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 30, 2017

 

General News

PAR encourages voters to support ballot referendum in November
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® (PAR) is conducting a campaign to encourage a “yes” vote on a statewide referendum on the general election ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Realtors® are encouraged to talk with their clients about the importance of the referendum to homeowners. The referendum asks voters whether to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction. Currently, the law allows the exclusion up to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property. If voters approve this referendum, it expands the options available to the General Assembly for future legislation affecting homestead exemptions. But until the General Assembly enacts further legislation, no change will take effect. Ultimately, the referendum would allow local taxing authorities to eliminate property taxes on all owner-occupied residences and replace the revenue with alternative taxes. “Passing the ballot referendum is one step toward achieving real property tax reform,” said PAR President Kathy McQuilkin. “We believe that allowing school boards, municipalities and counties to have the option to exclude up to 100 percent of the assessed value of a home from taxation gives them control of their local tax collections and provides relief to many homeowners.” For more information on the referendum question, visit www.PARealtor.org.
Source: PARJustListed; 10/23/2017

Call for Action: Don’t let Congress raise taxes on middle-class homeowners
The National Association of Realtors ® (NAR) is asking its members to urge their members of Congress to oppose any tax reform plan that would weaken tax incentives for owning a home. Under current proposals, Congress is threatening the mortgage interest deduction and the state and local property tax deduction. These incentives are critical for a strong housing market that creates jobs and builds stable communities. By doubling the standard deduction and eliminating most itemized deductions, the mortgage interest deduction would only be available to the top 5 percent of taxpayers, according to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The study, commissioned by NAR, also concluded that middle-income home-owning families would face average tax hikes of $815. Click here to take action.

Fewer foreclosure filings reported in the region
According to ATTOM Data Solutions, U.S. foreclosure filings this quarter are down 35 percent from a year ago and are at the lowest level since the pre-recession era of second quarter 2006. Every local county saw a decline in the foreclosure from the second quarter of this year. For the third quarter of this year the percentage of homes in foreclosure by county were:

  • 29% Delaware County (one in 345)
  • 27% Philadelphia (one in 370)
  • 21% Bucks County (one in 474)
  • 16% Montgomery County (one in 621)
  • 09% Chester County (one in 1,042)

The local counties with the highest foreclosure rates in the region are from South Jersey. The problems in New Jersey are not a surprise. They emanate from a residential foreclosure moratorium instituted against the six biggest lenders in 2010 in response to the robo-signing scandal, leading to pent up inventory when the moratorium was lifted in 2012. There was also a moratorium on homes affected by Superstorm Sandy.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 10/20/2017

Bucks County

Bristol Borough announces intent to adopt earned income, local services taxes
Bristol Borough intends to consider for adoption two ordinances that will enact a Local Services Tax (LST) and an Earned Income Tax (EIT). The ordinances will be considered for adoption on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 250 Pond St. The LST will be $52 per person per year on those who work in Bristol Borough on or after Jan. 1, 2018. The amount of revenue estimated to be derived from the tax is $119,500 per year. The EIT will impose a one percent levy on salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, incentive payments, fees, tips and other compensation earned by residents and those who work in Bristol Borough on or after Jan. 1, 2018, and on the net profits earned on the operation of business, profession or other activity by those who conduct the business, profession or other activity in Bristol Borough. The ordinance will require the filing of returns, providing information by employers and those subject to the tax and the collection of the tax by the employers at source. The ordinance will also provide for the administration and enforcement of the tax. The amount of revenue estimated to be derived from the EIT is $825,000 per year.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 10/22/2017

Hilltown proposed budget holds the line on taxes
Hilltown Township supervisors met recently to discuss the 2018 budget. Supervisor Chairman Jack McIlhinney presented the proposed spending plan that keeps the municipal property tax rate at 8.75 mills. If passed, it would be the seventh year in a row that Hilltown did not raise the municipal real estate property tax rate. A mill is a tax of $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. A Hilltown home assessed at $40,000 pays $350 in municipal property taxes at the current tax rate. The budget is scheduled to be finalized at the public meeting on Monday, Nov. 13.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/20/2017

