Stay up to date on current News & Issues.
Pennsylvania to cover the cost of stamps for mail-in ballots
Hilltown delays vote on 194-unit, age-restricted development
County makes legal moves before PUC hearings
Rutledge finances force out Keffer as administrator
Comprehensive plan meeting scheduled in Abington
Grassroots group placing homeless families in PHA properties; PHA wants them out
PA doubles tax credits for investing in distressed neighborhoods
Affordable housing efforts across the region have been made possible because of Pennsylvania's Neighborhood Assistance Program, which gives tax credits to businesses that donate to community projects in economically distressed areas. Coordinators of the projects then highlight the contributions in a bid to get more people to donate. Over the past six years, participating businesses donated more than $300 million to projects statewide aimed at building affordable housing, eliminating blight, teaching job skills, preventing crime and otherwise improving neighborhoods. In return, they reaped more than $100 million in tax credits — money that otherwise would have gone into state coffers. Now, those numbers are likely to swell. Despite concerns about the lack of evidence of whether tax credit incentives revitalize neighborhoods, state legislators and Gov. Wolf have agreed to expand the program. Last month, they approved a measure doubling the cap on annual tax credits to $36 million — the highest such ceiling among neighboring states. Supporters, including a group of about 100 community organizations and businesses, lobbied to expand the program after seeing overall state funding for neighborhood projects decline over the years while requests for the credit shot upward. The $18 million cap hadn't changed since it was introduced almost five decades ago and was "peanuts compared to what it was in 1971," said state Rep. Bernie O'Neill (R-29), who cosponsored the measure to increase it. Roughly 400 businesses in the Philadelphia region have received tax credits over the past four years. The state awarded $3.8 million in tax credits to 35 projects in Southeastern Pennsylvania last fiscal year. State officials will approve the latest round of projects in coming weeks.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/13/2018
Rotting from within: How water intrusion in new homes turns American dreams to rot
Hundreds of families in Southeastern Pennsylvania bought new homes since the start of the 2000s housing boom, only to learn, years later, that shoddy construction overseen by at least 27 different builders has turned their asset into a liability, an Inquirer investigation has found. Rushed production, undertrained workers, lower-quality materials, and lax oversight by builders and code inspectors have left more than 650 homeowners in at least 55 zip codes in houses so damaged by water that each requires tens of thousands — and sometimes, hundreds of thousands — of dollars in repairs. Experts have labeled Pennsylvania the epicenter of an industrywide epidemic that has affected sprawling suburban houses, starter homes, and luxury Philadelphia townhouses alike. Properties constructed with materials other than stucco had problems, too. Some houses with water damage were built by billion-dollar public companies. Others, by small, local firms. Some are 10 or 20 years old. Others are brand-new. Several hundred lawsuits filed in the past five years allege that most of these homes contain dozens of violations of the state-mandated building code that ultimately allowed water to drain into both new and renovated homes. Many homes with water damage lack basic weatherproofing materials, inspection reports say. Countless homeowners have discovered the problems only after it’s too late to bring a claim under state law — with some missing the deadline by just weeks or months. The problem has caught the attention of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which have launched independent investigations. Builders, meanwhile, have been setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars for warranty claims. Experts say the damage cannot be seen in 80 to 90 percent of cases — meaning other homeowners may unknowingly have the same problem behind their walls. And with roughly 90,000 new single-family homes constructed in Southeastern Pennsylvania since 2001, the extent of the damage in the region may not yet be fully discovered. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/15/2018
Lower Makefield considers vacant property registration ordinance
Lower Makefield Township supervisors will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at the township building, 1100 Edgewood Road, Yardley, to consider an ordinance pertaining to blighted and vacant properties. The ordinance to be considered will establish new rules for blighted and vacant properties, and guidelines for neighborhood blight reclamation and revitalization. According to Lower Makefield officials, the proposed ordinance has been drafted for the health, safety and general welfare of township residents. The full text of the ordinance may be examined at the township building during normal business hours or online here. Residents of the township are invited to attend to provide comment and recommendations to the supervisors.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/16/2018
Quarry settlement rejected by East Rockhill
East Rockhill officials announced they have rejected proposals to settle an ongoing federal district court case with the operators of Rockhill Quarry. “The quarry operator has insisted on placing an asphalt plant at the quarry site, which is unacceptable to the township and its residents,” said municipal officials in the statement. “The federal court case will now proceed to a hearing and the zoning hearings will continue per the advertised legal notices with hearing dates and locations posted to the township website.” The quarry has been the center of controversy since December 2017, when operations resumed there after being mostly dormant since the early 1980s. At that time, the East Rockhill Township zoning officer found that special exception approval from the zoning hearing board is needed to operate the quarry. That has been the subject of zoning hearing board meetings for months. There is also a federal court injunction being sought by the township that would prevent the quarry owner or operator from building or operating an asphalt plant at the site until gaining approval and permits to do so from the township. The quarry has filed counterclaims and a date for the federal court hearing has not been set. Visit the township website for meeting information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/16/2018
