NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Senate GOP halts fixes for Pa.’s troubled rent relief program, surprising even their own

Bucks County
Falls Township issues new U&O fact sheet, but process remains too burdensome

Chester County
Chester County initiative will support families and child care providers

Delaware County
Middletown to consider update to the comprehensive plan

Montgomery County
No tax hike in Upper Pottsgrove budget draft

Philadelphia County
City council proposes 1% construction tax, but also a delay in reducing property tax abatement

 

News Briefs Archive October 19, 2020

 

General News

With rental reforms stalled in the legislature, Wolf announces a workaround
Gov. Tom Wolf has issued new guidelines for landlords and mortgage lenders on Tuesday to allow them to enter repayment plans with tenants and homeowners who pay more than $750 a month for housing and who have lost income due to COVID-19. The change provides a workaround to a provision in state law that caps housing assistance payments at $750 a month. Housing advocates say that limitation has rendered the program basically useless, since housing costs in most parts of the state exceed $750 a month and the program required landlords to forgive the balance. Read more here.
Source: Pennsylvania Capital Star; 10/13/2020 

Landlords are getting squeezed between tenants and lenders
Many landlords, like their tenants, have fallen on hard times during the coronavirus outbreak. Small landlords are particularly at risk, and many of them are borrowing money from relatives or dipping into personal savings to meet their mortgage payments. Bigger landlords have more options. The nation’s biggest mall owner, Simon Property Group, is in talks to buy J.C. Penney, a move that would prevent the department store chain from going under and causing Simon to lose one of its biggest tenants. Michael Hamilton, a Los Angeles-based real estate partner at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, said he expects to see more retail and other commercial landlords going to court to collect back rent as they get squeezed between lenders and tenants. Residential landlords are also fighting back against a Trump administration eviction moratorium that protects certain tenants through the end of 2020. Apartment dwellers and other residential tenants in the U.S. owe roughly $25 billion in back rent, and that will reach nearly $70 billion by year’s end, according to an estimate in August by Moody’s Analytics. An estimated 30 million to 40 million people in the U.S. could be at risk of eviction in the next several months, according to an August report by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit organization. Read more here.
Source: AP News; 10/13/2020 

PAR names new director of public policy and political affairs
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors (PAR) has announced that its Public Policy and Political Affairs Department has been reorganized and will proceed under new leadership. Sherri Martin has been named the department’s new director, and she will also be responsible for coordinating the operations of the Pennsylvania Realtors® Political Action Committee (RPAC). PAR CEO Mike McGee said, “With Sherri as the director, we have someone who understands the issues, the members and has a strong political acumen. I have every confidence that she will take our program to the next level, while amplifying the team-oriented culture we strive to build within our organization.” Martin has worked with PAR for six years managing RPAC fundraising efforts, which have reached record levels in the past several years. Prior to working with PAR, she worked for eight years as the government affairs director for Greater Harrisburg Association of Realtors®. She is a graduate of Lebanon Valley College. Martin said, “Advocating for Realtors® and consumers over the last 14 years has been a privilege, and I look forward to leading our advocacy efforts and working with our strong team at PAR and the local association government affairs directors to achieve the members’ goals.” Wayne Crawford and new hire Jeff Dempsey both serve as public policy managers, representing PAR’s lobbying efforts at the state Capitol. Savannah Beeler, public policy and political programs manager, will be responsible for representing PAR with regulatory agencies and managing independent expenditures. And Chuck Liedike will oversee the field representative program as well as grassroots operations.
Source: PAR JustListed; 10/5/2020 

Realtor® election resources
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance has updated its Elections Page and will continue to provide information relating to voting and the upcoming election. The page notes important deadlines, has information on voting via mail, and provides answers to frequently asked questions and links to other resources. It also links to the Pennsylvania Realtors® Political Action Committee (RPAC) voter guide, with information on RPAC-supported candidates. 

