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 16, 2017

 

General News

State announces school tax increase limits for 2018-19
School districts in Pennsylvania now know how high they will be allowed to raise property taxes for the 2018-19 school year, after the Pennsylvania Department of Education released Act 1 indices for approximately 500 districts. The Act 1 index is used to determine the maximum tax increase percentage a district can levy before going to a ballot referendum or filing a referendum exception with the department. The Act 1 base level dropped 0.1 percentage points from last year to 2.4 percent. Districts have free rein to raise taxes any amount up to their index. If a school district wishes to raise taxes a percentage over its mandated index, it can be voted on by district residents by referendum, or a referendum exception may be filed with the state if the district needs to raise taxes higher due to retirement contributions, special education expenditures or school-construction debt. Filing for an exception does not automatically mean a district will ultimately raise taxes over its index. Created in 2006, the Act 1 index was signed into law to “ease the financial burden of home ownership by providing school districts the means to lower property taxes to homeowners” by way of gaming revenues. The list of 2018-19 indices are available in an Excel spreadsheet on the state Department of Education’s Property Tax Relief website.
Source: Daily Times; 10/5/2017

Tax reform by the numbers
Realtors® are on high alert that tax reform could threaten most of the tax benefits of owning a home. Since its inception, the American income tax system has recognized the favorable effects of homeownership for families, communities and society by incentivizing homebuyers with tax benefits. In May, the National Association of Realtors® released a comprehensive study of the impacts of tax reform on home owners that was prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Middle-income homeowners could be worse off under proposals that limit tax incentives for homeownership. Analysis from PwC of a tax reform plan modeled on the “blueprint” released by Republicans shows that home-owning families with incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would face average tax hikes of $815 in the year after enactment, while non-homeowners in the same income range would enjoy average annual tax cuts of $516. The average taxpayer in Pennsylvania saves $1,820 through the mortgage interest deduction (MID) and $1,260 in the real estate tax  deduction (RET) annually. If the MID and real estate tax deductions were eliminated, the loss would not be a one-year event; homeowners would lose out on a potential savings each year. NAR has completed an analysis of the average amount deducted as a result of the MID/real estate tax deduction by Congressional District through this interactive map.
Source: nar.realtor; 10/2017

Bucks County

Tullytown preliminary budget holds taxes at current level
Tullytown Borough’s proposed 2018 budget is available for inspection at the Tullytown Municipal Building, 500 Main St., Tullytown. The 2018 budget will be considered for adoption at the Borough Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov.14, at 7 p.m. at the municipal building. The proposed 2018 Tax Levy Ordinance will also be considered at the Nov. 14 meeting immediately following adoption of the budget. The proposed tax rates to be levied on real property for fiscal year 2018 are the same as last year at 7.5 mills for general purposes, 2 mills for street lighting, and 2 mills for fire protection.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/10/2017

Doylestown Township to apply for sewer project loan
Doylestown Township supervisors approved a resolution that will allow the township to proceed with applying for a Pennvest loan to help fund a new sewer project. The sewer project will impact more than 250 residents of the Pebble Ridge and Woodridge roads area, where township officials say failing septic systems are posing potential environmental and health hazards. In July, Joe Van Houten, a representative of the township’s water and sewer advisory committee, estimated the costs for the loan to homeowners was estimated at $155 to $165 per month. Pennvest is a state-run program providing low-cost financial assistance for sewer, storm water and drinking water projects. For more information about the sewer project, visit the township’s website, www.doylestownpa.org.
Source: The Intelligencer; 10/5/2017

Potential quarry expansion worries West Rockhill residents
The H&K Group/Naceville Materials Quarry has applied to have the West Rockhill Township zoning map and comprehensive plan amended so that an area currently zoned for residential conservation would become zoned for extraction. The prospect of a new area being mined at the site, located on the 2000 block of Ridge Road, has nearby residents and businesses concerned about water quality and levels, increased noise and traffic from quarry operations, and sediment pollution in nearby waterways and wetlands, as well as habitat disruption. The West Rockhill Board of Supervisors will make the final decision on whether to approve the rezoning and expansion after the township Planning Commission completes a review on the request. Visit the township website for more information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/4/2017

Bucks County Board of Elections relocates three polling places
During the Oct. 4 meeting of the Bucks County Board of Elections, the board approved the relocation of three polling places. The relocations affect Bristol Township District 5-1, Doylestown Township District 1 and Doylestown Township District 8. Voters in those districts will be notified by mail of the change. Click here for the press release and locations. Detailed information about the county’s 306 voting districts is available on the Board of Elections pages on the county website, www.BucksCounty.org.  
Source: Bucks County; 10/6/2017


