NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Mail-in ballots due by Tuesday, June 2; postmarks don’t matter

Bucks County
County resumes some in-person services

Chester County
Phoenixville considers creation of Neighborhood Improvement District

Delaware County
County council to vote on market-value assessment ordinance

Montgomery County
County to place secure ballot boxes for upcoming primary

Philadelphia County
Sale of South Philadelphia refinery about to close

 

News Briefs

 

General News

Mail-in ballots due by Tuesday, June 2; postmarks don’t matter
Voters who have applied for and received mail-in ballots in the 2020 primary election must get their ballots to county election offices before the election-day deadline of Tuesday, June 2, at 8 p.m. The postmark date of a mail ballot does not count. If the ballot is received after the deadline, it will not be counted, even if it was mailed a week prior. For more information, visit VotesPA.
Source: Daily Local; 5/28/2020

Suburban Philadelphia counties move to yellow phase on June 5, Wolf says
Gov. Tom Wolf announced on May 22 that he expects all areas under stay-at-home orders, including suburban Philadelphia counties, will move to the less restrictive yellow phase of COVID-19 mitigation efforts as of Friday, June 5. The governor, who has come under fire from those both outside his Democratic Party and some inside it, contends that the state’s efforts at keeping the coronavirus from spreading had been a public health success, even though many say it has cost the state economically. "We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact — we know that saved lives," he said. In the same announcement, Wolf also said 17 counties will move from yellow to green phases. According to the plan details on the governor’s office website, work restrictions in the yellow phase include the following:

  • Telework Must Continue Where Feasible
  • Businesses with In-Person Operations Must Follow Business and Building Safety Orders
  • Child Care May Open Complying with Guidance
  • Congregate Care and Prison Restrictions in Place
  • Schools Remain Closed for In-Person Instruction

Source: Office of the Governor; 5/22/2020 & Daily Local; 5/22/2020 

Pa. lawmakers plan to pass short-term budget
The Pennsylvania legislature is considering the passage of a temporary, five-month budget that will not raise taxes and keeps funding level for all state departments. The move will allow officials to get a clearer picture of the impact the state’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 will have on Pennsylvania’s finances. The $25 billion package would carry full-year money for many public school budget lines, as well as for state-supported universities, debt service and school pension obligations. Much of the rest of the state's operating budget lines would be funded through Nov. 30. Before the pandemic hit, Pennsylvania’s economy was growing steadily, with tax revenues coming in slightly higher than estimated and unemployment at historic lows. But the business shutdown put in place to slow the spread of the virus imposed an “instant recession,” said Matthew Knittel, director of the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. The office is predicting $4.8 billion in permanent revenue loss for the state through June 2021 due to the coronavirus.
Source: The Reporter & Bucks County Courier Times; 5/26/2020 

Financial meltdown looms for America’s schools
The nation’s attention is still focused on the COVID-19 crisis, but school leaders across the country are sounding a different alarm. Schools receive much of their funding from state coffers, but state income and sales tax revenues are crashing across the country after weeks of coronavirus lockdowns. As a result, many governors and state lawmakers are implementing deep budget cuts, including some to school funding. It is expected that the cuts will affect vulnerable, low-income communities the most due to the way education is funded in America. Schools are typically funded through state and local tax revenues — with the latter largely from local property taxes. Differences in property wealth between districts have created decades-old disparities that many states have tried to alleviate with additional state money. Rebecca Sibilia, CEO of EdBuild, a school finance advocacy organization, warns that unless action is taken, “I think we’re about to see a school funding crisis unlike anything we have ever seen in modern history. We are looking at devastation that we could not have imagined … a year ago.” Click here for more.
Source: NPR; 5/26/2020 

Wolf clarifies: Some evictions and foreclosures are permitted
Gov. Tom Wolf modified his executive order banning evictions and foreclosures during the coronavirus pandemic, clarifying that it only applies to lack of payment or overstaying a lease. As the COVID-19 crisis began, a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures was issued to prevent people hit by the economic impact of the crisis from losing their residences. The order was subsequently extended, and is in place through July 10. Wolf adjusted the order, making clear some evictions and foreclosures are still permitted. "I am protecting housing for Pennsylvanians who may be facing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Wolf said. "My order will not affect proceedings for other issues, such as property damage or illegal activity. I encourage all Pennsylvanians to continue abiding by the terms of their lease or mortgage."
Reading Eagle 5/22/2020

Bucks County

County resumes some in-person services
Bucks County has resumed some in-person appointments for government services. COVID-19-related safety measures are in place at offices across the county. It is requested that those who need in-person services check with the department or row office to schedule an appointment. All visitors and staff must wear face masks. In addition, the county has released guidance on preparations for entering the Yellow Phase. Click here for more.
Source: Levittownnow.com; 5/17/2020 & BucksCounty.org; 5/26/2020 