Warminster Municipal Authority awarded $11.5M loan for carbon filters
The Warminster Municipal Authority was awarded an $11.5 million loan from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority. The funds will be used to install 12 filters at public wells to bring contamination by perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) down to “non-detect” levels. The authority has been purchasing drinking water from North Wales Water Authority since the summer of 2016, when six wells tested for two pollutants — PFOA and PFOS — showed levels exceeding limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency in May 2016. Although 11 public wells tested below the health advisory level, the authority decided to purchase water rather than draw from a water source with any detectable contamination. The authority recently announced that three wells with carbon filter systems already installed were showing non-detectable PFC levels and are expected to go back online at the end of the month. Warminster, Horsham and Warrington are in continued negotiations with state and federal officials to have the federal government pay for remediation efforts since the contamination has been traced to firefighting foam used at a trio of military bases in the region.
Source: The Intelligencer; 10/19/2017

Solebury Township to ease HARB rules
Solebury supervisors agreed to advertise an ordinance that would streamline and fast-track the review process for in-kind repair and in-kind replacement (RRIK) projects in the township’s historic districts. The ordinance defines in-kind repairs and in-kind replacements as parts and materials that are exactly the same as original items in terms of appearance, materials, proportion, color and texture. The fast-track process for RRIK will involve an application to the township’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) administrator for review within five days to determine whether it meets RRIK standards. If it does, the HARB reviewers have an additional five days to approve or deny the project. The current process takes three to four months. Solebury’s six historic districts are Carversville, Centre Bridge, Cuttalossa, Lumberville, Phillips Mill and Upper Aquetong Valley.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 10/20/2017

Chester County 

West Chester Borough Manager Michael Cotter resigns
West Chester Borough Council has unanimously accepted the resignation of Borough Manager Michael Cotter. Mike Perrone will be busy serving as acting borough manager along with five other job titles until a replacement for Cotter is hired. Perrone is already director of building, housing and codes enforcement. He is also the fire marshal and zoning officer. He will assume the roles of acting secretary and the acting right to know officer. Perrone will earn a $120,000 salary, retroactive to Oct. 2 when he accepted the interim job, for the duration of his term as acting manager.
Source: Daily Local; 10/19/2017

Oxford sewer line project advances
Plans to run a dry sewer line from the edge of Oxford to Nottingham are moving forward, according to Oxford Area Sewer Authority Executive Director David Busch. At the Oct. 18 Authority meeting, Busch reported that a letter of intent to purchase a section of private sewer line in the Barnsley area has been drafted. This section of line would be the connector between the Authority sewer main and a new dry line that would be run by the Chester Water Authority beside their new line to Nottingham. West Nottingham Township has been a member of the Sewer Authority since it was formed, but has had no sewage lines connecting to the Authority system. Distance in running a line through East Nottingham (also an Authority member) has been a major obstacle. The Chester Water Authority had already awarded bids for a project to run a new water line between their Oxford area line and Nottingham. Bids were also solicited for a dry sewer line to be run beside the water pipes. Doing the work for both pipelines at the same time would result in a significant savings.
Source: Daily Local; 10/22/2017

Estimate for cost of West Chester Borough Hall renovation drops by $400k
West Chester Borough Council got good news when they heard from architect and consultant Ted Vedock, of Hammel Associates Architects, that the estimated cost to renovate Borough Hall has dropped by $400,000. The projected decreased from $5.35 million to $4.95 million is only an estimate. Vedock said the borough is headed in the “right direction” due to a simplifying of the building design, while considering no major design changes. The project still carries a 10 percent contingency buffer. In the meantime, council also voted to move police and Borough Hall functions outside the borough to the Spellman Building, the former West Chester Area School District Administration Building, on Paoli Pike in West Goshen. The WCASD recently vacated the building and moved its headquarters to the Exton area. With the 10-month construction process scheduled to start around Feb. 1, 2018, the borough hopes to make the move to West Goshen by Jan. 1, 2018. They expect to move back into the Market Street Borough Hall by December 2018.
Source: Daily Local; 10/20/2017