Chester County 

Construction set to begin on SteelTown Village in Phoenixville
Construction is ready to begin on an affordable 48-unit housing rental development in Phoenixville. SteelTown Village is being developed on 3.2 acres at Mason and Wheatland streets. The development is comprised of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units, which will house a diverse population of the elderly, military veterans, persons with disabilities and workforce families. The units will be constructed as three-story walk-ups over flats. All the accessible units will be on the ground level, and all units will have private entrances. Petra Community Housing (PCH) is the developer of the nearly $13 million project, which was proposed in response to the need for more housing options for lower-income residents in Phoenixville. “This little nonprofit — Petra Community Housing — did what appeared to be impossible a few years ago,” said PCH Director Steve Kambic. It has taken several years for SteelTown Village to get to this point — the groundbreaking ceremony followed numerous meetings, environmental analysis and soil remediation. Final approval for the project was given by Phoenixville Borough Council in March.
Source: Daily Local; 10/4/2017

Coatesville’s Iconic Lipkin building razed to usher in new era
The iconic Lipkin building, built in 1897, was demolished late last week to make room for a revitalization project in Coatesville. “When it was built, it was the most modern building in Chester County, maybe the most modern building in the entire state,” said Jeff Deacon, a Coatesville architect. “The entire façade was all glass and steel, which today we associate with skyscrapers. But that was one of the very first glass and steel buildings. It was revolutionary.” The 35,000-square-foot Lipkin store was one of five buildings being razed on the north side of the 100 block of East Lincoln Highway to make way for a $21 million revitalization project. The project is anticipated to create 90 permanent jobs and 200 construction jobs with much of the workforce coming from Coatesville residents, according to James DePetris, developer. The new buildings will have 17,000 square feet of retail space and an equal amount of office space on the second floor. Kangaroo Land Childcare Center has signed a lease to move into the new development. The state has supported the project with more than $5 million in grants and loans. The project also has the backing of the county commissioners. “If Coatesville comes up in any conversation, say, ‘I hear great things are happening, they are turning it around and check it out for yourself,’” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline.
Source: Daily Local; 10/8/2017

Riverkeeper protests Bishop Tube development
Developer Brian O’Neill, and his companies, O’Neill Developers and Constitution Drive Partners, want to partially clean up and remediate the Bishop Tube site after applying for and then securing a $1 million state grant. The developer wants to build more than 200 townhouses at the 13.5-acre Brownfield site. The former metals processing plant opened in 1971 and closed nearly two decades ago. The site is contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), which is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Maya van Rossum, director of nonprofit Delaware Riverkeeper Network, recently discussed the perceived health, property and environmental dangers associated with the Bishop Tube Site at a community meeting. Van Rossum favors a full cleanup of the site, with no development. Van Rossum is opposed to the developer applying for $1 million dollars of state funding earmarked to partially remediate the site. She instead wants the businesses that created the high level of TCEs to fully clean up the site.
Source: Daily Local; 10/8/2017

26 miles of state highway to be resurfaced
The Wolf Administration announced that construction has begun on a project to repair and resurface 26 miles of state highways in Chester County. Motorists are advised to allow extra time when traveling through the work zone because slowdowns will occur. The affected highways will include: Route 30 in West Caln, West Brandywine, Caln and Valley townships; Route 41 in Avondale Borough and New Garden and London Grove townships; Route 472 in Elk and East Nottingham townships; Valley Forge Road in Tredyffrin Township; Worthington Road in West Pikeland Township; Street Road in Upper Oxford Township; Main Street/Green Street/Swan Road/Upper Valley Road in Atglen; and Wagontown Road in West Caln and West Brandywine townships. Work on the project is expected to be completed in summer 2018. A summary of road restrictions in the five-county Philadelphia region is available by visiting www.penndot.gov/District6.
Source: Daily Local; 10/11/2017

