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 October 1, 2018

 

General News

Call for Action: Support the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account legislation
It’s time to tell legislators to move the First-Time Homebuyers Savings Account legislation before the session ends. The program would allow Pennsylvanians to save money toward the purchase of a home, and the money saved would qualify as a tax deduction on their state income tax. Parents and grandparents would be eligible to save for children and grandchildren, as well. Many first-time homebuyers need help overcoming some of the obstacles to homeownership. Low wages and college debt make it difficult for young people to save money to purchase their first home. Research conducted for PAR showed that 56% of Pennsylvanians identified college student loans as an obstacle to homeownership. Contact your legislators today with just a few clicks. For more information on the program, visit FirstHomePA.com.
Source: PARJustlisted; 9/25/2018

Killion introduces Pa. housing tax credit bill
State Sen. Tom Killion (R-9) recently introduced new legislation (SB 1185) to create a Pennsylvania state housing tax credit. “This new tax credit will incentivize private investment in new and existing affordable housing in the Commonwealth,” Killion said. “Affordable housing is an economic driver. It builds state and local tax bases, creates jobs, provides homes in proximity to workplaces, and revitalizes communities.” The state housing tax credit will be modeled after the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). A state housing tax credit will create a new resource that can be used in conjunction with LIHTC. Pennsylvania has an affordable housing crisis — for every 100 low-income households, there are only 66 affordable rental units, and for every 100 very low-income households, there are only 38 affordable units available.
Source: Daily Local News; 9/24/2018

Pa. School Data Project offers test scores, enrollment and financial info
The nonprofit Research for Action (RFA) spent more than six months collecting federal, state and local data to create the Pennsylvania School Data Project. The website hosts more than a dozen spreadsheets packed with education data, including student test scores, suspensions, enrollment and revenues. Data can be tracked from year to year, with the oldest data going back to the 2006-2007 school year. RFA plans to update the Pennsylvania School Data Project as new education information is released.
Source: Keystone Crossroads, WHYY.org; 9/25/2018

Reminder: Register to vote
The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 General Election is Tuesday, Oct. 9. Register to vote here.

Bucks County

Newtown Township moves to end Planned Residential Zoning approval
Newtown Township recently voted to stop using the Planned Residential Development (PRD) zoning approval process as a way of approving development plans submitted by builders. The PRD process is part of the Joint Municipal Zoning Ordinance (JMZO) also used by Upper Makefield and Wrightstown townships. Both municipalities have 30 days (from Sept. 12) to join Newtown and vote in favor of abolishing PRD approvals in order for the new ordinance to become law within the JMZO. The PRD process allowed the normal zoning channels to be bypassed by giving the supervisors sole authority to approve a development plan and giving developers a way to fast-track their projects. Newtown officials say the PRD process has outgrown its usefulness and, through time, has shown its flaws. “The PRD served its purpose but it doesn’t allow for full review by officials, consultants including the [Newtown] Planning Commission and the Bucks County Planning Commission,” said township solicitor David Sander.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 9/21/2018

Conceptual plan for 173 homes falls flat in Newtown Township
A conceptual plan by Toll Brothers to develop 152 acres of land on property currently owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia did not garner much support at a recent Newtown Township Board of Supervisors work session. The site borders Durham Road to the east, Twining Bridge Road to the north and west, Devonshire Meadows to the west, the Newtown Municipal Complex to the east, and All Saints Cemetery to the south. It was originally envisioned as part of All Saints Cemetery. Toll is proposing to build 173 homes — 85 front-entry carriage homes, 51 village homes and 37 single-family estate homes — and would require an amendment to the zoning district. The site is currently zoned Conservation Management. Toll proposes to preserve 77 acres of on-site open space and set aside 21 acres at Durham and Twining Bridge roads for dedication to the township or to the homeowners association as open space. Residents in attendance at the work session expressed concerns about traffic, stormwater and a possible deed restriction regarding future development of the tract. Supervisors listened and asked questions, but took no action and did not weigh in on the concept. Chairman Phil Calabro suggested that Toll go back to the drawing board with the recent comments, saying, “I know you can’t make everyone happy, but let’s try to make at least 90 percent happy.”
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 9/24/2018

Solebury quarry heading toward March closure
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gave an annual update to Solebury Township supervisors and residents on Sept. 18 regarding the New Hope Crushed Stone Quarry. The state has ordered the quarry’s reclamation and stream restoration of Primrose Creek to be completed by March 2019. According to Michael Menghini, DEP district mining manager, no quarry work can be done after March, although the company could continue to crush stone on the site or ship in rock to be crushed. Once-a-week blasting will start on the east wall in October in order to create a 35-degree incline. The blasting will continue until January or February, said Supervisor Kevin Morrissey. According to township solicitor Jordan Yeager, “The quarry hasn’t made clear to the township what they will do with [the property].” A suggestion from a resident that the township should buy the property was met with applause from the audience.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 9/21/2018

