NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
SRA coronavirus information page

Bucks County
Sellersville considers legal action against landlords 

Chester County
Layoffs and furloughs in West Chester Borough 

Delaware County
Upper Darby considers sewer lateral inspection

Montgomery County
Lower Moreland to extend tax deadline 

Philadelphia County
No deed, no deal: Philadelphia real estate industry stymied by move online

 

News briefs archive November 25, 2019

 

General News

Counties offer first-time homebuyer programs
Local governments across the nation are beefing up programs aimed at helping people become homeowners. In return, they grow their tax bases, support the local economy and promote a sense of community. Bucks County officials are nearly doubling the money they devote to their program over the next five years. Philadelphia also expanded its housing assistance program, launching Philly First Home, and Chester County residents can look to the Housing Partnership of Chester County for first-time home buyer programs. The programs allow low- and moderate-income residents and workers who have not owned a house in the county in the past three years to apply for financial assistance with their closing costs, typically up to $10,000. Income thresholds vary, with most potential home buyers earning 80% of the area’s median income or less. In Bucks and Montgomery counties, however, residents who earn up to 100% of the median household income are eligible, and in Philadelphia the threshold is 120% of the median. Delaware County has reported an increase in interested applicants for its program over the past three years. Residents who aren’t burdened by housing costs support the local economy and create stability in neighborhoods, said Jack Peterson, director of strategic relations for the National Association of Counties. Click here to read the full Inquirer article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/16/2019 

FEMA outlines changes to flood risk rating
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) continues to advocate for reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is set to expire on Nov. 21. At NAR’s convention in San Francisco, David Maurstad, deputy associate administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said the agency is working to transform NFIP, which currently issues 5 million policies in 22,000 communities. “We’re working to build a culture of preparedness, reduce disaster suffering and reform the rating system for flood risk,” he said. The current rating system has not changed since the 1970s. The new system will use state-of-the-art technology with NFIP’s mapping data to establish a risk-informed rating plan to provide better and more comprehensive understanding of risk at the national and local levels. The new plan — dubbed Risk Rating 2.0 — will use simple rating characteristics for each property, such as: distance to the coast or another flooding source, different types of flood risk, and cost to rebuild a home. By reflecting the cost to rebuild, the new rating plan is expected to give fairer rates for owners of lower-value homes. FEMA sees Risk Rating 2.0 as beneficial to policyholders, communities and the insurance industry. It will reduce the complexity for agents to generate a quote and provide rates that are easier to understand. New rates for all single-family homes will go into effect nationwide on Oct. 1, 2020.
Source: PAR JustListed; 11/19/2019

Bucks County

Bristol Borough to consider earned income and local service taxes
Bristol Borough intends to consider for adoption two draft ordinances at a council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 250 Pond St. The first ordinance would levy an Earned Income Tax of 1% on salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, incentive payments, fees, tips and other compensation earned by residents and those who work in Bristol Borough. The tax would also be levied on the net profits of businesses. Borough council contends the tax is necessary to produce additional revenue to fund the general operating expenses of the borough. The annual EIT revenue is estimated to be $814,500. The second ordinance to be considered would enact a Local services Tax of $52 per year levied on people who work in the borough. It would also be effective Jan. 1, 2020, and revenue from the tax is estimated at $115,000 per year.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/29/2019 

Middletown supervisors reject Stone Meadows Farm development plan
Middletown Township supervisors voted unanimously to deny preliminary subdivision and land development approval for a housing development on the Stone Meadows Farm property off Newtown-Langhorne Road. Metropolitan Development Group has an agreement to buy the farm from the Stone family and is proposing 121 single-family homes. Supervisors cited several reasons for the denial, among them that Metropolitan has filed too many alternate plans. Metropolitan attorney Robert Gundlach Jr. said the decision will likely be appealed to Bucks County Court. Opponents to development of the land say it is the last remaining farm in the township.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/19/2019 

DART bus service will extend to Chalfont and New Britain
Bucks County has been awarded a grant to extend the Doylestown DART Bus program by adding an additional dedicated bus to run through the boroughs of New Britain and Chalfont, as well as New Britain Township, and link to the Doylestown line. The grant was secured through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and announced by state Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-144). “This is going to make travel so much more convenient for everyone in the area,” Polinchock said. “I am thrilled because this bus will open up the entire Business Route 202 on Butler Avenue to allow residents and the university students access to our amazing small businesses, restaurants, parks and trails.” The bus is scheduled to begin service on Jan. 1, 2020. Click here for more about the Doylestown DART service.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/14/2019 