Delaware County

Radnor Zoning Hearing Board nixes Villanova University plan for sports dome
A proposed plan by Villanova University to put a large, inflated dome over an artificial turf field on its West Campus was rejected 3-2 by the Radnor Township Zoning Hearing Board after a hearing Sept. 28. Nicholas Caniglia, a lawyer for the university, said the 65-foot high dome would be used from Nov. 1 to April 1 each year, so that athletes from several teams would have a place to practice indoors on campus. The dome would be removed during the summer months and stored off-site. The university had sought a variance to the township’s 38-foot height limit for buildings for the 370-foot-long-by-220-foot-wide seasonal structure limit. Yeadon, the dome manufacturer, would make the temporary dome in the color of clay or putty to blend into the surroundings. Chris Kovolski, assistant vice president for government relations and external affairs, said the dome was needed to provide an indoor practice space for varsity teams during inclement weather and for students who play club sports, as well. University officials met with the neighbors on Hilldale and Wistar roads and even set up a crane to demonstrate the height of the dome, he said. They offered to plant 87 evergreen trees as a buffer and shield lights from the dome. Residents expressed concerns relating to light pollution, noise and the height of the structure.
Source: Main Line Media Times; 10/3/2017

Changes to Concord Township staff and council announced
Amanda Serock has been presented as the new Concord Township manager. Serock succeeds Brenda Lamanna, who was appointed to the post in January 2015. Serock previously worked for three years as township manager of neighboring Chadds Ford. “I’m really excited to be working for the township,” she said. “I’m anxious to get to know all the residents.” In another change to township leadership, Gail Ryan announced her resignation from the council. The opening will be advertised in local newspapers and on the township website. A replacement should be appointed within 30 days of the official resignation, said Township Solicitor Hugh Donaghue. Additionally, township council, formed this year with the passage of the home rule charter, will expand from five to seven members in 2018.
Source: Daily Times; 10/7/2017

Middletown sees growth rising from the rubble of Granite Run Mall
Construction is well underway to turn the former Granite Run Mall in Middletown into the Promenade at Granite Run, a combination of residential, retail and entertainment uses. The mixed-use development will include shops, restaurants, entertainment, medical offices and apartments, augmented by the existing department stores and supermarket. In some sections, work has already been completed; doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care are seeing patients as the first tenant in the portion along Baltimore Pike, which is scheduled to formally open Wednesday, Oct. 25. “As of the last two weeks, we are 86 percent leased,” said Michael Markman, president of Horsham-based BET Investments, during a recent presentation to Middletown Township Council. “We expect to be 92 percent leased by the end of this year and filled and leased by Jan. 31.” Approved by council in November 2015, the redevelopment of the 58-acre site is the culmination of a project begun two years earlier when BET Investments acquired the property. Like an estimated 15 percent of American malls, Granite Run was unable to continue attracting those who once considered the 125 storefronts to be destination shopping. With a town center concept, Promenade at Granite Run aims to meet the social, shopping, fitness and transportation needs of its residents and other former mallgoers. Promenade at Granite Run has been designed as a walkable community surrounded by a trail connected to the township building and library. Residents also will benefit from the improvements proposed as part of the anticipated Franklin Mint/Ponds Edge developments and SEPTA’s new Wawa train station. Council has applied for a state Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) grant that could provide up to $350,000 annually for a maximum of 20 years to finance qualified development or infrastructure upgrades.
Source: Daily Times; 10/8/2017

Moody’s upgrades Haverford’s credit rating
Moody’s Investors Services recently upgraded Haverford Township’s rating from Aa2 to Aa1. The rating signifies “high quality and very low credit risk.” Announcing the good news at a recent commissioners work session, Finance Committee Chairman Larry Holmes said the upgrade “is only one step away from the coveted Aaa rating,” an indicator of “highest quality and lowest credit risk.” Holmes noted that only 10 percent of the 2,561 municipalities in Pennsylvania have Aa2 or Aaa ratings. Finance Director Aimee Cuthbertson explained the implication to taxpayers, “It’s very similar to an individual with a higher credit rating getting better interest rates on mortgages and car loans. We’ll get better interest rates on our borrowing, saving the township money.” Holmes added that the upgrade can make refinancing existing debt “a profitable exercise.” According to information on Moody’s website, the township’s upgrade reflects its “large, mature tax base with well above average wealth levels, strong resident income profile, healthy financial position bolstered by conservative budgeting practices, and average debt and pension liabilities relative to national peers.”
Source: Daily Times; 10/8/2017

Montgomery County

Hatfield Township approves tax cut for firefighters
Last year, the state legislature passed Act 172 of 2016 which allows municipalities to lower certain taxes for volunteer firefighters and other emergency personnel as incentive for those groups to find and keep members. Hatfield Township passed a plan that will provide volunteer firefighters a credit of up to $500 on township earned income taxes, along with a 20 percent reduction in township real estate taxes. Township Manager Aaron Bibro said the amounts were the maximum allowed under the legislation. “Hypothetically, if a volunteer firefighter makes less than $100,000, and owns a house in Hatfield Township at the average assessed value, which is about $150,000, that volunteer firefighter, next year, will pay roughly $570 less next year than the average person did this year,” said Bibro. The credit will be available to roughly 35 to 45 firefighters and will cost the township an estimated $20,000 per year.
Source: The Reporter; 10/1/2017