Bensalem school board eyes tax increase
The Bensalem Township School Board passed a proposed final budget of $153.3 million for the 2020-2021 school year that includes a 2.1-mill tax increase. If adopted without change, the millage increase would amount to an additional $48 in the annual tax bill of the average property in the township. The tax increase will be coupled with a $6.2 million draw from the fund balance in order to pass a balanced budget. The proposed final budget is available for public inspection on the school district website. School board member Rachel Fingles said assessed property values in the district have decreased by approximately $2.5 million. The board plans finalize the budget on Wednesday, June 17, at 6 p.m. See the above link for the most current meeting information.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 5/21/2020 

Upper Southampton to amend on-lot sewage disposal regulations
Upper Southampton supervisors will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 9, at 6:30 p.m. in the Southampton Free Library, 947 Street Road, Southampton, to consider adoption of an ordinance amending regulations related to on-lot sewage disposal systems. The proposed amendments include: a requirement to keep on-lot sewage systems in good and operating condition; inspect and pump every three years; submit a pumper’s report to the township within 10 days of inspection; and correct any deficiencies within 60 days, weather permitting, including permit and certification for repair. The full text of the ordinance and meeting information is available on the township website.
Source:  Bucks County Courier Times; 5/20/2020 

No tax increase on Quakertown schools for the first time in almost 50 years
Quakertown Community School Board members came together to unanimously pass a proposed final budget for 2020-2021 with no tax increase. Some board members said the last no-tax-increase budget occurred in the early 1970s. District administrators had been working on a no-tax-increase budget prior to the pandemic. The district’s millage rate will remain at 168.83. That means the owner of a property assessed at about $23,800, the district average, will continue to pay roughly $4,000 in property taxes. School board member David Ochmanowicz Jr. said, “I think this brief interlude is much needed.”
Source: Bucks County Herald; 5/21/2020

Chester County 

Phoenixville considers creation of Neighborhood Improvement District
Phoenixville Borough Council is considering an ordinance that would amend Chapter 24 — “Taxation, Special” — to add a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) in the borough. According to the draft ordinance, the council would authorize a “special assessment on real property located within the NID … to finance certain public infrastructure improvements in connection with a residential development known as ‘Steelpointe’ which, together with certain adjacent real estate comprises the NID.” A complete copy of the proposed ordinance amendment can be found in the Proposed Ordinances section of the borough website. The legal notice indicated the public hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 9, at 7 p.m., at Phoenixville Borough Hall, 351 Bridge St., but those meeting details may be affected by coronavirus precautions.
Source: Mercury; 05/25/2020 

Residents fear loss of public use of 2,000-acre Octoraro Reservoir property
There was plenty of resentment and opposition when the city of Chester and its Chester Water Authority built the 642-acre Octoraro Reservoir, which straddles the Lancaster-Chester county line, nearly 70 years ago. Farmland and Octoraro Creek, now a state scenic river, were flooded. People lost their land. As an olive branch, residents were told at the time that the public would be able to use the water and land, including 1,358 acres of forests, fields and lakeside roads. Since then, the reservoir has been a cherished site for fisherman, boaters, hunters, birders, hikers and bikers, and farmers who grow crops on leased land. Now, there is a fear in the community that those public uses will be taken away if the city of Chester, now in a state-declared fiscal emergency, is allowed — or ordered — to sell the reservoir and its drinking water to a private company. “Save Octoraro Reservoir” lawn signs have been sprouting up as residents anticipate that a private company, beholden to maximizing profits for shareholders and wary of public-use lawsuits, will fence off the entire 2,000 acres. “[People] have nothing to worry about. Reservoir use will remain as it is today,” said Marc Lucca, president of Aqua Pennsylvania, the most likely buyer. Francis Catania, attorney for the Chester Water Authority, which is fighting for its life, called that statement a lie and said no such guarantees have been made. Catania and others have pointed to Aqua’s fencing off of Springton Reservoir in Delaware County, which had previously been open for public use. Read the full article here.
Source: Lancaster Online; 5/24/2020 

$125M OJR budget would hike taxes 2.6%
The Owen J. Roberts School Board voted unanimously to adopt a $125.5 million proposed budget for 2020-2021 that will increase property taxes by 2.6%. The budget plan, which represents a 3.5% increase in spending, will increase by $153 the annual tax bill of property assessed at the district average of about $184,000. The tax is the maximum allowed without special exceptions under the state’s Act 1 limit. The final budget vote is scheduled for the school board’s June 15 meeting.
Source: Daily Local; 5/22/2020

