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 September 28, 2020

 

General News

Pa. launches new virus exposure notification app
Pennsylvania’s new coronavirus exposure notification app is now available and could soon be compatible with those of three neighboring states, including New York. The app, named COVID AlertPa, is part of Pennsylvania’s effort to quickly break chains of transmission by using technology to notify people who may have been exposed. Gov. Tom Wolf and health officials have urged people to download the app and have stressed that it keeps users anonymous. As a transmission threshold, the app uses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standard of being within six feet for at least 15 minutes. People who test positive will be asked by a health department case investigator if they have the app and if they are willing to use it to notify any mobile phone users who have been in close contact with them in the past 14 days, state officials said. If so, they are given a six-digit code to enter to then issue a notification. A person who receives a notification will get an alert to check the app, with instructions from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on how to protect themselves and others, including information about quarantining and seeking medical help. Read more and download the app on the state website.
Source: Daily Local; 9/23/2020

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.

Are you experiencing U&O issues?
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance continues to track municipal issues in the region relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Realtors® who experience difficulty getting a use and occupancy inspection — or getting a certificate after an inspection — can contact us via our online form or by email at sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

Pa. Supreme Court extends ballot deadline, OK’s local drop boxes
The state Supreme Court ordered an extension of Pennsylvania’s Election Day deadline to count mailed-in ballots. The extension will allow three more days to receive ballots that were mailed before polls closed. Democrats who requested the extension and their allies cited the prospect of postal service delays in invalidating huge numbers of ballots. The court also said the law allows the use of satellite election offices and ballot drop boxes by counties.
Source: Morning Call; 9/17/2020

Bucks County

Sale of stormwater system balances Warminster’s 2020 budget
Warminster Township supervisors voted 3-1 to accept an offer from the Warminster Municipal Authority to purchase the township’s stormwater system for $6 million. The offer from the municipal authority included an advance payment of up to $1.7 million. Supervisors Chairman Ken Hayes, who abstained from the vote because he is also an authority board member, said the sale is a step forward for the township’s “unstable budget.” Warminster’s projected spending deficit in 2019 was about $2.3 million in December. The supervisors in 2019 considered a sale of the authority itself for $90 million, but in January a new board of supervisors reopened the 2020 budget, shelving a tax increase put in place by the previous board and opting to find $1.5 million needed to keep the township solvent through the end of the year elsewhere in the budget. Supervisor Mark McKee voted against the sale, stating that he understands that the authority is better suited to handle the stormwater system but that he opposed the cost that ratepayers would eventually have to pay. The authority’s general manager, Tim Hagey, said the cost of the purchase would fall on Warminster property owners. The authority also serves Horsham, Warrington, Warwick, Northampton, Upper Southampton and Ivyland.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/21/2020

Yardley’s draft budget includes 16% tax increase
Yardley Borough Manager Paula Johnson presented to borough council a first draft of the borough’s 2021 budget. The spending plan calls for a four-mill tax increase, some of which will be used to cover a $50,000 to $70,000 deficit caused by a decrease in revenue related to the coronavirus. Johnson reported that revenue is down in real estate transfer taxes, fines and violations, special police services, building permit fees, and contributions from private sectors. If approved without change, the new tax rate of 28.73 mills would add $107 to the real estate tax bill for an average property assessed at $26,800, for a total bill of $770. Each mill of the proposed tax increase would bring in about $35,000 in new revenue. Yardley last raised taxes in 2017. The budget is still in the draft stage, with council tentatively scheduled to advertise a final budget for adoption at the second meeting in November, followed by final passage at the first meeting in December.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 9/17/2020

Bristol Borough residents to see tax reduction after sale of Grundy Arena
Bristol Borough Council President Ralph DiGuiseppe announced a deal to sell the Grundy Arena on Beaver Street for $4 million. The arena has been a financial strain on the town for many years. It will be sold to Black Bear Sports Group, a Maryland-based company founded in 2015 that aims to save older ice rinks. The group owns 16 indoor ice rinks in six states, including Bucks County Ice in Warminster. The sale of the ice rink has a direct impact for borough taxpayers — it will allow the borough to pay off the rink’s outstanding $3.7 million debt and reduce the debt service tax rate by 8.5 mills. There will also be $250,000 in sale proceeds that will be held for future recreational needs of the borough and other projects. According to DiGuiseppe, every borough taxpayer will see their tax bill reduced by 15%. The building will also be returned to the county tax roll, so the county, borough and school district will benefit from additional property taxes.
Source: BucksLocalNews.com; 8/18/2020 & 9/20/2020

