NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
FBI investigating Mariner East pipeline approvals

Bucks County
Rockhill water contamination linked to tire shop fire

Chester County
Investors, developers looking to Coatesville as revitalization progresses

Delaware County
No tax hike in proposed Delaware County budget

Montgomery County
Lafayette Street Extension Project celebrated in Norristown

Philadelphia County
A new kind of affordable housing comes to South Philadelphia

 

News Briefs

 

General News

FBI investigating Mariner East pipeline approvals
The Associated Press is reporting that the FBI is investigating how Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration came to issue permits for construction on a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project. Current and former state employees have been interviewed in recent weeks by the FBI about the Mariner East Pipeline project and the construction permits, according to three people with direct knowledge of the agents’ line of questioning. All three spoke on condition of anonymity and said the focus of the questions involves the permitting of the pipeline, whether Wolf and his administration forced Department of Environmental Protection staff to approve construction permits, and whether Wolf or his administration received anything in return. The Mariner East pipeline project has cost nearly $3 billion, making it one of the largest construction projects in Pennsylvania history. The project has not been without problems — including millions of dollars in fines, temporary shutdown orders, lawsuits, protests and investigations. The Wolf administration declined to comment on the investigation. A spokeswoman for the pipeline owner, Energy Transfer Partners, said the company had not been contacted by the FBI about Mariner East.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/13/2019

High-risk dams pose upstream danger for many Pennsylvanians
Pennsylvanians living downstream may not often think about what could happen if something goes wrong with one of the state’s many dams, but threats to life and property are scattered along the state’s 86,000 miles of streams and rivers. Rich Reisinger, chief of the Dam Safety Division for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said, “Occasionally the public gets … not as vigilant as we should be, when they say, ‘The dam’s been there 100 years. It’ll be there 100 more.’” Reisinger’s agency regulates nearly 3,400 Pennsylvania dams, of which about 740 are deemed “high hazard,” meaning a structural failure is likely to lead to loss of human life. The agency’s greatest concern is for a group of 145 dams that are rated, in data supplied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as both high-hazard and in either poor or unsatisfactory condition. The 145 high-risk dams are found in 42 of the state’s 67 counties, and on average they were built in the mid-1920s. About half are privately owned, including by businesses, while county, state and local governments own the rest. Pennsylvania’s dam safety program has a budget that increased from $2.6 million in 2010 — the third most in the country — to $2.8 million last year, the second-most.
Source: Daily Local; 11/11/2019

Bucks County

Rockhill water contamination linked to tire shop fire
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced Bergey’s Tires as a “potential responsible party” for drinking water contamination in East and West Rockhill townships. The investigation has been ongoing for three years, after DEP discovered toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water wells owned by the North Penn Water Authority. The wells were shut down and subsequent testing of over 150 private drinking water wells in the area identified another 14 with PFAS above the safety limit recommended by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Homes with contaminated wells were provided with bottled water, and the DEP has begun installing water filters. The source of the Rockhill contamination had been in question. Most of the PFAS contamination has been traced back to former military bases in Bucks and Montgomery counties, where widespread use of firefighting foams led to the water pollution. An investigative report by the Bucks County Courier Times revealed that fire crews from the former Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and Naval Air Warfare Center Warminster attempted to douse a large tire fire at Bergey’s Tires in 1986. The DEP announcement marks the first time DEP has publicly stated it believes Bergey’s holds some level of responsibility.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/13/2019

Bucks County Planning Commission receives statewide award
The Bucks County Maps and Data Portal, unveiled in July 2018 by the Bucks County Planning Commission, has been honored with a 2019 Award for Projects, Programs and Practices by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association. The award recognizes the portal as “work [that] exemplifies the best and brightest in Pennsylvania planning,” according to the awards committee. The web-based open data portal offers a variety of documents, datasets and interactive maps depicting open space preservation, subdivision and land development proposals, the opioid epidemic, recycling and hazardous waste, trail planning, pipelines, tax parcel maps, transportation, parks, elections and other topics. Click here for the portal.
Source: Bucks County; 11/12/2019

Neshaminy announces enhanced Senior Citizens Tax Assistance Program
The enhanced Neshaminy School District Property Tax Assistance Program will begin in January 2020. The purpose of the program is to provide property tax relief to senior citizens living in the Neshaminy School District. Click here (PDF) for more information on the Neshaminy program, which is entering its 42nd year and has provided over $2.7 million in rebates since 1977. The school district reminds residents that qualifying for Neshaminy’s rebate program means that they would most likely also qualify for the Pennsylvania Property Tax Program which provides further funding. Click here for more information about the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rent Rebate program.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 11/8/2019

Falls Township posts updated U&O fact sheet
Falls Township has posted a new Use & Occupancy Fact Sheet (PDF) on its website. The document reviews U&O regulations for the township, including required certifications, fees and a list of items that will be inspected. The Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority requires sewer easement inspections at point-of-sale. Contact the authority at 215-946-0731 to determine if a property requires an easement inspection when a listing becomes active.