Council Rock sets public hearing on Rolling Hills renovation
Council Rock School District will hold a state-mandated public hearing on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. in the Chancellor Center, 30 N. Chancellor St., in Newtown Borough. The purpose of the hearing is to discuss and receive public comment on a proposed $21.37 million renovation and addition at Rolling Hills Elementary School. To cut down on construction time, the plan is to have Rolling Hills students attend the closed Richboro Middle School next year while Rolling Hills is being renovated. The school board had initially planned to close Rolling Hills Elementary but reversed that decision based on revised elementary school enrollment projections submitted by a demographer.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/24/2018

Chester County 

West Goshen gets grant to upgrade sewer treatment plant
West Goshen Sewer Authority will update its wastewater treatment plant to a more sustainable and green plant, which will lower power and chemical consumption. Variable frequency drives will be installed on each of the three 125-horsepower positive displacement blowers, replacing the outdated, inefficient dual-speed blowers. State Rep. Eric Roe (R-158) announced that the Commonwealth Financing Authority approved a $220,000 grant to make aerator basin improvements at the wastewater treatment plant located in West Goshen Township. “These improvements will enhance operations and sustainability, as well as meet new nutrient-reduction limits set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” Roe added. “This is especially important since the West Goshen Sewer Authority treats approximately five million gallons of raw sewage from five municipalities, including West Goshen, East Goshen, West Whiteland, Westtown and Thornbury townships, each day.” In reducing the overall electrical usage, operation costs will be reduced to the residents of the five townships connected to the system. The total project cost is about $325,000.
Source: Daily Local; 9/22/2018

Pension costs fuel possible tax hike in West Chester
West Chester Borough Council voted for a balanced 2019 budget that would raise the earned income tax 0.25 percent to 1.25 percent. The borough’s take would increase by 50 percent. The school district and borough currently evenly split the 1 percent levy. Outstanding pension costs have reached $15.2 million, with OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) totaling $4.4 million. OPEB covers medical insurance for retired police prior to their turning 65 or until they take another job. If made permanent, the 0.25 percent increase might pay off 85 percent of the debt within 11.5 years. A worker earning $25,000 per year now pays $250, and that would increase to $313. A $100,000 wage earner now is liable for $1,000 per year. That amount would jump to $1,250. Council also considered selling off the sewer treatment plant to a private company and using part of those proceeds to pay off the pension debt. Borough Manager Mike Perrone told council that the sale of the sewer treatment plant might pump an estimated $19 million to $39 million into borough coffers. Perrone said the borough could meet both the projected 11-year payoff and balance the budget without raising taxes, but would operate with “only minimum functions.” The borough now pays nearly the minimum required for the unfunded pension obligation.
Source: Daily Local; 9/24/2018

Oxford Sewer Authority agrees to sell sewer system
The Oxford Area Sewer Authority Board accepted an offer from Delaware County Regional Water Authority (Delcora) to purchase the system, though the deal has not yet been sealed. The Oxford authority board voted to authorize Executive Director David Busch to sign and return a purchase offer. All of the authority’s assets are included in the sale, including the sewer plant, collection lines and spray fields. The deal will also include the authority office building in Oxford and the vacant property on Reedville Road, both of which are currently offered for sale. The impending purchase does not impact the authority’s progress on selling those properties or their involvement in the construction of a new sewer line to the Nottingham area. Also unaffected is the new 6th Street Pumping Station project, which just received a $700,000 grant from the Chester County Department of Community Development. To purchase the system, Delcora will assume the authority’s $27 million USDA loan and pay the USDA the $1.2 million outstanding back payment the authority defaulted on last year. Under the agreement, Delcora will provide a three-year rate freeze for current sewer users, but tapping fees will not be frozen. Delcora will establish an advisory committee composed of area residents. It will also make employment offers to the four authority employees. If Delcora should decide at some future time to sell the system’s spray fields, the municipalities where the fields are located (Oxford Borough and Lower Oxford Township) would have right of first refusal to purchase the land.  Authority Solicitor Vince Pompo cautioned that this is not the final vote on the sale. “This is an outline of what the terms are. It’s not the final decision on if the authority decides to sell the asset,” he said. There is a 90-day target for preparing the purchase agreement, with 60 days from that point to purchase. One contingency to the sale is the USDA’s willingness to allow Delcora to take over Oxford’s debt. If that approval process takes more than 90 days, it could push back the sale date.
Source: Daily Local; 9/26/2018

Caln Township to require the registration of vacant properties
The Caln Township Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance requiring the registration of properties that are vacant for more than 45 consecutive days. These properties will have to be registered with the township and incur an annual fee to be paid on Nov. 1. Properties that are deemed “occupancy ready” and are actively for sale or lease shall be exempt from the registration fee.
Source: Caln Township; 9/13/2018