Lower Makefield gets down payment on sewer sale
Lower Makefield will receive a $3 million down payment as part of a $53 million sale agreement of the township sewer system. Supervisors approved the down payment from Aqua Pennsylvania in a 4-1 vote. According to Township Manager Kurt Ferguson, the down payment will stabilize the township’s finances, likely staving off a tax increase for 2021. Without the down payment, the township might have needed to seek a $2.5 million tax anticipation note to fund operations before tax revenues are received. Ferguson hopes the move will also help the township improve its bond rating, which was downgraded by Moody’s last year. The sale will still need approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission before it can be finalized.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 9/18/2020

Chester County 

County approves $1.8M to prevent evictions
To combat an anticipated increase in evictions due to COVID-19, Chester County Commissioners approved $1.8 million in CARES funding to help cover rental payments and additional services for those with job and income losses. The assistance is for individuals and families impacted by the pandemic who are unable to pay their rent and are in danger of becoming homeless. The funding will be disbursed by the Housing Authority of Chester County (HACC) and will complement additional funding that the county and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency have provided. Qualified applicants can receive assistance that may cover up to a six-month period beginning March 1, 2020. Eligible renters must show income loss due to a job loss or 30% income reduction. The household must also have family income below the Chester County median income limits. According to the HACC website, renters meeting the criteria should contact 211 and ask for assistance with rent payments.
Source: Daily Local; 9/20/2020

CWA chair testifies in support of ratepayer vote bill
Chester Water Authority (CWA) Board Chair Cynthia Leitzell gave testimony before the Pennsylvania House Consumer Affairs Committee in support of a legislative proposal that would give ratepayers a say before their municipal water systems are sold to private interests. House Bill 2597, sponsored by state Rep. John Lawrence (R-13), of Chester County, would require a ballot to be mailed to all ratepayers of a publicly managed utility contemplating a sale. The utility would also have to publish notification of the referendum in a major newspaper serving the affected municipality. Ratepayers would have at least 30 days to return the ballot or vote online. If a majority of the ratepayers reject the sale, the state Public Utility Commission would be required to disapprove it under Lawrence’s proposal, which is co-sponsored by local representatives Leanne Krueger (D-161), Steve Barrar (R-160) and Chris Quinn (R-168), who also serves as secretary of the Consumer Affairs Committee. The bill is of particular interest to the CWA, which is embroiled in 16 separate but related court actions involving a proposed sale to Aqua Pennsylvania. Chester City officials have asserted the city has the right to reclaim and transfer the authority’s assets or dissolve the authority altogether. Selling the CWA is viewed as one avenue for the financially distressed city to put much-needed cash into its coffers, and a state-appointed receiver has encouraged Chester to pursue litigation to that end. The CWA contends that it exists “separate and apart from” the city, and that it is funded entirely by ratepayers, not city finances.
Source: Daily Times; 9/18/2020

West Chester proposed tax hike trimmed by half
West Chester Borough officials have cut a proposed real estate tax increase for 2021 by more than half as they deal with a proposed revenue shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Borough Manager Michael Perrone and finance director Barbara Lionti told the borough council that new figures showed a balanced budget of $41 million could be realized with a 13% increase in the property tax rate. Earlier this month, the pair had shown a preliminary proposed budget with a 32% tax hike. “Tonight, you have a balanced budget in front of you,” said Perrone, who noted that he was required under the borough home rule charter to present such a financial plan 90 days before the end of the year. He said the final budget could be approved in December, after a formal public hearing. Lionti said that staff had reconfigured expenses by cutting $74,600 from non-uniformed employee expenses, and adding $450,000 to estimates for parking revenue. The new millage rate would increase revenues in the coming year by about $670,000, she said. In the past, the council has kept the tax rate stable by balancing its budget with parking fee revenue that totals more than $4.2 million, but those revenues have plummeted during the pandemic. The federal government has thus far taken no steps to assist communities like West Chester in dealing with the financial crisis brought about by the coronavirus. The council will continue its budget discussions at its October and November meetings, with adoption of the final document set for some time in December.
Source: Daily Local; 9/18/2020

East Whiteland planners to hear proposal for Bishop Tube site
The East Whiteland Township Planning Commission will consider a development application for the Bishop Tube, a 13-acre Superfund site at 1 S. Malin Road, south of Lancaster Avenue. The plan from Constitution Drive Partners, a limited partnership involving Brian O'Neill, would add 92 townhomes, internal roadways, stormwater management facilities and associated improvements. The plan will be considered at the planning commission’s virtual meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. To view the agenda and related documents, visit the township website.
Source: East Whiteland Township; 9/23/2020