Election experts advise against voiding your mail-in ballot to vote in person
Some anxious Philly voters who requested mail-in ballots now want to vote in person instead — and the trend has some experts worried that these Election Day audibles could do more harm than good. Voters that already received mail-in ballots have the option to instead vote using a machine on Election Day by signing an affidavit at a polling place and having their mail-in ballot voided. Election officials have said that doing so could slow down the voting process. Read more in the WHYY article. Lists of ballot drop box locations have been posted by: Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County and Montgomery County, although the Delaware County list does not yet include municipal boxes currently being installed. A statewide list of drop boxes can be found at Votes PA.
Source: WHYY; 10/9/2020

Bucks County

Solebury officials review 2021 budget needs
Solebury Township supervisors recently began discussions on the 2021 budget. Assistant Township Manager Michele Blood reported that the administration is asking for a one-mill tax increase due to debt incurred from the $12 million open space referendum approved in 2019. Township real estate tax receipts through Aug. 31 were not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but earned income tax collections are about $62,000 below this time last year. Blood said the township is likely to feel the revenue shortfall related to the pandemic next year and will budget with that in mind. Police Chief Dominick Bellizzie presented the police budget to the supervisors and remarked that the budget is the same as it has been for the past 15 years with no anticipated increase. Solebury Township meeting agendas can be found here. The township’s meetings continue to be virtual. Click here for attendance and public comment information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/8/2020 

NWWA seeks information from Warrington well owners
The North Wales Water Authority (NWWA) is seeking information about previous and current well contamination issues in Warrington. The NWWA recently received notice of several grant awards to be used in 2021 and 2022 to assist Warrington property owners with contaminated wells. The work under the grants is not restricted to the Air National Guard Study Area and permits the extension of public water mains to serve areas with PFAS-contaminated wells, connect properties with contaminated wells to the public water system at little or no cost to the property owner, conduct PFAS testing of wells, and assist property owners with the costs of decommissioning contaminated wells. Click here (PDF) for contact information.
Source: Warrington Township 

Bucks, Montco first responders share $3.4M in COVID grants
Gov. Tom Wolf’s office announced that $50 million worth of grant funding was awarded by the Office of State Fire Commissioner to fire and EMS services across the state to offset coronavirus-related expenses. About 70 fire and EMS services in Bucks County will receive approximately $1.5 million in funding. About 85 Montgomery County fire and EMS services will share about $1.9 million in funding. The grant money must be used for operational and equipment expenses, which include utilities, insurance, fuel, lost revenue due to pandemic restrictions and cleaning expense. The full list of recipients statewide can be found on the state website (PDF).
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/10/2020

Pennsbury superintendent to retire at end of school year
Pennsbury Superintendent William Gretzula has announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Gretzula has been with the district for four years and said he is leaving for health reasons.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/17/2020

Chester County 

Kennett Township starts budget talks
Kennett Township supervisors are hearing 2021 budget requests, including for new positions in the public works, zoning and police departments, and the creation of a police department scholarship program. Also included is a request to look at space and mold issues in the current township building. At a virtual meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 21, supervisors will review expense budgets for community and economic development, fire and ambulance, and other items requested by the community. “We anticipate when we add up all the requests, there will need to be some changes and tough decisions,” township finance director Amy Heinrich said. One of the main budget requests for the planning and zoning department is to hire an in-house building inspector and a planner. Hicks said an in-house inspector could also be the deputy zoning officer, “enabling proactive code enforcement.”
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 10/12/2020 

Larger groups now allowed at private residences in West Chester
West Chester Mayor Dianne Herrin has amended the borough’s state of emergency. Residents can now request to gather in groups of up to 25 people, instead of being capped at 10 as per the original emergency declaration. People in public places and less than six feet apart are still required to wear a mask or face a $300 fine, unless eating or drinking. Residents wishing to request gatherings of more than 10 people can email Emily Pisano at EPisano@west-chester.com. The West Chester Police Department will be notified in advance of all approved gatherings.
Source: Daily Local; 10/13/2020 

Trail feasibility committee to host public meeting
The second and final public meeting about the Southern Chester County Circuit Trail Feasibility Study will provide the public an opportunity to give feedback on the draft trail alignment, suggest trailhead locations, and give input on potential connector routes between important destinations and the proposed trail. The meeting will take place on Thursday, Oct. 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. via Zoom. View more meeting details and register on the event page.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission; October 2020 