Delaware County

Clifton Heights residents concerned over possible loss of fields
Clifton Heights residents are concerned that they could be losing the borough athletic fields on Springfield Road to a new middle school. Three borough leaders — Mayor Joseph Lombardo Jr., Council President Ron Berry and Vice President Ed Martin — have vowed to fight the possibility of Upper Darby School District using the Springfield Road property to construct a new middle school. District officials said that while the district is mulling the cost and possible location for a new middle school, no final decisions have been made. Dana Spino, manager of media services for Upper Darby School District, said the school board began to explore costs associated with building a third middle school in April. “It’s part of a facilities study,” Spino said. Spino noted that a decision about building a third middle school anywhere in the district could only be made after that cost study was presented and analyzed, and there would be plenty of public discussion that would occur as a part of the decision-making process. According to school board meeting documents, the facilities committee provided the board and the public with 40 different scenarios to solve the current and future middle school enrollment needs. The committee’s recommendation to the board was to cost out a third middle school and consider either a concept school or a neighborhood school. The board agreed to move forward with costing out a new middle school with at least 500 students. The location and type of middle school has not yet been determined. According to officials, the Clifton property is currently used by youth groups and the Police Athletic League for football, baseball, cheerleading, auto shows, Fourth of July fireworks, and a multitude of other activities including nighttime movies and flea markets. A children’s playground and walking track also provide recreation options for all ages. The next meetings of the school board are on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m. for work and business sessions, and on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 6 p.m. for education/pupil services and finance/operations committees in the high school, 601 N. Lansdowne Ave.
Source: Daily Times; 9/26/2018

Development of Raven Motel site moves to zoning board
The potential development of the Raven Motel property on East State Street may face opposition from residents as it goes before the Media Borough zoning hearing board. Borough council had considered sending its solicitor to oppose the developer’s application, eventually deciding against it. Several residents who live near the site have raised concerns about traffic and parking, which they predict would result from the proposed multi-use commercial and residential building. The site is located in the HBO (Highway, Business, Office) district, so retail or office space would be required on the ground floor. According to project architect Bob Linn, the sole relief being sought for the development is to increase the three-story limit to four floors. Linn explained the engineering challenge of needing a certain height for office/retail use, while the three upper floors of apartments required less height and could meet the 40-foot limit. “I like the idea of mixed use,” said Councilman Paul Robinson. “I would be more concerned if it was all office.” A traffic study is not required due to the smaller size of the project. The application has been seen by the Community Development Committee, and the planning commission recommended not opposing the zoning relief. The zoning hearing board is a fully independent body that makes decisions based on the merits of the case and law.
Source: Daily Times; 9/25/2018

County Council to hold meeting in Upper Chichester
Delaware County Council will once again hold a meeting in the community with the goal of providing residents with more options to interact with their county government leaders. Council will hold its weekly public meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 6 p.m. at the Upper Chichester Township Building, 8500 Furey Road, Upper Chichester. The offsite meeting is part of council’s ongoing efforts to enhance communication with residents by taking meetings out into the community. The off-site meetings help residents become more involved with their local government, and gives the council opportunities to highlight events and accomplishments of the local residents, groups and leaders. The Oct. 3 meeting will be the 28th off-site meeting council has held since it began the program in 2009.
Source: Delaware County; 9/25/2018

Countywide reassessment process continues
Data Collection is underway in areas of Yeadon, Colwyn, Sharon Hill, Folcroft, Glenolden, Norwood, Prospect Park, Tinicum, Eddystone, Ridley Park, Ridley Township, Rutledge, Morton, Swarthmore and Springfield as part of Delaware County’s Tax Reassessment Project. Delaware County has set up a website and video to educate residents and answer questions about the project. A Reassessment Hotline has also been set up for residents to call with any questions or concerns: 610-891-5695.
Source: Delaware County; 9/26/2018

Montgomery County

North Penn approves full-day kindergarten for 2019-2020
The North Penn School District school board voted 8-1 to begin a full-day kindergarten program in all 13 North Penn elementary schools for the 2019-2020 school year. Full-day kindergarten has been discussed in the district since 2017, with talks progressing through the board’s education, community and policy committees for the past year. The additional cost for the district is estimated to be about $3.2 million to cover about 27 new teachers and aides — or about 2 percent of the district’s $260 million annual budget. “This is a landmark moment,” said school board member Christian Fusco. “We are about to provide high-quality, full-day kindergarten programs to all of our students across the district.” Click here for an informational page about the North Penn School District full-day kindergarten program, including frequently asked questions and registration dates.
Source: The Reporter; 9/24/2018