No tax increase proposed in Haycock
The Haycock Township Board of Supervisors will consider the 2019 budget for final adoption on Monday, Dec. 3, at the Haycock Township Municipal Building, 640 Harrisburg School Road, Quakertown. The proposed $1.02 million budget includes a 5.6 percent increase in expenditures but no tax hike. The real estate tax millage rate will remain at 6 mills. The township continues to fulfill its vision of developing a thriving new Haycock Township Community Center (HTCC) without requiring a tax increase. Supervisors had expressed confidence in 2016 in office management, staff and the community that the HTCC concept could work without creating an undue tax burden on residents. A steering committee of township residents developed a wide variety of activities that generate income for the HTCC. Visit the township website at www.haycocktwp.com for more information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/16/2018
Hulmeville to consider final budget
Hulmeville Borough Council will consider for adoption the proposed 2019 budget and tax ordinance on Monday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m. in Borough Hall, 321 Main St. The tax structure to be established is: 16 mills; $5 per capita; 1 percent earned income tax; and refuse collection of $281. The real estate tax rate is the same as 2018.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/8/2018
Affordable housing is topic of planners’ meeting
While the purchase power of local wages has been somewhat stagnant in Chester County over the past several decades, the cost of housing has increased dramatically. The combination has led to a serious question among affordable housing advocates: can the next generation can afford to live in Chester County? A two-hour Citizen Planners’ Breakfast focused on the topic is being sponsored by Chester County 2020 and the Chester County Planning Commission on Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Desmond Hotel, 1 Liberty Blvd., Malvern, beginning at 7 a.m. Jason Duckworth, president of Arcadia Land Company, will lead a panel discussion on the issue. Panel members will include Brian O’Leary, director of the Chester County Planning Commission, Sara Peck, principal of Progressive New Homes LLC, and Nate Echeverria, economic development director of Historic Kennett Square. “This is a very important topic for Chester County,” said John B. Hannum Jr., Chairman of Chester County 2020. “Chester County is known as a great place to live, work and raise a family. We need to make sure the county has affordably priced housing for those who make this county great.” The cost is $25 per person. To register, go to the breakfast sign-up section of www.cc2020.org. Sponsorships are available for $250. For information, contact Chester County 2020 by calling 484-680-5570 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Chester County 2020 is a nonprofit organization helping to create livable communities by bringing people together to find common ground and then working to transform dialogue into action. For more information, see www.cc2020.org.
Source: Daily Local; 11/10/2018
New researcher to assist residents impacted by phorid flies
Funding supported by state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) will go to hire a researcher to work with residents and mushroom farmers in southern Chester County to combat the phorid fly infestation that has wreaked havoc on the region in recent years. The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences recently advertised an opening for a research technologist to coordinate research activities ongoing at University Park with residents and mushroom growers in southern Chester County. Dinniman, who previously secured a $100,000 grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to study ways to control the fly problem, successfully fought for an additional $90,000 in funding to support the new position. He said the job was the first of its kind and represents a new, community-based approach to solving issues that arise between rural and suburban communities. The researcher will study the ecology and control of Phorid fly infestations on local mushroom farms while serving as a liaison to impacted residents. “This is a quality-of-life issue where the farms meet the suburbs,” Dinniman said. “These flies are a big problem for the mushroom industry and they’re a big problem for homeowners and their families.” Dinniman, who serves on the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, added that the researcher will communicate directly with residents and farmers as “we work together to develop effective and innovative solutions for the betterment of the entire community.”
Source: Daily Local; 11/10/2018
Rep. Harry Lewis named 2018 Citizen of the Year
State Rep. Harry Lewis Jr., the first African-American from Chester County to serve as a state official, was honored by the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry as 2018 Citizen of the Year. Lewis told the crowd of more than 300 that state and county officials must do more to build Coatesville back up. “Coatesville is the only city in our county,” he said. “We have to take pride while they are struggling now and boost them back up. That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I continue to do. My life has been blessed, and I am proud of my community and I am proud of Coatesville.” Over the past 40 years, Lewis has held the positions of social worker, special education teacher, physical education teacher, track coach, assistant principal and principal. Lewis retired in 2006 after serving as principal of the Coatesville Area Senior High School, but was elected in 2014 as state representative for the newly created 74th District.