Upper Makefield passes 2020 budget
Upper Makefield Township supervisors adopted a 2020 budget on Nov. 6. The budget estimates $14.6 million in revenues and $10.9 million in proposed expenditures, and does not increase real estate taxes. Since 2011, Upper Makefield’s real estate tax has been steadily reduced from a high of 13.3525 mills to the current rate of 7.6025 mills. The average residential property assessment in Upper Makefield Township is about $65,700, which equates to an average township real estate tax bill of $500. Additional revenues come from the township’s portion of an earned income tax that is shared with the Council Rock School District. Upper Makefield is estimating about $4.2 million in earned income tax revenue for 2020. The budget was developed by township staff and publicly discussed during two supervisors meetings. No public comments on the budget were received during the public advertisement period or at the adoption meeting. Click here for the budget overview in the township newsletter.
Source: Upper Makefield Township; 11/7/2019

Chester County 

$2.5 million targeted for county transportation projects
Four transportation projects in Chester County will receive more than $2.5 million in state funding via PennDOT’s Multimodal Transportation Fund. The projects include:

  • $1 million for Schuylkill Township for the Route 23 sidewalk project
  • $735,812 for Oxford Borough for the Safe Routes to School project
  • $119,389 for West Bradford Township for lighting at Stargazers Roundabout
  • $730,000 for East Fallowfield Township for repairs to Mortonville Road

Funding for these projects comes through Act 89 of 2013, Pennsylvania’s Comprehensive Transportation Funding Plan, which increased transit funding and established dedicated multimodal funding for aviation, passenger and freight rail, port, and bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Source: Daily Local; 11/15/2019 

Easttown planners lean toward equestrian overlay for Devon Horse Show
During a Nov. 13 meeting about proposed new zoning for Devon Center, the Easttown Township Planning Commission heard a planning consultant list five options for the Devon Horse Show & Country Fair grounds and the adjacent properties it owns. The members, who did not vote, appeared to lean toward creating a separate equestrian event zone and deleting the underlying residential (R-3) zoning that now encompasses the horse show grounds. Planning Commission Chairman Mark Stanish said keeping all the horse show properties under the equestrian use umbrella would probably provide the most protection for the show. But he wondered how a possible parking garage might be accommodated in that scenario. Read the full article here.
Source: Daily Local; 11/16/2019 

Habitat for Humanity awarded tax credit for work in Coatesville
Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $12,750 tax credit for Habitat for Humanity of Chester County for its work in Coatesville. The tax credit is part of the Neighborhood Assistance Program, which promotes community participation and collaborations among nonprofits, businesses and residents in distressed or low-income areas. Habitat will soon complete a 46-home single-family housing development in Coatesville. “Adequate and affordable housing is a key issue for residents in the 74th Legislative District,” state Rep. Dan Williams (D-74) said. “I welcome all projects that can help to address this inequity, and I thank Gov. Wolf for helping fund the Habitat for Humanity project that helps take care of my constituents.” According to the project materials, low-income families in Coatesville are faced with high rental rates and limited opportunities for homeownership, which negatively affect the city’s growth and development.
Source: Daily Local; 11/19/2019 

New Kennett Township manager promises transparency
Eden Ratliff, who has been Kennett Township manager for two months, is promising residents that transparency is his focus. Ratliff replaced Lisa Moore, who is under investigation by the Chester County District Attorney’s office for financial improprieties. Moore was fired in May after 25 years working for the township. Ratliff, originally from West Chester, has a master’s degree in employment and labor relations from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is also pursuing a master’s degree in public management from Johns Hopkins University and is scheduled to graduate next month. “I think transparency is incredibly important in any municipal government,” Ratliff said. “It’s been a bedrock component to my approach to municipal management.”
Source: Daily Local; 11/19/2019 

T/E school board approves property acquisition
The Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board approved a resolution authorizing commencement of an eminent domain action to acquire the Doyle-McDonnell nursery property adjacent to Conestoga High School at 250 Cassatt Road in Berwyn. The district and the owners will engage in a process to determine the fair market price for the property. The 13-acre parcel is reportedly under agreement with Toll Brothers to develop the property as 85 residential units. Due to the adjacency of the parcel to Conestoga High School, the district has long been interested in purchasing the property, but held off so long as it served as a functioning tree nursery. After learning the property was under an agreement of sale, the district used eminent domain as a measure of last resort. Student enrollment in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District has risen every year since 1990, with a near 10% growth rate over the past five years alone. Future development of the nursery property by the district is not related to the current plan to expand and renovate Conestoga High School and its parking capacity.
Source: Daily Local; 11/17/2019