Mail-in ballot drop boxes available in Chester County
Mail-in ballot drop-off boxes opened around the county today at several Chester County public libraries. For a list of locations, and other important election information, visit the county elections website.
Source: Chester County; 10/14/2020

Delaware County

Upper Darby leaders unresponsive as residents and Realtors® struggle with broken U&O system
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance (SRA) is calling on Upper Darby Township to fix its broken use and occupancy process. A survey of Realtors® who have recently done business in the township showed that 80% of them found the process difficult, and 53% said municipal staff did not return emails or phone calls. “This is not a trivial matter, as it is creating serious hardship for sellers, buyers and the real estate professionals who are attempting to provide their services to current and future residents,” said Jamie Ridge, SRA president and CEO. In August, the SRA sent a letter to Mayor Barbarann Keffer, Township Council President Laura Wentz and Township Administrator Vince Rongione to share the survey results and discuss ways to improve the situation. None of them responded or acknowledged the message. On Oct. 1, Ridge sent a similar email to members of township council. One council member, Donald Bonnett (1st District), responded that he had personally intervened on behalf of Realtors® and a property owner who were receiving no response from the township’s Department of Licenses and Inspections. “We’re not seeing this level of dysfunction anywhere else in the Philadelphia suburbs, and there’s simply no explanation for it,” Ridge said. “I’m optimistic about working together with the township to make the situation better. But before that can happen, the leadership has to acknowledge there’s a problem they want to fix.” Read more on the SRA blog.

Delaware County Council to resume in-person meetings on Oct. 21
After months of Zoom meetings, Delaware County Council will return to its public meeting room. In March, council moved to virtual meetings, in accordance with guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. At one point in the summer, members attempted to have one in-person meeting with socially distanced, masked attendants. However, they returned to the Zoom set-up because the masks made it difficult to hear them speak, particularly by those viewing the livestreaming. Livestreaming of the meetings both on the county website and the council Facebook page will still be available. The county has been working to install a new audio/visual system in the council room that should allow viewers to see and hear the proceedings more clearly. Residents who wish to attend the meetings will be screened prior to entering the building and will be required to wear a mask in the building. In-person attendance will be limited to room capacity under the coronavirus guidelines.
Source: Daily Times; 10/9/2020 

Delaware County small business survey
The Delaware County Commerce Center is partnering with the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia on a 2020 Small Business Credit Survey (SBCS). The annual survey is part of a national effort to provide timely information on small business financing needs, decisions and outcomes to policymakers, researchers, lenders and service providers. The results are cited in reports by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Delaware County’s small business community is encouraged to participate. The deadline to respond is Oct. 31. If the survey gathers a certain number of responses, the Federal Reserve will provide the county with a dashboard that will be a useful tool in discussions with lenders and in partner programming for small businesses. The survey can be found here.
Source: Delaware County; 10/9/2020 

Concord planning trail enhancements
Concord Township residents had the opportunity at a recent open house event to learn more about two projects that include trail construction.

  • The Smithbridge Road project calls for dedicated turn lanes into Garnet Valley High School, a trail from the school to Kirk and Temple roads, and a roundabout at the Smithbridge/Temple Road/Kirk Road intersection. A new pedestrian crossing with a flasher is also planned for the Bob Mench Drive/Allen Drive intersection. Construction is anticipated to begin next spring and finish in the fall of 2021.
  • The Garnet Valley Greenway Plan, part of the county's trail plan, would potentially connect to the Octoraro Trail, Concord Township Park and the county’s Clayton Park. Planning is still in the early stages, and the township is interested in resident input.

More information will be put on the township website.
Source: Chadds Ford Live; 10/13/2020

Montgomery County

Norristown mandates local sewer authority be conveyed to municipality
Norristown Municipal Council recently approved a series of procedural ordinances that will further the process of the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority. The first ordinance mandated that the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority “convey the sewer system and all property and assets of the authority to the municipality.” The second ordinance amended the asset purchase agreement to name the Municipality of Norristown in place of Norristown Municipal Sewer Authority and Aqua Pennsylvania. A third ordinance appointed legal representation, and a fourth delegated responsibilities. Each ordinance passed in a 5-2 vote, with Councilman Hakim Jones and Vice President Rebecca Smith dissenting. There has been considerable public outcry over the sale of the system. Norristown had first inquired about selling the assets of the Norristown Municipal Waste Authority in 2017 and received two bids earlier this year. Borough officials held virtual meetings and informational sessions in May for the authority’s customers in Norristown and West Norriton Township. The municipality hopes that proceeds from the sale of the system will pay off existing debts and finance programs to attract development and opportunities to Norristown.
Source: Times Herald; 10/8/2020 