Details of Avon Grove ‘Listening Post’ process shared
Avon Grove School District is planning a series of “Listening Post” meetings with community members to discuss potential capital projects and the district more generally. An overview of the listening post process was presented to the Avon Grove School Board Committee of the Whole, in which all board members sit as committee members. The process, which will be conducted by an outside contractor, is designed to inform the public and get their responses to the Facilities Input Group’s (FIG) nonbinding recommendation for a new Middle School complex and expansion of the High School. To date, 249 community members have signed up to participate. Attendance is limited to no more than 40 people per session, so advance registration is required. Also participating are roughly the same number of district staff, plus representatives from the high school’s senior and junior classes. After a brief presentation on the FIG recommendation, the participants of each listening post will generate a list of prioritized topics. When the process is completed, three reports will be generated: one for the community results; one for the input from district educators; and a third report combining input from other groups such as students and support staff. The information will be available to the board prior to its expected vote in April on whether the District will follow the FIG recommendation, choose a different construction option or do nothing.
Source: Avon Grove Sun; 10/19/2017

Delaware County

Delaware County Transportation Plan
Delaware County Council intends to adopt a new county transportation plan at its regular meeting to be held on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at 10 a.m. in the County Council Meeting Room of the Government Center Building, 201 W. Front St, Media. Copies of the proposed Transportation Plan can be reviewed at www.co.delaware.pa.us/planning. The public is invited to review the proposed Transportation Plan and attend the upcoming public hearing to provide comment.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/19/2017

‘Sober living’ owners take Nether Providence to court
The owners of a “sober living” facility cited by Nether Providence Township for a zoning violation are appealing the action in federal court. In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Dung Lau of Haverford and Providence Recovery House LLC take aim at a decision issued last May 15 by Nether Providence’s zoning board. They accuse the township of “discrimination in zoning on the basis of handicap or disability,” and seek a declaratory judgment, permanent injunctive relief and damages. The suit asserts the township has “threatened to deprive the disabled current and prospective residents of needed housing opportunities.” The board, after a hearing that involved five evening sessions and many hours of testimony, voted unanimously to deny the facility owners’ appeal after a violation stemming from running the property in a residential area. The board also rejected the owners’ request to be granted a “reasonable accommodation” under the federal Fair Housing Act to continue operations. That law was designed to ensure municipalities do not arbitrarily exclude such treatment facilities. Neighbors of the facility had complained that they were unaware it had begun operations and did not believe it was appropriate use for a home located in a residential neighborhood. The zoning board raised “serious credibility issues” with Lau’s testimony, including his statement that he filled out mortgage documents indicating the home would be used as his residence. Lau testified that he supervises activities at the site but does not live there. Concerns about the site increased after a resident died of a heroin overdose in 2015. Source: Daily Times; 10/20/2017