Source: Daily Local; 11/10/2018
PREIT sells Exton land on which apartments will be built
The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) recently reaped $10.3 million in proceeds from the sale of four acres at Exton Square Mall off Route 30 in Exton. The sale price wasn’t disclosed. As expected, Hanover Co. bought the property and plans to develop a 300-unit apartment community that incorporates mixed-use features. PREIT has been looking for more opportunities to add residential units to its malls. It has calculated that it could add 5,000 to 7,000 apartment units to the properties it owns in the Philadelphia and Washington markets. Plymouth Meeting Mall, Willow Grove Mall, Fashion District Philadelphia and Cherry Hill Mall are among the properties it owns locally.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 11/12/2018
Tax hike looms in Eddystone
Eddystone Borough’s 2019 preliminary budget shows a deficit of $80,000 and a looming 0.5 mill tax increase. Borough Treasurer Joe Possenti delivered the bad news at the council’s November meeting. Possenti noted there will be additional budget meetings before final adoption at a date to be announced. He said budget figures cannot go up once the preliminary document is approved, but they can go down. The preliminary budget lists a total of $4.03 million in expenses for next year. The sewer fee of $345 per unit will remain. Possenti said the borough has no fee in place for trash collection, commenting that the borough is one of the few in Delaware County that does not have a trash fee. The current millage rate of 9.15 mills could rise to 9.65 mills, or $9.65 for each $1,000 of assessed property valuation. Council President Karen Reeves acknowledged that an $85 trash fee is under consideration before final budget adoption.
Source: Daily Times; 11/16/2018
Radnor rejects stormwater management project
Stormwater management solutions continue to bedevil Radnor Township. The board of commissioners voted 5 to 2 against spending $47,000 to design and engineer a stormwater project for the Banbury Way, Francis Way and Windsor Avenue triangle just north of Lancaster Avenue, causing a member of the stormwater management advisory committee (SWMAC) to resign. A previous plan to manage a 25-year storm had been rejected for that site due to neighbors’ concerns about losing trees and having the street torn up for a lengthy period. However, after several meetings, SWMAC Chairwoman Paige Maz said the committee had reached a consensus with many neighbors to look at a design to mitigate a 10-year storm that would remove fewer trees and require less disruption. But Ward 1 Commissioner Jack Larkin disagreed and argued against it. Maz said the 10-year proposal would have a “smaller footprint” but could “make a real impact in reducing the flooding.” Vice President Luke Clark said the project should go forward instead of the board of commissioners “collecting and hording” the stormwater fee. About $3 million is in the township’s stormwater account. SWMAC member Heather Gill, who resigned from the commission over the issue, said, “I guess those Aug. 13 pictures of cars floating down the street mean nothing.”
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 11/13/2018
Springfield commissioners hold the line on taxes
The Springfield Township Board of Commissioners is holding the line on taxes for the next year. The board approved the first reading of the 2019 budget ordinance, balancing the books at $18.2 million with no increase in taxes. For the average property assessment of $150,000, the tax rate of 5.81 mills equates to a tax tab of $871. Commissioners President Jeff Rudolph recognized the administration, township departments and Finance Director Stephen Cafferty for the hard work to reach a zero-tax increase. Rudolph said the challenge was having very little increase of “ratables” or taxable properties. Property taxes of $9.7 million, local enabling taxes of just less than $3 million, and a variety of business and permitting fees of $5 million constitute the major portion of revenue. In a separate approved ordinance, the township set a refuse fee of $250 annually, which is a $35 increase. According to a letter by the Delaware County Solid Waste Authority sent to municipalities in August 2018, the rate charged townships and boroughs to dispose of trash would increase. Commissioners are expected to act on the second and final reading of the budget ordinance at the regular December legislative meeting.
