) and 20-inch (Mariner East 2 pipeline) to follow a path along an existing 1930s easement. New plans call for a combination of 20-inch, 16-inch and existing 12-inch pipe, which would partially take a new route. There will be an increased impact on many homes and businesses with the route changes.
Source: Daily Local; 11/10/2018
Uwchlan supervisors ponder pipeline risk assessment
After hearing the results from a pipeline related quantitative risk analysis, Uwchlan supervisors voted unanimously to send letters to Pennsylvania Emergency Management (PEMA) and Chester County urging an update of the pipeline emergency management plan. “Sunoco is operating on the premise that they can do anything they want unless the law forbids,” Supervisor Kim Doan said. The risk analysis, overseen by Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety, predicts outcomes for the Sunoco Mariner East pipeline and all other present or future highly volatile liquid pipelines. Township solicitor Mark Freed said that the letters will be drafted this week. Freed also said that he had researched the matter but will dig deeper to see if the township is able to declare a state of emergency. Pipeline builder Sunoco changed plans and expects to connect three different pipelines by the end of the year, including an 80-year-old 12-inch line, to ship highly volatile fuels 350 miles from western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to the former Marcus Hook Refinery.
Source: Daily Times; 11/14/2018
Commissioners appoint new deputy county administrator
Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone and Terence Farrell announced the appointment of Kara Rahn as deputy county administrator, effective Nov. 26. Rahn, 41, moves to this new role from the Department of Voter Services, where she has served as director for nearly three years. Rahn will support County Administrator Bobby Kagel in the supervision and direction of all county government programs and administrative operations. She will also undertake the duties of Chief Clerk for Chester County.
Source: Daily Local; 11/14/2018
Ridley Park rejects call for earned income tax
Ridley Park Borough residents will not have an Earned Income Tax (EIT) for 2019. A motion to approve publication of an EIT ordinance, which is a prelude to actual council action to establish such a tax, was scuttled. Action on the proposed new tax came about after a council workshop session attended by about 50 residents, with speaker after speaker opposed to a 1 percent EIT. Questions on who would pay an EIT were answered by Council President Jim Glenn, who told the audience that anyone who lives or works in the borough would pay the tax. But if a resident already pays an EIT in a community where they work, that money would come back to the borough. He noted that he works in Eddystone and pays the tax to that borough. Over a thousand people from Ridley Park pay an EIT to other towns. Council then took action to approve the 2019 preliminary budget of $6.6 million and a 0.75 mill real estate tax increase, bringing the total millage rate to 8.89 mills. A $15 increase in the trash collection fee brings that service up to $265 per dwelling unit. The increase is necessary because the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority raised its rates. No date was set for final adoption of the budget.
Source: Daily Times; 11/8/2018
Delaware County’s tax reassessment process continues
Data mailers have been sent to the owners of residential properties in Clifton Heights, Collingdale, Colwyn, Darby Borough, Darby Township, East Lansdowne, Folcroft, Millbourne, Sharon Hill and Yeadon, as part of Delaware County’s Tax Reassessment Project. In March 2017, Delaware County was ordered to conduct a countywide property tax reassessment, effective for the 2021 tax year. The data mailer provides information that was recorded from a property by Tyler Technologies Inc. If the information is correct, there is no need to do anything further. If the information is incorrect, owners should write any needed changes on the mailer and return it signed, dated and with contact information, within 14 days. Distribution of data mailers began in October in Upper Darby and will continue through June 2019 to residential property owners throughout the county. Tyler Technologies staff will be in Delaware County throughout the reassessment process, concluding in 2020. The reassessment project includes data gathering, verification of data, establishment of assessed values and an opportunity to appeal. The project will also allow verification and correction of address discrepancies. Delaware County has set up a website dedicated to educating residents and answering questions regarding Delaware County’s Tax Reassessment Project. A Reassessment Hotline has also been set up for residents to call with any questions or concerns: 610-891-5695.