Abington to hold special budget meeting
Abington Township commissioners will hold a special meeting on Thursday, Oct. 22, at 6:30 p.m. to review, discuss and consider the 2021 preliminary proposed township budget. No action to approve the budget will be taken at the special meeting. The township website has instructions on how to attend and participate in the meeting via computer or telephone.
Source: The Intelligencer; 10/11/2020 

Draft Pottstown budget calls for 3.5% tax increase
The first draft of Pottstown Borough’s 2021 budget calls for a 3.5% tax increase. Overall, the draft budget projects a deficit of about $475,000 and calls for using about $293,000 in savings from the current year to close part of the gap. The remaining roughly $237,000 gap would be filled by a proposed 0.33 mill tax hike. The increase would add $28 to the annual tax bill of a home assessed at $85,000. Administrators say one negative factor is a perennial problem for Pottstown — the loss of assessed property value. This year the loss is about $4 million, which equates to a revenue loss of about $60,000 before budget calculations even begin. The draft general fund budget for 2021 calls for spending less money than the 2015 budget, all while taxes continue to increase. Despite the assessment losses, real estate transfer taxes are expected to earn about $430,000 and sales are up 15.7%. Another positive was earned income tax revenue, which rose more than 6% at the beginning of the year, but dropped by 4% in August as COVID-related layoffs and furloughs began to kick in. Borough staff and the finance committee will continue to work on the budget plan through December.
Source: Pottstown Mercury & The Digital Notebook blog; 10/9/2020 

Redevelopment plan for Publicker site brought forward in Limerick
Limerick Township supervisors recently heard a proposed redevelopment plan for the long-abandoned Publicker industrial site along the Schuylkill River. The 200-acre site off Linfield Road has been abandoned since it closed in 1986. Developer Tim Hendricks is floating a proposal to build 1,100 homes and a mixed-use facility with stores and offices. Hendricks compared the plan to the new Town Center in King of Prussia but with an important difference — the homes in his project would be owner-occupied and not rentals. The homes would be a mix of single-family and townhomes. The project would be very expensive, considering the cost of demolishing more than 17 buildings on the site, and adding an estimated $10 million in infrastructure and traffic improvements to handle the expected traffic flow. Supervisors agreed to think about the idea. Supervisor Michael McCloskey, who most recently served on the township planning commission, said, “This is an important piece of ground in Linfield due to the waterfront lots, I want to make this as special as possible.”
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 10/9/2020 

Bucks, Montco first responders share $3.4M in COVID grants
Gov. Tom Wolf’s office announced that $50 million worth of grant funding was awarded by the Office of State Fire Commissioner to fire and EMS services across the state to offset coronavirus-related expenses. About 70 fire and EMS services in Bucks County will receive approximately $1.5 million in funding. About 85 Montgomery County fire and EMS services will share about $1.9 million in funding. The grant money must be used for operational and equipment expenses, which include utilities, insurance, fuel, lost revenue due to pandemic restrictions and cleaning expense. The full list of recipients statewide can be found on the state website (PDF).
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/10/2020

Philadelphia

Philadelphia Inquirer series: Pennsylvania tenants’ rights guide
The Philadelphia Inquirer is running a series of articles breaking down the rules around common landlord and tenant problems. So far, the series has covered: rodents and bugs; breaking a lease; landlord entry; security deposits; withholding rent; eviction notices; rent increases; property sale and foreclosure; and failure to pay utility bills. Click here for the guide.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/8/2020 

Philadelphia ballot questions, explained
Philadelphia voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on four ballot questions in the November election. The topics include police reform, a potential new victims’ advocate office, and the city borrowing money. The Philadelphia Inquirer has written an explanation of each ballot initiative. Click here for the article.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/12/2020

 
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