Delaware County

Tax hike, sewer fee increase likely for Radnor residents
Although the Radnor Board of Commissioners continued to grapple with the proposed $34.3 million 2020 budget, from the discussion on Nov. 18, it seemed likely that a majority will approve a 0.3770 mill increase to support the fire companies and ambulance service when the budget is adopted on Monday, Dec. 9. A 10% sewer fee increase to fund repairs to the aging sewer system sewer fee increase is also on the horizon, the third such increase in a row, as approved by the commissioners three years ago. Radnor Fire Company officials asked the township for $250,000 more for 2020 for additional employees because of a shortage of new volunteers. The township pays 40% of the $2 million fire company budget. Because various taxes paid by businesses in the township were lower for 2019, Radnor is looking at a $1.2 million deficit. The township makes significant contributions to local fire companies and other nonprofit institutions that serve its residents, including: Radnor Memorial Library at $960,000; Wayne Senior Center at $145,000; Wayne Art Center at $17,000; and the parades at $8,000. Most of those organizations are seeking an increase in their funding, and one new group, the Women’s Resource Center, was listed at $5,000.
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 11/19/2019 

Hearing set for Aronimink school expansion in Upper Darby
Upper Darby School District has scheduled a public hearing to discuss a $27.2 million project to expand Aronimink Elementary School and increase its student enrollment from approximately 250 to 700. Per Act 34 of 1973 and the Pennsylvania School Code, a public hearing is required before a school district enters into a contract for construction for a substantial addition to a current school building. Renovating and expanding the school is part of a district-wide attempt to ease overcrowding and to bring students back into district-owned facilities within district boundaries — Walter M. Senkow Elementary students are bussed to a leased building in Glenolden. The district administration offices within the Aronimink building will move to a leased office space in Haverford to open up 11,000 more square feet for education use. A 36,000-square-foot addition to the current building will include a new gym and more educational space to bring the overall number of classrooms in the school to 34. Renovation of the building is scheduled to begin in April, followed by building addition construction in May.
Source: Daily Times; 11/19/2019 

Firm unveils new masterplan for Chester waterfront
The masterplan for the West End waterfront drew closer to reality this week when representatives from architectural firm NBBJ visited Chester for a series of community stakeholder meetings. Riverfront Alliance of Delaware County, the City of Chester, and Philadelphia Union parent company Keystone Sports and Entertainment announced in October that Boston-based NBBJ received the contract to design a redevelopment plan for the area surrounding Talen Energy Stadium and the Wharf at Rivertown office complex. NBBJ designers will hold a town-hall-style presentation of their initial findings on Thursday, Dec. 12 (location TBD). NBBJ is looking at temporary and short-term use activities on the site to boost interest in permanent development, according to Chris Herlich, a design associate at the company. “It seems like this is a wonderful place, and one of the biggest challenges facing it is perception,” he said.
Source: Daily Times; 11/18/2019 

Springfield OKs purchase of Saxer Avenue property
The Springfield Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to purchase property listed as 510 Saxer Ave. at a cost of $615,000. The township will raise slightly more than 25% of the amount through a Delaware County open space funding grant. The 2.1-acre parcel, owned by sisters Mary and Pearl Jamgochian, has a stately home and garage with apartment dwellings. It had been on the market for $699,000. The owners presented various residential development plans in the past — proposing 14 building lots in 2006, then 11 homes a few years later, and finally 7 homes, according to Commissioner Paul Wechsler. All the proposals were rejected by the township due to density issues, but the owners appealed the 7-home plan to the county and won. Wechsler said the parcel had some stormwater issues, which may have contributed to the owners’ inability to find a buyer. “The township has been looking for a way to purchase the property for open space, with a goal towards an additional park,” Wechsler said. Township officials ultimately decided to condemn the property and take it by eminent domain, thereby avoiding the transfer tax. The condemnation required a resolution that was unanimously approved by commissioners.
Source: Daily Times; 11/15/2019

Montgomery County

No tax increase in Lower Merion proposed budget
Lower Merion Township has released its proposed 2020 budget and a proposed 2020-2025 capital improvement program (CIP). There is no proposed tax increase for the ninth year in a row, despite a $4.6 million budget deficit. A public hearing on the budget and CIP is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 4, with adoption slated for the commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18. Click here for more information.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 11/12/2019 