Source: Daily Times; 11/18/2018
Lower Merion budget maintains tax rate
The 2019 Lower Merion Township proposed budget has been posted on the township’s website. The document recommends no increase in the township’s real estate tax millage rate for the eighth year in a row. If approved unchanged, the millage rate will remain at 4.19 mills. The 2019 budget includes a 10 percent increase in solid waste fees. The proposed annual fees for 2019 are: $237 for one mini-can per week; $338 for one container per week; $405 for two containers per week; and $67 for each additional can. The rear yard collection fee for trash and recycling placed more than five feet from the curb line will increase to $231. A second public hearing will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. in the township administration building and the budget is slated for adoption on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m.
Source: Lower Merion Township; 11/9/2018
Bryn Athyn to replace zoning ordinance
The Council of Bryn Athyn Borough will hold a public hearing on Monday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 2835 Buck Road, to consider adopting Ordinance 685, “Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map Amendment.” The proposed ordinance will repeal and replace the existing zoning ordinance and amend the zoning map. Ordinance 685 constitutes a comprehensive amendment to the existing zoning ordinance of the borough. The full text of the ordinance may be examined at borough hall during normal business hours, at the offices of The Intelligencer, and at the Montgomery County Law Library.
Source: The Intelligencer; 11/16/2018
Lower Frederick to consider Environmental Advisory Council
The Lower Frederick Township Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance to create an Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. at the Lower Frederick Township Municipal Building, 53 Spring Mount Road, Schwenksville. The ordinance provides for the appointment of seven volunteer members, who will be responsible for undertaking environmental tasks as requested by the board of supervisors for the promotion and conservation of the natural and historic resources of the township and for the protection and improvements to the quality of the environment within the township. A copy of the proposed ordinance is available at the township building during normal business hours.
Source: Montgomery Publishing Group; 11/2/2018
Taxes steady in Lower Salford
The proposed 2019 Lower Salford Township budget will hold the line on taxes for the fifth year in a row. If finalized with no changes, the millage rate will remain at 2.689 mills — or a tax of $529 for a home assessed at the township average of about $197,000. A mill is a tax of $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The $8.93 million budget is scheduled to be finalized at the Wednesday, Dec. 5, board meeting.
Source: Souderton Independent; 11/13/2018
Philly flush with cash thanks to business and real estate tax revenues
When the dust settled on Philadelphia's fiscal-year 2018 books, the city had five times the amount of money left over than it had expected — about $421 million. Administration officials quickly made use of the extra cash by moving $22 million into the pension fund and asking that the city council transfer $30 million into the capital budget to pay for needed projects. If the transfer goes through, the city would have a $369 million balance. The administration is planning to spend up to $73 million of that surplus on increasing city employees' minimum wage to $15 an hour and adding more affordable housing options over the next five years. A portion of the remainder may be put into the city's empty rainy-day fund. Kenney administration officials say they will consider such a deposit when budget negotiations commence next year. Municipal finance experts recommend that governments set aside money for emergency expenses, much as households are advised to do. The extra money, city spokesman Mike Dunn said, was a result of higher than expected revenues from the business income and receipts tax and real property transfer tax, as well as lower spending.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/13/2018
Tiny houses coming to city-owned land
Philadelphia is on track to begin construction of prefabricated tiny houses in Kensington, a new strategy for the city that advocates say could dramatically improve the region’s ability to respond to a growing shortage of decent, low-cost housing. If the plan comes to fruition, it will be the Philadelphia debut of a housing type that has captured the imagination of everyone from reality TV producers to minimalist architects and advocates seeking to end homelessness. With support from two city council members, a team of advocates led by Villanova University professor Stephanie Sena plans to construct a model unit on a 700 square-foot city-owned parcel of land at 2147 Orleans Street in Greater Kensington. A $75,000 no-interest loan to a nonprofit led by Sena, Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia, is paying for the pre-fab home. The loan will come from the personal bank account of Councilman Allan Domb. Councilman Domb “sees our work as an answer to rising housing prices,” said Sena, who teaches history. “We’ve applied for many grants and had a lot of success, but there are many corporations and funders that tell us they need to see a model first. This one property on Orleans Street will be the model we can use to get the funding we need to get more properties.” The City Council’s Vacant Property Review Committee approved the parcel’s transfer from the Philadelphia Land Bank to Sena’s group. Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a resolution in City Council to approve the transfer. To complete the process, Squilla’s resolution will have to be voted on and then, assuming the legislation moves forward, the Land Bank’s executive board will give final sign off at their December meeting, transferring the title from the city to the nonprofit. “To take people out of homelessness we need to put them into affordable housing, and I thought this was a better solution than spending $418,000 on an affordable home,” said Domb, who also owns one of the city’s top real estate brokerages.
Source: PlanPhilly; 11/21/2018