Lansdale early budget shows deficit
Lansdale Borough Finance Director John Ramey recently reported that nine out of 10 borough funds are completely balanced for 2018 budget preparation. Ramey said the general fund is the only out-of-balance fund where expenses exceed revenue by about $611,000. “We will be trying to cut as much as possible, and looking at alternatives to make up that shortfall,” he continued. The biggest variable left before finalizing the 2018 planned budget is health insurance costs, and Ramer expects to have those figures pinned down around mid-October. The 2018 budget could also be impacted by numbers from the 2017 budget, which Ramey said is shaping up to finish at or ahead of projections from last year.
Source: The Reporter; 10/10/2017

Open house for Route 309 connector in Souderton
An open house for the long-planned connector between Route 309 and Sumneytown Pike will be held Thursday, Oct. 19, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Souderton Area High School cafeteria, 625 Lower Road in Souderton. Originally planned to be completed in one phase, the project went to two phases and then three phases, said Souderton Borough Council President Brian Goshow. The second phase is the subject of the open house, and it will extend the connector to Township Line Road on the Franconia/Hatfield border. Drawings and information about the planned work will be on display, and feedback from residents will be taken. Borough officials expect the completed connector route to remove much of the tractor trailer traffic now using Main Street in Souderton as part of the route to local plants.
Source: The Reporter; 10/11/2017

Work begins on DeKalb Street townhomes in Norristown
Progressive Housing Ventures of Malvern is in the last stages of demolition at the former home of Ersine Tennis Club at 1529 DeKalb St. in Norristown. The developer has planned 34 “stacked” townhomes for the site, known as Arbor Knoll. Sarah Peck, founder and CEO of Progressive Housing Ventures, expects a model home to be ready next spring and the entire project to be completed by spring 2019. Targeting first-time homebuyers with special financing offers, the average price is anticipated to be $175,000. The townhomes will also offer a single-level model created to appeal to seniors, and all will have garages. The development is the third along DeKalb Street in Norristown for Progressive Housing Ventures.
Source: Times Herald; 10/10/2017

Philadelphia

Anti-foreclosure bill advances
Philadelphia City Council has advanced amendments to legislation passed last June that would reduce tax foreclosures, but that was never enacted due to a quirk of legislative timing. The bill, championed by Council President Darrell Clarke, was the subject of negotiations with Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration over the summer. Clarke’s bill is meant to cover the 13 percent of Philadelphia homeowners who live in deep poverty, defined as a household income half that of the federal poverty level ($28,290 for a family of four). It creates a tax foreclosure diversion program, one modeled on the city’s successful mortgage foreclosure diversion program. It would also allow low-income homeowners to defer payment of the taxes they don’t have the cash on-hand to cover, thus keeping them out of foreclosure and in their homes. Supporters of the original legislation argued that the Revenue Department had substantially increased enforcement against low-income tax delinquent homeowners in recent years, especially in majority-minority neighborhoods. Clarke’s office produced numbers showing that tax foreclosure petitions had greatly increased in the past half-decade, with more than 10,000 being filed annually in recent years. The average amount owed by these impoverished homeowners is about $5,000, but according to Clarke, foreclosing on them would cost the city nearly triple that amount in additional social services.
Source: Plan Philly; 9/28/2017

Two tenant-protection bills introduced to council
Tenant protection bills dominated the agenda in recent City Council meetings. Curtis Jones introduced a bill to institute “just cause” eviction protection for renters. Jones’ bill would prevent landlords from evicting a tenant upon the expiration of a lease without “good cause.” Even if there is justification for the eviction, the landlord would be required to inform the tenant that they’ll have to move no later than 30 days prior to the expiration of the lease or the date of the eviction. Democratic Majority Leader Bobby Henon promoted his own reform, a bill that would require landlords to provide their rental license information as part of a lease with a tenant. It would also require that the contact information for the Department of Licenses and Inspections be provided so that tenants could verify the information. Henon’s office stated that the purpose of the bill is to ensure landlord transparency and demonstrate that they are in compliance with basic laws governing the renting of property in the city. Both bills seemed to surprise both tenant and landlord interest groups.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 10/6/2017 & 10/11/2017


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