Morton gives tax break to emergency service volunteers
Morton Borough Council will now offer a tax credit to volunteer firefighters and nonprofit emergency medical services volunteers. The new Volunteer Tax Credit Ordinance provides a 20 percent real estate property tax credit to Morton residents only, even though the fire company covers both Morton and Rutledge as a result of the merger of the two companies almost 10 years ago. Rutledge Borough Council President Dave Waltz said his borough’s council will probably pass an ordinance similar to Morton’s, with certain conditions. Morton’s ordinance follows state Act 172 of 2016, which authorized boroughs to adopt regulations to grant tax credits on real estate taxes to residents who actively volunteer for fire departments and emergency medical service agencies. At a public hearing on the ordinance, Council President Mario Cimino spoke of the problem fire companies have in recruiting members and the difficulties companies face in getting volunteers to respond to alarms during the daytime. The loss of tax revenue because of the tax credit program is estimated to be $5,000 by Borough Manager Bob Poole. The annual criteria to qualify for credits under the program is based on the number of emergency response calls to which a volunteer responds, the level of participation in formal training and drills for a volunteer, and the total amount of time expended by a volunteer on administrative and other support services, such as fundraising. The ordinance provides for the chief of each volunteer fire company or the supervisor of the nonprofit emergency medical service agency to keep specific records of each volunteer’s activities in a service log to establish credits under the Volunteer Service Credit Program.
Source: Daily Times; 10/21/2017

Thornbury weighs pipeline neighbors’ permit appeal
Thornbury’s zoning board announced that after more than seven hours of testimony and substantial binders of supporting documentation from each side, it will render a decision on Monday, Nov. 6, regarding an appeal by the Andover Homeowners’ Association over a township issued permit to Sunoco Pipeline LP. The permit, issued June 21, allowed the company to begin construction associated with its Mariner East 2 project. The 350-mile system, a section of which is being installed along Route 352 in a portion of the development’s open space, is slated to bring natural gas liquids, such as propane, ethane and butane to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex. Andover, composed of 39 single family homes on approximately 42 acres, includes 40 percent open space as required by municipal code. The association claims the project reduced the tract below the minimum and allowed construction within 100 feet of the land surrounding the residential properties and 75 feet of a building. The easement infringes on 12 properties along Middletown Road, specifically limiting four owners from building additions or installing sheds or pools without a variance. The Nov. 6 meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the township building, 6 Township Dr., Cheyney.
Source: Daily Times; 10/21/2017

Montgomery County

Village at Valley Forge 55-plus rental project nearing completion
Various multifamily projects at the Village at Valley Forge mixed-use community in Upper Merion are nearing completion. Among the projects is Canvas, a 231-unit apartment complex catering to renters who are 55-years-old or older. The project is being developed by Bozzuto Group and Carlyle Group. Bozzuto conducted interviews and surveys to determine what the over-55 cohort would want if a community was designed just for them. It was determined prospective residents want units large enough for visiting grandchildren within an environment that promotes an active lifestyle. Canvas will serve as a prototype and brand for future 55-plus projects. At build out, the Village at Valley Forge is expected to have upwards of 2,500 residential units.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 10/20/2017

Lower Merion School District discusses options due to increasing enrollment
A public work session was held recently by the Lower Merion School District for administrators, the school board and residents to mull the school district’s options due to increasing enrollment. Numerous ideas were discussed, including building a new school, reconfiguring grade levels, expanding existing schools, and neighborhood stabilization. Residents cautioned the district not to build oversized schools and not to use township public park land as a possible location for a new school, if one is constructed. The district also discussed its new, 69-page report, “Tomorrow’s Students, Today’s Challenges: Assessing and Addressing LMSD’s Growing Enrollment.” The report, which was summarized by Superintendent Robert Copeland, outlined the demographic studies and recent steps the district has taken, such as adding and creating classrooms at some of the schools. Click here for Lower Merion School District information about enrollment growth.
Source: Main Line Times; 10/22/2017

Taxes hold steady in Souderton
Souderton Borough Council was presented with a balanced preliminary budget at its Oct. 16 work session meeting. Borough Manager Mike Coll said, “The budget is balanced with just a little bit of money left over.” If passed, the borough property tax rate will remain at 5.51 mills, equaling $827 on a home assessed at $150,000. A mill is a tax of $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The millage represents 5 mills for the general fund, 0.21 mills for the fire prevention fund and 0.3 mills for the library tax. Souderton will hold another budget meeting on Monday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m., followed by the official budget presentation in November and final budget vote in December.
Source: Souderton Independent; 10/24/2017