Chester County 

Investors, developers looking to Coatesville as revitalization progresses
City leaders, with backing from county officials, are determined to return Coatesville to prosperity over the next decade, and investors and developers are on board, lured by a new strategic action plan from the newly formed Coatesville Second Century Alliance. The city has received nearly $7 million in grants from the county Department of Community Development’s Urban Center Revitalization Program. Part of that funding included a total of $1.7 million for work on the First Avenue and Lincoln Highway intersection, which is often referred to as the city’s gateway. Construction of a train station at Third Avenue has been stalled, but PennDOT is anticipating that construction will start in just over a year and conclude within three years thereafter. “I don’t think we should be known as a steel town anymore,” said James Logan, Coatesville assistant manager. “It’s a little city, but people here want everything a big city has.” Coatesville Second Century Alliance has already begun a clearly defined five-year action plan. Its primary goal is to create a vibrant commercial corridor. Other goals of the Alliance include inspiring investor confidence and building a business-friendly atmosphere; building strong, stable residential neighborhoods; improving the overall quality of life; and communicating the city’s positive attributes and competitive advantages.
Source: Daily Local; 11/10/2019

Southern Chester County Regional Police get three-year pact
The Southern Chester County Regional Public Safety Commissioners earlier agreed to terms to renew an agreement between New Garden Township and West Grove Borough that will ensure regional police coverage for the next three years. The agreement does not affect Avondale. Earlier this year, the commissioners and Avondale officials agreed to an 18-month, $90,000 contract to provide around-the-clock coverage to the borough’s 1,400 residents. Gerry Simpson, chief of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, said the organization has been operating at a high level since it was formed three years ago. “So much so we are in the early stages of the accreditation process that could culminate in us becoming an accredited agency in next six months,” Simpson said. “That speaks volumes of our regional police department.” In Chester County, only the North Coventry, Phoenixville, Upper Uwchlan, East Brandywine, Westtown-East Goshen police departments, along with state police, are accredited by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. Recently, the regional police department moved into a new 11,700-square-foot, $4.3 million facility at 8934 Gap-Newport Pike. Simpson said he will meet with newly elected New Garden officials early next year to discuss the possibility of expanding the department to nearby municipalities, if they are interested.
Source: Daily Local; 11/13/2019

East Pikeland gets $315K for pedestrian safety
State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-155) and state Sen. Katie Muth (D-44) announced that East Pikeland Township will receive $315,000 from the Multimodal Transportation Fund to increase pedestrian safety along Route 23 and Route 724. The Multimodal Transportation Fund provides grants to encourage economic development and ensure that a safe and reliable system of transportation is available to the residents of the commonwealth. Otten and Muth said that the grant will go toward completing sidewalks beginning at the newly signalized intersection where Route 23 and Route 724 meet, and end at Township Line Road. The township seeks to fill gaps in the sidewalk structure along the corridor by installing new sidewalks and ADA-compliant ramps to improve mobility and access. The total project cost is roughly $450,000.
Source: Daily Local; 11/13/2019

Kennett Township tapping brakes on historic preservation spending
The chair of Kennett Township’s board of supervisors, Scudder Stevens, raised the question of how to judge the importance of particular historic structures in the township. During a discussion of the Isaac Allen house, Stevens said that the current slate of supervisors has been broadly committed to historic preservation. Eden Ratliff, the new township manager, had just finished saying there would be a presentation on the house’s history at a future meeting. The house, which sits on the property of Chatham Financial, may be the oldest structure in the township, and the march of British soldiers to the Battle of the Brandywine in 1777 may have been viewable from it. Stevens mentioned the recent Spar Hill Farm acquisition, meant to help preserve open space in the township, and the effort by township officials to determine which, if any, of the structures on it were worthy of being preserved. Stevens wondered if the township could continue to spend its money on old structures, and why.
Source: Daily Local; 11/8/2019

OJR to keep any tax increases within Act 1 index
The Owen J. Roberts School District will keep any tax increases for the 2020-2021 school year within the Act 1 index of 2.6%. Although school boards have the option to apply for exemptions to raise taxes above the state-mandated Act 1 index, OJR will not qualify for any exceptions next year, district Chief Financial Officer Jaclin Krumrine told the board at a recent meeting. While that’s good news for taxpayers, it will mean the school board has fewer options for balancing the budget if additional large expenses arise. In particular, the board has been looking into delaying the start of the school day, which would cost the district an estimated $1 million in the first year. While no decision has been made on the delayed start, the board will need to vote on the matter in January 2020 if it wants to implement a change for the next school year. The Act 1 index is set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education each year and is based on the average weekly wage and the employment cost index statewide.
Source: Daily Local; 11/9/2019