Source: Daily Times; 11/10/2018
Upper Darby School Board president clarifies $50K rental deal
Upper Darby School Board President Rachael Mitchell clarified a comment made by Mayor Thomas Micozzie in his budget message last month regarding a $50,000 rental agreement from Upper Darby School District for use of high school classrooms as part of the 2019 Summer Stage. Mitchell said the amount was an estimate. Thomas Judge Jr., the township’s chief administrative officer, indicated he was at the meeting between the school district and township and his understanding was the $50,000 was not an estimated amount, after calculating the number of classrooms used and number of hours. Micozzie presented a no-tax-increase $80.2 million budget at council’s regular meeting in October. A homeowner with a $108,000 average assessment will pay $2,262 next year, the same amount as this year. Jennifer Halum, of Drexel Hill, recommended township officials consider a new website as part of next year’s budget expenditures. “It looks like it was created in 1990 and works like it,” Halum said. “It’s hard to get information. It needs to be easy and accessible.” Micozzie announced plans for a new website and the hiring of a webmaster to keep it up to date.
Source: Daily Times; 11/14/2018
Sunoco plans hybrid pipeline
Already 18 months behind schedule, Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners announced that the pipeline builder will start shipping natural gas liquids along a hybrid pipeline in Chester and Delaware counties by the end of the year. Sunoco intends to connect three different-sized pipes along a 350-mile line pipeline stretching from Marcellus shale deposits in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to the former Marcus Hook, Delaware County, refinery. Plans originally called for construction of a 16-inch (Mariner East 2X pipeline) and 20-inch (Mariner East 2 pipeline) to follow a path along an existing 1930s easement. New plans call for a combination of 20-inch, 16-inch and existing 12-inch pipe, which would partially take a new route. There will be an increased impact on many homes and businesses with the route changes.
Source: Daily Local; 11/10/2018
New Hanover budget proposes property tax cut
The New Hanover Township proposed budget for 2019 includes a 5.5 percent property tax decrease. It would mark the first change in the township property tax rate in 16 years, one that Township Manager Jamie Gwynn said was made possible “by a lot of small decisions made by this board [of supervisors] that really add up.” Those decisions include changing medical insurance providers, switching banks and eliminating the finance director position, which all saved the township money. The township general fund’s reserve is close to $3 million, and the township is expected to end 2018 with a surplus of almost $200,000. Revenues are on the rise, and the assessed value of township homes has also increased, meaning the current real estate tax millage of 1.68 mills generates more tax revenue. If the 2019 tax rate of 1.587 mills is approved, the average township property tax bill will fall from $262 to $250, said Gwynn. The final budget is slated for adoption in December.
Source: The Reporter; 11/9/2018
No changes to Pottstown’s proposed 12 percent tax hike
Pottstown Borough Council has yet to make any significant changes to the proposed $48.9 million 2019 budget that would raise property taxes by 12 percent for the second straight year. According to Borough Manager Justin Keller, the major factors in Pottstown’s budget are increased pension costs, retired police health care and dwindling property assessments. The borough’s property assessment fell $1 million in value in 2018, pushing the budget deficit to $1.04 million. The proposed budget carries a tax rate of 12.99 mills, which would amount to an increase of about $120 for the average property in Pottstown. Once the budget is advertised, the proposed tax rate can be decreased but it cannot be increased, said borough solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. Visit the Pottstown Borough website for the updated meeting information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/12/2018
Hatboro eyes 4.4 percent tax increase
Hatboro Borough’s proposed budget for 2019 includes a 4.4 percent tax increase. The $7.3 million proposed plan calls for a borough property tax increase from 8.79 to 9.23 mills. A mill is equal to a tax of $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property value. The taxes for a home assessed at the borough average of $122,000 would increase by about $79 if the budget is adopted without change. The borough originally faced a $700,000 shortfall in the 2019 budget, but that amount fell to about $489,000. The council voted last month to dissolve the five-member borough authority, which gave it full rights to the authority’s $3 million in assets. The authority was formed 20 years ago as a trust to oversee money from the sale of the borough’s water company to Aqua. The borough will use $400,000 of the authority’s assets to help balance the budget and invest the remainder.