Delaware County

Developers unveil redevelopment project for Chester waterfront
The firm hired to recreate Chester’s waterfront, Boston-based NBBJ, laid out its plan at a recent private media event held at Subaru Park and via Zoom. The plan focuses on the area bounded by Highland Avenue to Norris Street, and the Delaware River to Route 291. Work begins this month, with a full build-out estimated over 15 years. Officials are confident the plan will not die out, as did the prior decade’s redevelopment efforts, which saw only the Union soccer stadium come to fruition in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. “This isn’t a plan that we’ll allow to sit dormant,” said City Councilman William Morgan. View more details and renderings of the plan here.
Source: Daily Times; 9/21/2020

Haverford approves $12M library improvements
After considering building a new library at the old Brookline School, Haverford Township Commissioners voted to keep the township-supported library at its existing location on Darby Road and move forward with a $12 million renovation of its building. Many township residents like the library’s location in the “academic corridor,” just blocks from the middle and high school, but residents in the further reaches of town dislike the lack of parking. Located in a historic bank built in 1926, it is crowded in a developed section of town with only 17 parking spots. “We’re going to spend money to renovate a library. We’re not going to make it new and ultra-modern … when it’s done, there will still be 17 parking spots and one handicapped spot,” said Commissioner Dan Segal. “That’s a message to the residents that this township values the opinions of a few vocal residents over what is known as the common good. We have not addressed the issue of parking.” During the renovation, the library plans to move operations temporarily into the old municipal building in Oakmont.
Source: Daily Times; 10/18/2020

Elections board waits on responses from municipalities on ballot drop boxes
Some municipalities have yet to respond to Delaware County’s requests for ballot box placements, all of which the Delaware County Board of Election hopes to have installed by Oct. 8. County elections officials did not release the names of municipalities, but Elections Director Marianne Jackson said at a recent county Board of Elections meeting that 20 municipalities had agreed to participate in the program to install ballot boxes inside municipal buildings for a five-year period, 22 were pending, two had declined, and five were unresponsive. She said election staff were in the process of doing site visits in locations where it had been accepted. Delaware County received a grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life that allowed county council to purchase 50 drop boxes from American Security Cabinets for about $152,500. The intention was to place one in each municipal building, so voters who had received their ballot by mail could place their completed ballots in these boxes on or before Election Day. With the passage of Act 77 last year, the parameters for mail-in ballots have been widely expanded, and voting by mail has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Laureen T. Hagan, chief clerk of Delaware County’s Elections Bureau, reported that the county received approximately 86,000 mail-in and absentee ballots for the primary election. Comparatively, she said that the county has received more than 91,000 applications for mail-in voting for the general election, out of about 400,000 total registered voters. The deadline to apply for mail-in voting is Oct. 27.
Source: Daily Times; 9/18/2020

CWA chair testifies in support of ratepayer vote bill
Chester Water Authority (CWA) Board Chair Cynthia Leitzell gave testimony before the Pennsylvania House Consumer Affairs Committee in support of a legislative proposal that would give ratepayers a say before their municipal water systems are sold to private interests. House Bill 2597, sponsored by state Rep. John Lawrence (R-13), of Chester County, would require a ballot to be mailed to all ratepayers of a publicly managed utility contemplating a sale. The utility would also have to publish notification of the referendum in a major newspaper serving the affected municipality. Ratepayers would have at least 30 days to return the ballot or vote online. If a majority of the ratepayers reject the sale, the state Public Utility Commission would be required to disapprove it under Lawrence’s proposal, which is co-sponsored by local representatives Leanne Krueger (D-161), Steve Barrar (R-160) and Chris Quinn (R-168), who also serves as secretary of the Consumer Affairs Committee. The bill is of particular interest to the CWA, which is embroiled in 16 separate but related court actions involving a proposed sale to Aqua Pennsylvania. Chester City officials have asserted the city has the right to reclaim and transfer the authority’s assets or dissolve the authority altogether. Selling the CWA is viewed as one avenue for the financially distressed city to put much-needed cash into its coffers, and a state-appointed receiver has encouraged Chester to pursue litigation to that end. The CWA contends that it exists “separate and apart from” the city, and that it is funded entirely by ratepayers, not city finances.
Source: Daily Times; 9/18/2020

Montgomery County

Upper Gwynedd spending halt turns deficit into surplus
Last December, Upper Gwynedd Township Commissioners passed a budget for 2020 that projected a surplus of $95,000. After the coronavirus shuttered most economic activity, finance director Dave Brill told the commissioners in May that the township could face a $178,000 deficit caused by a $1.8 million drop in tax revenue compared to the amount projected at the start of the year. As a result, the township locked down discretionary spending in April. The township now projects a surplus of $515,000 — largely due to low spending and higher-than-anticipated revenues. The largest unexpected jump in revenue has been nearly $600,000 in new construction permit fees. Upper Gwynedd will hold three special budget work session meetings to review the 2021 plan in detail. The meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m., and Thursday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m., at a venue to be determined. Visit the Upper Gwynedd Township website for more information about meeting format, agendas and materials.
Source:  The Reporter; 9/16/2020