‘Restore Chesco’ launched to help businesses prepare to open on June 5
Chester County Commissioners announced the launch of Restore Chester County, a comprehensive online toolkit that offers guidelines specifically designed for Chester County’s 15,000-plus businesses and 525,000 residents as they move from the red phase to the yellow phase on June 5. “As we surveyed Chester County’s businesses, organizations and residents over the past weeks, the feedback we consistently received was that while there is an overwhelming amount of information on best practices for reopening, very little of it is easy to navigate or tailored for our community,” said Marian Moskowitz, Chester County Commissioners’ chairwoman. The new county site includes resources for obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE). Business and organizational leaders can then drill deeper by accessing 20 different business and organization sectors, including everything from agriculture and office settings, to restaurants, personal care, schools, religious organizations and more.
Source: Chester County; 5/27/2020 

Chesco Housing Authority increases incentives for landlords
The Housing Authority of Chester County is increasing payment standards to all its locations to provide maximum subsidy assistance to landlords. The incentives are tied to the federal CARES Act. The move will enable low-income residents — many of whom have lost their jobs or are on furlough due to the pandemic — to either stay in their homes or afford housing. "We increased the payment standards to be consistent with the market demand in terms of rental units,” said Pat Bokovitz, director of the Chester County Department of Community Development. "This will help individuals who have a hard time finding housing in Chester County. It's an incentive to broaden the net and get more landlords interested in working with those individuals looking for housing." The Housing Authority currently has approximately 1,700 vouchers that are assisting families by providing funds to meet a portion of the rental costs of a lease with a private landlord. Payment standards range now from $1,730 for a two-bedroom apartment in West Whiteland, to $1,607 for a two-bedroom apartment in West Chester, to $1,485 for a two-bedroom apartment in Downingtown, to $1,114 for a two-bedroom apartment in Coatesville.
Source: Daily Local; 5/21/2020

Delaware County

County council to vote on market-value assessment ordinance
Delaware County Council will hold a public hearing to introduce and adopt an ordinance “establishing a predetermined ratio of 100% of base-year market value” for real estate assessment effective Jan. 1, 2021. The assessment change reflects the new values generated through the countywide reassessment project. The public hearing and final adoption of the ordinance will be at the council's regular meeting on Wednesday, June 3, at 6 p.m. A copy of the full proposed text of the ordinance (PDF) is available on the county website. Visit the county website for meeting information.
Source: Inquirer; 5/14/2020               

Marple Newtown proposed budget calls for tax increase
The Marple Newtown School Board is scheduled to adopt its $92.6 million 2020-2021 proposed final budget at its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the district administration building, 38 Media Line Road, Newtown Square, or via an on-line platform to be announced on the district website. If passed without changes, the budget will raise the tax rate by the Act 1 limit of 2.6% to 19.3253, up from 18.8356 in the current year.
Source: Delaware County Daily Times; Monday, 05/25/2020 

County council will vote on terminating DELCORA on June 3
Delaware County Council will hold a public hearing to introduce and vote on an ordinance that will terminate the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority (DELCORA). The county recently announced that it intends to dissolve the public wastewater authority and take over its responsibilities. The move escalates the county’s efforts to block the $276.5 million sale of the sprawling public sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania, which the council contends was engineered by previous council members to prevent an important patronage stronghold from falling into Democratic hands when political control of the county changed. DELCORA and Aqua Pennsylvania maintain that the legally binding sales agreement cannot be undone by the county. DELCORA serves 165,000 customers in 42 towns in Delaware and Chester counties. The sale has not yet closed and is pending approval by Pennsylvania utility regulators. The public hearing and final adoption of the ordinance will be at county council's regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, June 3, at 6 p.m. The full ordinance (PDF) can be read on the county website.
Source: Inquirer; 5/21/2020 

Middletown considers tree ordinance
Middletown Township Council is considering on an ordinance creating a new Chapter 220 of the township code — “Tree Maintenance” — confirming the responsibility for the maintenance of trees on property located within the township. According to the draft ordinance, “The maintenance, care or removal of any tree, including all costs related thereto, and the required compliance with any provision of this Chapter shall be the responsibility of the owner(s) of the property upon which the tree is located, inclusive of any area of public right-of-way extending to the paved cartway of any public street.” The draft ordinance declares certain trees to be a public nuisance, and establishes procedures and penalties for violations and enforcement. The full draft ordinance (PDF) can be found on the township website. The ordinance is scheduled for a hearing and vote during the council meeting on Monday, June 8, at 7 p.m.
Source: Daily Times; 5/15/2020

Montgomery County

County to place secure ballot boxes for upcoming primary
At a recent Montgomery County Board of Elections meeting, the county commissioners voted 2-1 in support of a proposal to station five secure ballot boxes across the county, which voters can use as an alternative to using the mail to submit ballots. John Marlatt, solicitor for the county’s election board, said state guidelines allow for the “placement of secure ballot boxes” in Montgomery County.  Secure ballot boxes will be placed at the following locations: 

  • In the lobby of One Montgomery Plaza - 425 Swede St., Norristown
  • Montgomery County’s Lansdale offices - 421 W. Main St. in Lansdale
  • Montgomery County Community College’s west campus South Hall - 101 College Dr., Pottstown
  • Montgomery County’s Willow Grove offices - 102 York Road, Willow Grove
  • Green Lane Park - 2144 Snyder Road, Green Lane.