Source: Public Spirit; 11/13/2018
Lower Merion proposed zoning code available for public review
The long-anticipated new zoning code for Lower Merion is available for public review on the township website. The new code includes a color-coded map showing about 20 zoning categories throughout the township, including low-density residential 1 through 4, medium-density residential 1 through 3, institutional natural preserve, institutional civic, institutional education, institutional housing, village center, towns centers 1 and 2, light industrial, medical center, Bryn Mawr Medical, the Rock Hill Road District, the Bryn Mawr Village, the City Avenue District, neighborhood conservation districts and historic districts. A second building and planning committee meeting will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 28, where township staff will give a presentation on the code. The new 328-page draft zoning code is consistent with the township’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan for the preservation, infill and redevelopment of Lower Merion.
Source: Main Line Times; 11/6/2018
State, city offered Amazon a $5.7 billion incentive package for HQ2
On the heels of Amazon’s announcement that it would split its second headquarters into two large satellite offices in Northern Virginia and New York City — plus a third, smaller office in Nashville, Tennessee — officials have released details on Philadelphia’s bid for the online retail behemoth. Until now, Mayor Jim Kenney and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf have refused to discuss details of the incentives offered in their HQ2 proposal. In a letter to Amazon, the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) promised Amazon $4.6 billion in financial assistance, “including up to $4.5 billion through a new performance-based grant program.” Another $100 million would have gone toward transportation improvements near the headquarters’ site. The letter, signed by DCED Secretary Dennis Davin, referred to the $4.5 billion offer as a “new incentive program.” He described a subsidy tied to how much Pennsylvania-based employees would earn. In a letter co-signed by Kenney and Council President Darrell Clarke, Philadelphia also promised to provide Amazon a 20-year tax increment financing (TIF) district worth an estimated $1.1 billion and encompassing the HQ2 site, regardless of its specific location within the city. An accompanying letter from the School Reform Commission promised to authorize the TIF as well. A TIF district essentially freezes property tax increases around a proposed development. Usually, a new large building or set of buildings would significantly increase real estate taxes on the parcel and neighboring properties, but the TIF holds those at pre-development levels for a set period of time. Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation President John Grady said Philadelphia would have conservatively collected $6 billion in new taxes over 20 years in exchange for the $1.1 billion TIF, based on HQ2’s expected $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs.
Source: PlanPhilly; 11/13/2018
Study: Spending now on legal aid for renters would save city down the road
An annual investment of $3.5 million would cover the cost of legal representation for the thousands of low-income tenants who find themselves facing eviction orders in Philadelphia’s Municipal Court, according to a study released by the Philadelphia Bar Association. The $3.5 million investment would ultimately save the city $45.2 million in public costs associated with increased homelessness and displacement, the legal professional organization argued. Currently, the vast majority of renters do not receive legal aid in Philadelphia, where landlords evict more people than in other large cities. A lawyer is only guaranteed in criminal court. As a result, the study found that between 2007 and 2016, 80 percent of landlords are represented, while only 7 percent of renters are. Without an attorney, renters faced “disruptive displacement” 78 percent of the time, the report said. But when they have a lawyer, the tenant has a 95 percent chance of avoiding homelessness or other potentially life-shattering outcomes, according to the Bar Association. City councilmembers led by at-large member Helen Gym have secured over $1 million over the past two years to beef up tenant aid in eviction court, while Mayor Jim Kenney organized a task force to study the problem. Harvey Spear, president of the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia (HAPCO), took issue with the report and noted that many people assume most landlords are wealthy and own large numbers of properties. He said that much of HAPCO’s membership only own a couple of properties and could be just as deserving of legal assistance. Spear said that putting more lawyers in landlord-tenant court could exacerbate housing problems in the city by creating more burdens for property owners and increasing the likelihood that they leave the rental business altogether.
Source: PlanPhilly; 11/13/2018