Delaware County

No tax hike in proposed Delaware County budget
Delaware County’s proposed 2020 budget, as presented on Nov. 4, does not contain a tax increase. If adopted, the county will have gone six straight years in a row without a tax increase, including a 2% tax cut in 2019. The proposed 2020 budget will be posted on the county website. A budget hearing will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 6 p.m. in the County Council Meeting Room, 201 W. Front St., Media. A second reading and final adoption of the 2020 budget will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 10 a.m. during the regularly scheduled council meeting.
Source: Media Patch; 11/6/2019

Delaware County Transition team forms
The Delaware County Transition is a Pennsylvania 501(c)(4) not-for-profit entity that has been formed to help the incumbent and newly elected members of Delaware County Council gather important information, identify key issues, and develop and recommend action plans regarding a wide range of issues and subjects relating to the governance and management of the county. The transition is overseen by the two incumbent council members and the three council members-elect with the assistance of primarily volunteer administrative staff. Read more here.

Problem Middletown intersection gets infusion of state funds for improvement
Delaware County towns are on track to receive more than $4 million in state Multimodal Transportation Funds via the Commonwealth Financing Authority. Middletown Township will use its $2 million to build a loop road at the intersection of Route 452 and Route 1, with two new signalized intersections and a pedestrian trail. The new loop road will also provide connections to the existing CVS and Chick-Fil-A, and there will be a service road to a proposed Wawa and bank. “This $2 million will be a significant help to bring the road to a reality,” Middletown Township Manager Andrew Haines said of the project expected to cost between $3 million and $4 million. He explained that township officials have been working on the project for the past two years, allocating $713,000 into land acquisition and design. Other county projects receiving the state funds include: $1.4 million to relocate a section of Tinicum Island Road at the Philadelphia International Airport; $500,000 to install sidewalks along two miles of Providence Road in Nether Providence; $250,000 for an intersection improvement in Millbourne; $100,000 for Media Borough for crosswalk improvements; and another $100,000 for Upper Providence for pedestrian-related improvements along North Providence and Sandybank roads.
Source: Daily Times; 11/13/2019

Upper Darby’s proposed budget increases taxes and fees
Upper Darby Township Council recently held the first of two budget hearings. The $82.3 million 2020 preliminary budget under review will cost a homeowner with a $108,000 average assessment an additional $147, for a total tax bill of $2,309 next year. The proposed budget also includes increases for sewer rental from $205 to $215 and a trash collection fee increase from $190 to $235 per household. During the budget hearing, residents asked for a line-item budget to better review the spending plan. Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Judge Jr. explained it was not put on the website because it was not voted on yet. Residents proposed that money be budgeted for safer and accessible sidewalks, removing trash from 69th Street, leaf collection, improving parks, quality-of-life issues and street sweeping signage.
Source: Daily Times; 11/9/2019

Chitwood to retire as Upper Darby’s top cop
Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, 75, has announced he will retire on Dec. 1. Mayor Tom Micozzie said he will use his authority to appoint an interim superintendent of police before Chitwood’s Dec. 1 retirement date, to last through Dec. 31. What the process will be after that, when Mayor-elect Barbarann Keffer and the new council take over in early January, has not yet been established. When asked if she would keep Chitwood as superintendent had he not retired, Keffer commented in general terms: “I hope, not just for the police superintendent, but for the people currently working at the various departments, that they will work with us for the people of Upper Darby and ensure a smooth and professional transition.” Micozzie and Keffer both acknowledged they will meet next week to start discussing the transition.
Source: Daily Times; 11/9/2019

Montgomery County

Lafayette Street Extension Project celebrated in Norristown
Federal, state and local Norristown officials recently celebrated the opening of the Lafayette Street Extension. The $90 million project connects downtown Norristown, the County Government Complex and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Norristown Transportation Center to the regional highway system and is considered the largest local infrastructure project in the commonwealth. The project aims to relieve traffic congestion and help spur economic development in Norristown and Plymouth Township. The extension is complete from Conshohocken to Dekalb streets. Pedestrians, trail users and transit riders will soon enjoy increased vehicle lanes, widened sidewalks, landscaped medians and a safe pedestrian crossing at the SEPTA transportation center. Two of the region’s most heavily traveled commuter and recreational trails, Schuylkill River and Chester Valley Trails, will also be connected for easy intercounty travel. “Connecting Norristown and Plymouth directly to the Pennsylvania Turnpike network will create more efficiency and encourage more people to visit for shopping and recreation,” said Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr., vice chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners. Managed by Montgomery County, the project relied on the oversight and expertise of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, which contributed $72 million to the project, leaving Montgomery County to cover the remaining $18 million.
Source: Montgomery County; 11/1/2019