Marlatt clarified that all locations have the capacity for walk-up and drive-up options with the exception of Norristown. That ballot box only allows for prospective voters to walk up and securely submit their ballots.  Commissioner Ken Lawrence Jr., emphasized the county is following the “election code” and “state law,” and said the county is “committed to the security of your votes however you choose to cast your vote, and everyone is permitted to do that.” County election officials are also asking a Pennsylvania court to extend the state’s deadline for mail ballots by one week, which would allow voters to have their ballots counted if they arrive within a week after next month’s primary election. Without that extension, the county Board of Elections said in its emergency petition in Common Pleas Court, voters will be unfairly disenfranchised due to a variety of issues with this year’s election. Visit the county voter services page here.
Source: The Reporter; 5/22/2020 & Inquirer; 5/27/2020 

Pottstown School District backs away from tax hike
The previous draft of the 2020-2021 Pottstown Area School District budget included a 3.8% tax increase. Even though the latest estimates show Pottstown losing between $1.9 million and $2.2 million in local revenues for the coming fiscal year due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the school board voted unanimously to adopt a preliminary budget that does not raise property taxes. The $65.7 million spending plan closed the gap between spending and revenues with a deep dive into its reserves, pulling a total of $1.7 million from its various back-up funds. The school district has also been hobbled by property assessment challenges that have decreased property values by more than $2 million, resulting in a loss of $105,000 in revenues as well as the underfunding of Pennsylvania’s “Fair Funding Formula” that should compensate for a dwindling tax base. Visit The Digital Notebook blog for more.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 5/24/2020  

Commissioners sanction $5M transfer for MontcoStrong program
Montgomery County Commissioners unanimously approved reassigning about $5 million in relief funding to the MontcoStrong Small Business Grant Program. The $5 million includes a $250,000 grant from the Delaware Valley Economic Development Fund and also federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The MontcoStrong Initiative was established “to provide small businesses located in Montgomery County financial support as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic.”
Source: The Reporter; 5/24/2020 

County hires interim health director, begins contact tracing program
Montgomery County officials announced Janet Panning as the new interim administrator of the county Office of Public Health. Panning replaced Dr. Brenda K. Weis who left the position to relocate closer to family. “It will be a very seamless transition,” County Commissioners Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said. “Janet’s been involved in many of the activities, just as we all have over the last 11 weeks, in our county’s response to COVID-19, and we don’t think we’ll miss a beat.” Arkoosh also gave an update on the county’s development of a widespread contact tracing program. Contact tracing involves identifying those with whom an infected person has been in close contact so they can self-quarantine to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The county has begun contact tracing at the Norristown COVID-19 testing site and a more widespread program is planned soon. Montgomery County health officials conducted contact tracing in the early days of the pandemic in March when the first few cases of the virus were identified, but tracing was discontinued when community spread became evident and the number of positive cases surged.
Source: MontgomeryNews.com; 5/22/2020

Philadelphia

Sale of South Philadelphia refinery about to close
The sale of the 1,300-acre Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) property in South Philadelphia is set to close by the end of May. The site was the largest oil refinery on the East Coast before a fire last June shut it down. Hilco Redevelopment is buying PES out of bankruptcy for $252 million. Hilco officials have not publicly discussed a plan for the refinery property but have told city officials and neighborhood activists they want to redevelop the land as a mixed-use industrial park. It’s also likely Hilco will retain many of the site’s fuel storage tanks, which have grown in value with the recent plunge in oil prices. Click here for more.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/26/2020 

Upcoming ballot question: Should Philadelphia create a department of labor?
Voters in Philadelphia will get to decide if the city should create a department of labor. City council passed a bill in February that would pose this question to voters in the June primary: “Should the city create a permanent Department of Labor that would enforce city labor laws and function as a front door for all worker-related issues?” The question has to be put to voters because it requires a city charter change. These services are currently handled by the Mayor’s Office of Labor, created under the Kenney administration, but advocates fear a future mayor with different priorities could scrap the office altogether. This effort is part of a broader push by advocates and organizers for stronger labor law enforcement in a city that’s passed some of the most progressive pro-worker legislation in the country but has historically failed to both educate workers about these laws and enforce them.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 5/27/2020

 
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