Motion filed to have Lower Merion School District Board removed
Attorney Arthur Wolk has filed a petition in Montgomery Court of Common Pleas to have all nine members of the Lower Merion Board of School Directors removed from office and have the court appoint substitutes in their place. The petition also asks the court to prohibit the nine members from running for election for the next five years, and that the board must repay all the money the district has paid to the law firm representing them, as well as terminate the relationship with the law firm. Wolk is representing 18 named Lower Merion and Narberth residents who have signed the petition. “There is a provision in the Public School Act of 1949 for the removal of school directors if they neglect their duties,” Wolk said. “And since we have a finding by [Montgomery County] Judge Smyth that they did neglect their duties [and] I can’t get them to discuss a peaceful resolution, I decided to file the petition to have them removed.” The petition cites Joseph Smyth’s order from August 2016, when he said the district has been illegally raising taxes by claiming budget deficits each year and then ending up with surpluses. Smyth’s order said the district had to rescind its 2016 tax hike, lower it to the Act 1 index (by about 2 percent) and return the money to the taxpayers. The school district has stated it does not have to return the money while the case remains in appeal. It is not clear how long a decision could take on the filing.
Source: Main Line Times; 10/25/2017

Philadelphia

Philly's SRC could call dissolution vote by year's end
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) could vote to disband itself by year’s end. SRC Chairwoman Joyce Wilkerson said the five members were keenly aware of the timeline in front of them. To kill the SRC and shift to local control by the 2018-19 school year, they would need to vote themselves out of existence by the end of December. Wilkerson made no guarantees but said members were actively engaged in conversations with the city and state about the SRC’s future. Three SRC members are nominated by the governor, who also chooses the chair, and two are appointed by the mayor. State control of the Philadelphia School District was supposed to bring continued extra resources to city schools, but generally, it has not. At the panel’s direction, interim general counsel Miles Shore laid out to the public what would need to happen for the SRC, which was created by state law in 2001, to end. By the end of the year, the body would have to introduce a resolution recommending dissolution. (It could do so at one of two action meetings scheduled before the end of the year. It could also hold a special meeting.) The state secretary of education, Pedro Rivera, would then have to issue a declaration to end the SRC by Jan. 1, 2018. Under current law, after this school year, control of the school district would revert to a nine-member school board appointed by the mayor, as laid out in Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter. Mayor Kenney, who has in the past expressed reservations about whether ending the SRC would worsen the district’s financial situation, would have to appoint a 13-member nomination panel to come up with potential school board members. Twenty-seven candidates would be put forth, with Kenney getting the final say. School board members would typically be appointed for four-year terms, but the initial members would serve only until the end of Kenney’s term.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/19/2017

Philly business yearns for a tax cut to combat a regional slowdown
U.S. stock prices keep hitting record highs, but back on the ground, where real companies add locations and hire people, “we’ve seen a little bit of a slowdown,” says Bruce Van Saun, chief executive of Citizens Financial Group, whose Citizens Bank has the biggest branch network in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Loans to businesses by U.S. banks rose rapidly last year and early this year, as commercial real estate developers and private-company investors rushed to borrow cheap before the Federal Reserve’s threatened rate hikes. But that little rush is over, according to Van Saun, as area banks reported slow third-quarter loan growth, compared to last year. Loan growth was also “modestly weaker” than expected at Beneficial Bank, the largest bank still based in Philadelphia, wrote Frank Schiraldi, another Sandler O’Neill analyst, in a report to clients. Consumer lending was down last quarter, even as business loans were up modestly. Bryn Mawr Trust Corp. lenders have lately become “more cautious” about construction loans as Philadelphia-area development slows, analyst Matthew Schultheis told clients at Boenning & Scattergood, West Conshohocken. He noted Bryn Mawr is also expanding its capital-markets operation so as to rely less on new loans.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/23/2017


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