Limerick Township ends low-income repair program
In a reversal of an earlier decision, Limerick Township supervisors recently decided not to apply for another round of federal Community Development Block Grant funding to support a local low-income housing repair program. Township Manager Dan Kerr reviewed the program with supervisors in June and reported that federal bureaucracy surrounding the program has made the program unsustainable for the township. The rules for the projects — prevailing wage, ensuring women-and minority-owned businesses are among the bidders, and requirements that contractors hire low-income workers for the projects — however well-intentioned, have strained township finances. In July, supervisors decided to keep the program running for one more year but then backed off that decision as the application deadline approached. According to Kerr, the township still has about $250,000 remaining in the account that can be used to help rehabilitate low-income homes after it runs out, but that will still require spending about $20,000 to $30,000 of township funds. In the future, Limerick Township homeowners will still be able to apply for assistance through the low-income repair program run by Montgomery County, but they will be competing against applicants from throughout the county.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 9/24/2018

Free Citizens’ Leadership Academy classes start Oct. 4 in Norristown
Norristown will focus on education, leadership development and communication dynamics in the sixth Citizens’ Leadership Academy (CLA) scheduled to begin Thursday, Oct. 4. The free, eight-week academy is a series of classes offered to Norristown residents to help develop skills as community leaders and an understanding of how municipal government operates. Classes will be held on Thursdays, starting Oct. 4, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the municipal building. Participants must complete a minimum of six of the eight classes to receive the CLA certificate. Participants must be 18 years of age or older. Click here for more information.
Source: Times Herald; 9/24/2018

Lower Gwynedd to consider tall grass and weeds ordinance
Lower Gwynedd supervisors will hold a public hearing during their regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the township building, 1130 N. Bethlehem Pike, Spring House, to consider enactment of a proposed “Brush, Weeds and Grass” ordinance. The proposed ordinance will ensure that brush, weeds and grass are satisfactorily maintained within the township. The proposed ordinance can be reviewed on the township website.
Source: The Reporter; 9/24/2018

Philadelphia

Pa. Supreme Court restores Philly's right to issue fines for boarded windows and doors
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has given Philadelphia back its favorite blight-fighting tool. In a Sept. 13 ruling, state justices reaffirmed the city’s ability to force property owners to maintain the appearances of their vacant buildings, reversing a 2015 lower court ruling. The case centers on the city’s “Doors and Windows” ordinance, which the Department of Licenses and Inspections began enforcing in 2011 as a means to reduce the number of unkempt, boarded-up buildings in Philadelphia neighborhoods. The regulation intends to serve as a hedge against creeping neighborhood blight. It requires owners on blocks where 80 percent of buildings are occupied to install operable windows and doors on empty structures, instead of just boarding them up. To compel action, L&I inspectors prominently place a scarlet sticker on the buildings of noncompliant owners. If that doesn’t provoke changes, they go to a special “blight court” set up under the auspices of the Common Pleas Court where fines are negotiated under the eye of a judge. Those owners who don’t comply could be hit with fines of $300 daily per every window and door that remains boarded or open to the elements. “This was an intentional tool for stopping the disinvestment spiral,” said Alexander Balloon, director of the Tacony Community Development Corporation, which submitted an amicus brief in support of the city. “It was particularly important in middle neighborhoods where you have one house on a block that gets boarded up, and then the next one and the next one.” Property owners who showed up for blight court had a compliance rate of 75 percent, making for 1,284 properties that were fixed up under the regulation when the ordinance was enforced from 2011 to 2015. Epidemiologists and criminologists at University of Pennsylvania’s medical school found the ordinance resulted in a significant decrease in both serious and nuisance crimes within a half-mile of buildings where property owners cleaned up their properties. With the Supreme Court ruling on its side, L&I will redouble efforts to crack down on vacancy.
Source: Plan Philly; 9/25/2018

Philadelphia to overhaul property seizure law
As part of the settlement of a 2014 class action lawsuit brought against the city, the district attorney’s office, police and other officials, Philadelphia has agreed to overhaul its civil forfeiture laws. The city’s civil forfeiture law allows law enforcement officials to confiscate property if someone is suspected of a crime. The lawsuit alleges that the law violates defendants’ due process because of the lack of oversight and a financial incentive for the confiscations. Philadelphia was averaging about $5.6 million in property seizures per year, according to the Institute for Justice, which filed the lawsuit. Two consent decrees will have to be approved by a federal judge as part of the settlement agreement. The first decree addresses what the existing and future proceeds for forfeitures can fund. The proceeds will no longer pay salaries for prosecutors or law enforcement personnel, and instead will cover drug treatment and prevention programs. The second decree would limit what law enforcement officials can confiscate, prohibit the seizure of property for simple drug possession, bar the seizure of less than $1,000 in cash unless there is an arrest or evidence of illegal activity, and prohibit defendants from forfeiting cash less than $250 to the district attorney’s office, among other changes.
Source: Times Herald; 9/19/2018


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