Upper Dublin to receive $1.5M trail grant
State Rep. Ben Sanchez (D-153) announced that Upper Dublin Municipal Authority has received a $1.5 million state award to construct the Dreshertown Road Cross County Trail Extension in Upper Dublin Township. The municipal authority will use the funds to construct a 0.7-mile extension of the Cross County Trail and widen Virginia Drive/Dreshertown Road (SR 2024) between Susquehanna Road and Beacon Hill/Bantry Drive. In addition, the project will construct missing sidewalk segments, upgrade traffic signal systems to include pedestrian crosswalks, and make all intersection crosswalks and sidewalks ADA compliant. The authority and township are partnering to construct the project, and Montgomery County will accept ownership and maintain the completed trail. “These funds will increase the quality of multimodal travel in Upper Dublin, and so improve the quality of life as well,” Rep. Sanchez said. “From the parent enjoying a walk with their baby in a stroller along the trail to commuters enjoying an easier commute home, and school children safely crossing busy intersections, everyone will benefit from the improvements these state funds make possible.” The funding was awarded by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, which holds fiduciary responsibility over the funding of programs and investments in Pennsylvania's economic growth.
Source: PA 153rd press release; 11/12/2019

Upper Pottsgrove taxes steady in budget draft
Upper Pottsgrove supervisors reviewed a $3.5 million budget draft that contains no property tax hike or increase in sewer fees. The budget does contain a $384,000 operating deficit that will be covered by drawing from the $1.4 million reserve carried over from the 2019 budget. The draft sewer budget also includes a budget gap of about $470,000 that will be covered by drawing on the sewer fund balance, keeping the sewer rates, already the highest in the region, in check for now. If adopted without change, the budget will mark the eighth time in nine years that Upper Pottsgrove has not raised property taxes.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/11/2019

Upper Providence posts budget schedule
The 2020 Preliminary Budget for Upper Providence Township, with expenditures totaling around $21.5 million, is available for inspection on the Upper Providence website. A public workshop regarding the 2020 budget will be held on Monday, Nov. 18, at 6 p.m. at the township administration building, 1286 Black Rock Road, Phoenixville. The supervisors will consider the budget for adoption at their meeting scheduled for Monday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend and comment on the proposed expenditures.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/08/2019

Philadelphia

A new kind of affordable housing comes to South Philadelphia
Five new townhomes in Point Breeze that will soon be available for purchase will be part of a community land trust, a strategy for preserving affordability that has become increasingly popular across the country. The Women’s Community Revitalization Project (WCRP) and Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson’s office worked to secure the land from the city. It will include the five permanently affordable ownership units and 33 units of rental housing, all supported by Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The idea behind a community land trust is that the nonprofit group will hold on to the land, in WCRP’s case with a renewable 99-year ground lease. The lease guarantees that rental housing built on the property will be permanently affordable, despite expiring subsidies. For homeowners, it means they can build equity, but there will be a cap on how high the sale price can go, ensuring that when they sell, a family of a similar income and class background can buy it. The homes are called the Mamie Nichols Homes after a titan of community organizing in the neighborhood. Click here for the full story.
Source: PlanPhilly.com; 11/12/2019

West Philly neighborhood gets historic designation
The Philadelphia Historical Commission recently voted to make Overbrook Farms a Historic District. The neighborhood was built as a “suburb de luxe” for the rich in the late 1800s, and has been at the center of a debate relating to historic district designation for over a decade. Residents have wrestled with the question of whether it merits being designated a historic district, which is a collection of properties that receive additional protection — or scrutiny — from the city. Philadelphia has repeatedly seen historic buildings fall because of development pressure in today’s red-hot market — a problem that is exacerbated, preservationists say, by a low proportion of historic protections. Just 2.2% of Philadelphia’s buildings are listed on the city’s historic register, compared with an average among 50 cities of 4.3%. Philadelphia has 24 historic districts under the purview of the historical commission, the 14-member appointed body that regulates exterior appearances of designated properties. Local historic districts are different from national ones, which can provide tax credits for rehabilitation projects and require cooperation from a majority of homeowners before a district is formed. Local districts, in contrast, are decided by the historical commission after multiple hearings. The Overbrook Farms Historic District contains 501 properties, according to the nomination, and stretches roughly from 58th to 66th streets, and from City Avenue to the rear property lines of Woodbine Avenue. The neighborhood has been a National Historic District since 1985.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 11/8/2019

 

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