Lansdale draft budget includes small tax increase
Lansdale Borough Director of Finance John Ramey recently told the borough’s Admin and Finance Committee that a quarter-mill tax increase would be necessary to close a deficit in the municipality’s $45 million 2020 budget. The budget shortfall is attributed in part to new requests for increased contributions from the Lansdale Public Library and the Fairmount Fire Company, a planned increase in transfers to the borough’s capital fund, and increases in pension liabilities and wage increases for the borough’s three unions. Ramey also said the borough is seeing less revenue from cable franchise-fee income as more viewers cut the cord. The increase from the current 5.5 mills to 5.75 mills would amount to about $28 a year for the average homeowner. Click here for the budget presentation.
Source: NorthPennNow.com; 11/7/2019 

Route 422 campaign hopes to reduce congestion
The “422 My Way” campaign aims to reduce congestion along the Route 422 corridor from King of Prussia to Berks County. Route 422 is one of the most congested highways in Montgomery County, with 100,000 vehicles using it daily. More than 40 officials joined the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association (GVF) to launch the campaign that promotes carpooling, biking and using public transportation. State Reps. Tim Briggs (D-149) and Joe Ciresi (D-146), both representing Montgomery County, were at the launch. Ciresi said, “This is a critical program for the corridor, as it will reduce congestion and improve the quality of life for our residents.” Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence was wearing many hats at the press event — he also sits on the boards of SEPTA and GVF. “SEPTA is very supportive of the 422 My Way initiative,” Lawrence said, “and with the accessibility of county trails and our public transportation network, the county is excited to be a part of this initiative.” Founded in 1990, GVF is a not-for-profit organization that advocates for a viable transportation network for the region's economic vitality.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/13/2019 

Lansdale unveils plans for Whites Road Park playground
Lansdale Borough got a first look at preliminary plans for a fully accessible playground at Whites Road Park. The playground is designed to offer inclusive activities for children of all ages and abilities. An “inclusive” playground goes beyond traditional accessibility and engages children no matter what their situation, said Karl Lukens, director of parks and recreation for the borough. Inclusive playgrounds are developed to accommodate the needs of children in wheelchairs and those with autism or sight-impairment, without stigma. The project is expected to cost $530,000 and will be funded by a 50% state grant of $265,000 from the Community Conservation Partnership Program, and a $45,000 contribution from Upper Gwynedd for the Martin tract housing development adjacent to the park. The remainder is a capital expenditure budgeted by the borough. Lukens is hoping for approval to bid out the project in December and have the project completed in time for use next summer.
Source: NorthPennNow.com; 11/7/2019

Philadelphia

City council passes bill giving free legal representation to tenants facing eviction
Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a bill that will provide free legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction. The bill heads to Mayor Jim Kenney, who is expected to sign it before the end of the year. Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced the legislation, which will provide legal representation to tenants whose annual gross income does not exceed $24,980 for a single person and $51,500 for a family of four. Any renters who meet income guidelines in Philadelphia are eligible for representation by nonprofit legal services. Funding for the legislation will come from the Low-Income Tenant Legal Defense Fund that was started in 2017 with a $500,000 allocation. The fund now contains about $2.1 million thanks to a $1.5 million commitment in the city’s 2020 budget. In passing the legislation, Philadelphia joins a handful of cities that have instituted “Right to Counsel” legislation, including New York City, San Francisco and Newark, N.J. Click here for the article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/14/2019 

New program offers repair loans to some Philly landlords
Philadelphia is getting ready to roll out a new loan program designed to help small landlords repair their units and keep the city’s short supply of affordable housing intact for low-income renters. Thanks to a $400,000 state grant awarded to the city, a limited number of eligible landlords will be able to apply for loans of up to $25,000. The money must be used for health and safety-related repairs, including lead abatement and fixes connected to building code violations, such as broken plumbing. “The worst-case scenario that we’re always trying to avoid is a situation where landlords of affordable units get shut down and those tenants are out on the street,” said Gregory Heller, senior vice president of investment at the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC). The program will be open to landlords with fewer than 10 apartments who have a rental license and are up-to-date on their real estate taxes, among other qualifications. The four-year pilot will be operated by an arm of the nonprofit Impact Services Corporation and offered to landlords in eight North and Northeast Philadelphia zip codes covering neighborhoods from Norris Square to Lawncrest. The money must be used to repair units in those zip codes and help low-income renters earning less than the city’s area median income, roughly $65,000 for a family of three. Landlords will have a decade to pay off the loan. PHDC estimates the pilot will serve between 15 to 38 landlords, depending on the amount of each loan. A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia shows that roughly 40% of apartments in the region need repairs. If the pilot is successful, the city wants to find funding to expand it to neighborhoods across Philadelphia.
Source: PlanPhilly; 11/19/2019

 

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