Montgomery County adds satellite offices for voter services
Montgomery County Commissioners, meeting as the Board of Elections, recently decided to add several satellite offices to help county residents with voting issues. The sites will function as a smaller version of the county’s Office of Voter Services, said John Marlatt, solicitor for the election board. The following locations were chosen:

  • The Montgomery County Willow Grove Annex, 102 N. York Road in Willow Grove
  • The Montgomery County Lansdale Office, 421 W. Main St. in Lansdale
  • The Magisterial District Court Office of Lower Merion, 925 Montgomery Ave. in Narberth
  • Montgomery County Community College’s west campus, 101 College Drive in Pottstown

Hours of operation and opening dates have not yet been established. Visit the Montgomery County Voter Services webpage for more information.
Source: The Reporter; 9/11/2020

Norristown schedules special budget meeting
Norristown Municipal Council will hold a virtual special meeting to consider the proposed 2021 municipal budget on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 5:30 p.m. In preparation for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year, all municipal departments will present their proposed budgets to the council. This is a preliminary step for developing an operating budget — no action will be taken. For access to the virtual meeting, visit the Norristown meetings page and click on the agenda for the Sept. 29 meeting, when it is posted.
Source: Times Herald; 9/21/2020

Your Way Home coalition to assist county in rent and utility relief distribution
Montgomery County officials recently announced the Your Way Home Emergency Rent & Utility Coalition, which will offer alternative financial assistance for households affected by COVID-19. The coalition will provide eligible households up to $1,500 per month in assistance for rental arrears and/or utility arrears dating back to March 1. A maximum of six months’ worth of arrears may be awarded. Visit Your Way Home or read the press release for more information.
Source: Montgomery County; 9/4/2020

Philadelphia

You can’t look up property owners by name anymore due to ‘security matters’
Philadelphia officials have reprogrammed the city’s property-search website to remove the ability to look up properties by the names of their owners, citing undisclosed security concerns. Under the change implemented about a week ago, users of the search at property.phila.gov can still find out who owns a property by inputting an address. But users can no longer conduct a search by entering the names of people or companies to see the addresses of properties they own. “We decided that disabling the search function can help prevent any heat-of-the-moment incidents that would target a property owner, while still keeping this public information public,” said deputy finance director Catherine Lamb, whose agency maintains the data. The change comes as activists increasingly embrace a tactic of tracking down the addresses of public officials to hold protests outside their homes. The change pulls Philadelphia out of step with neighboring Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties, which permit owner searches on their websites, although Delaware County and Pittsburgh don’t offer those capabilities, according to a survey completed by the city to help inform its decision to pull the function. About 10,000 people had been performing such queries each month on Philadelphia’s property-search website, representing about 10% of all users on the site.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 9/22/2020

‘Co-living’ investment group acquires International House
CSC Coliving, an investment group specializing in apartment projects with shared kitchens and bathrooms, and other communal spaces, has acquired the International House Philadelphia dormitory and culture-center tower in University City. CSC plans to renovate the 14-story tower by expanding its interior into 400 apartment units. The building currently has 346 dorm-type units, most arranged in 10-bedroom suites with shared bathrooms, kitchens and lounges, and 33 apartment-style units. CSC focuses on projects in which residents live in dorm-like conditions, with small bedrooms and shared bathrooms, cooking and dining spaces, and lounges.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 9/21/2020

N.Y. developer Durst selected for Penn’s Landing site
The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has selected the Durst Organization to execute a $2.2 billion redevelopment of two prominent parcels along Old City’s riparian shore — effectively ending a competing bid by the Philadelphia 76ers to construct a new arena on the site. The selection will set in motion an eight-year redevelopment process that will also integrate a new cap over I-95 featuring a public park. Durst’s proposal includes replacing two adjoining parking areas with 3.3 million square feet of new development, including over 2,300 residential units, a 225-bed hotel, over 120,000 square feet of retail, 850 parking spots and thousands of square feet of new public space. The New York-based real estate firm also pledged to make a contribution to the city’s Housing Trust Fund or seek on-site affordable housing to take advantage of a zoning bonus that allows additional height in exchange for affordability provisions. The plan promises an economic impact of 28,000 construction jobs. Read more and see renderings of the redevelopment in the WHYY article.
Source: WHYY; 9/9/2020

 
Email grassroots@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com to receive our weekly News Briefs. It's as simple as submitting your contact information so we can create a user profile.

Designed and delivered by Accrisoft