NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
National Flood Insurance Program extension

Bucks County
Warminster to consider strict new rental property ordinance

Chester County
West Chester admin offices, police, to temporarily relocate

Delaware County
Delco unveils $650M budget with no tax increase

Montgomery County
Limerick to consider residential rental registration and inspection ordinance

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia Housing Authority slow to pay for eminent domain

 
 

 



 

News Briefs

 

General News

National Flood Insurance Program extension
On December 8, 2017, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was extended as part of a continuing resolution to keep the government open for two weeks. NAR will continue working with Congress to ensure that the NFIP does not lapse while the Senate works on its version of the 5-year reauthorization and reform measure. Read NAR's letters to both the House and Senate urging an extension.
Source: Nar.realtor; 12/8/2017

Tax reform update
This week House and Senate Republicans struck a tentative deal on the tax bill, which they claim could lead to a final vote on the measure as early as next week. While many details regarding the tax plan are still forthcoming, some elements of interest to home owners and the real estate industry have leaked out, including: The mortgage interest deduction threshold -- dropped to $500,000 in the House and left untouched in the Senate -- would be set at $750,000 under the compromise bill; the State and Local Tax deduction component of the plan will be expanded beyond just property taxes to include income taxes, but will be capped at $10,000. In addition, the current version reportedly would only allow one of the two taxes – either income or property – to be deducted in any given tax year. More information about the plan’s impact on the housing industry will be posted here in coming days.
Source: CNN; 12/13/2017

Bucks County

Warminster to consider strict new rental property ordinance
Warminster Township supervisors will consider adoption of an ordinance that amends and consolidates township regulations related to rental housing. The proposed ordinance will be considered at the December 21, 2017 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Warminster Township Building, 401 Gibson Ave., Warminster, PA 18974. The proposed ordinance imposes strict new requirements governing residential rental license including issuance and inspection guidelines. One section of the ordinance, titled “§ 13-906. Revocation of Residential Rental License Permits,” outlines various reasons that the township can revoke a rental license for up to three years, including property maintenance issues and a long list of one-time tenant offenses, such as: under-age drinking, drug possession, sale, or use; a untimely or excessive noise or disruptive conduct, including but not limited to, noise or disturbance caused by voices, radios, stereos, televisions, tools, machinery, equipment, motorized vehicles or animals. Click here for the proposed ordinance. “This is the most aggressive rental ordinance we’ve seen in our 238 municipality territory,” said Jamie Ridge, president/ceo of the Suburban Realtors Alliance. “We urge any of our members who have a property in the township to attend the Dec. 21 meeting and make your voice heard.”

Developer proposed 42 homes on Warminster’s last farm
The Warminster planning commission voted 4-2 in favor of recommending that the township supervisors approve a conditional use plan for a 42-home neighborhood on the 20-acre Dautcher farm. The farm sits on the corner of Mearns and Ivyland roads and is zoned R2 residential, which allows the construction of 36 homes by right. The developer, Palmer Development LLC, is seeking conditional use approval to construct 42 single-family homes on 9,000 square-foot lots. An existing farm stand and gravel drive on a 6.7-acre section of the property near the intersection of Mearns and Ivyland would be removed to return the area to its natural look and satisfy the open space requirement. Residents from surrounding neighborhoods attended the meeting to voice concerns about additional traffic in the area. Warminster supervisor Jason Croley said he was sad to see the Dautcher farm disappear, but the conditional use process will provide the township an opportunity for more input on the design. “By negotiating the conditional use, we can get some things in return. We would have very little say in the by-right plan.”
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/13/2017

Positive news in Perkasie
Perkasie Borough council recently voted to advertise a $17.3 million preliminary budget for 2018 that holds the line on taxes. Council President Jim Ryder praised staff for cost saving measures and presenting a budget that is about $1.1 million less than the 2017 budget. Council also unanimously voted to adopt a resolution prohibiting the establishment of mini-casinos within borough limits before the window to opt out closes on Dec. 31.  In other news, a year-end overview of Perkasie’s economic development and growth indicates strong, continued growth into next year and beyond. According to Stephen Barth, Perkasie economic development consultant, new jobs, new housing development, new business investment and rising property values all contributed to dynamic and continued economic growth throughout the borough. “Everyday growth here in Perkasie is really unprecedented anywhere in Bucks County,” Barth said.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/7/2017

Northampton posts draft Comprehensive Plan Update for public review
The draft Comprehensive Plan Update for Northampton Township is available for public review. The draft was presented by the Bucks County Planning Commission at the November 14 meeting of the Northampton Planning Commission. Click here for the press release and link to the draft plan. The plan may be adopted by the Board of Supervisors in February 2018.
Source: Northampton Township Website News; 11/17/2017

Taxes steady in Springfield
Springfield Township supervisors will soon consider a 2018 budget that does not increase taxes. The preliminary budget maintains the 12 mill tax rate, so the owner of a home valued at $310,395 would pay $406 in township taxes. Although expenses exceed revenues by $41,000, township Manager Mike Brown said the township could either draw on its reserves to make up the difference or opt not to fund some projects in the current budget.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 12/7/2017

Chester County 

West Chester admin offices, police, to temporarily relocate
On Dec. 21, the Borough of West Chester administrative offices and police department, located at 401 East Gay Street, will temporarily relocate to the Spellman Building at 829 Paoli Pike, West Goshen Township. This is the former West Chester Area School District administration building. Relocating all government offices and police services will help expedite a $4.9 million interior renovation of Borough Hall. The renovation is required in order to enlarge and improve the space needed by the police department. The borough anticipates the renovation will take approximately 10 to 12 months. All existing telephone numbers, US Postal and email addresses will remain the same during the relocation period. All borough departments are planning to return to 401 East Gay Street prior to January, 2019.
Source: Daily Local; 12/6/2017

New Strategy enables Coventry Mall to reinvent itself
Coventry Mall in North Coventry Township is working on reinventing itself by filling a void common in rural suburbs where there is often no centralized downtown for people to gather. With an eye toward creating that gathering spot, the owner wants to make the mall a place for the community to come together. The mall was acquired last year by Pennmark Real Estate Investors and Developers for $15.6 million, a fraction of its 2004 sale price of $106.5 million. Now, the owner is determined to repurpose it as a new town square of sorts, and has hired a full-time events coordinator. The popularity of the mall events is growing, and the mall now hosts around 20 of them each month. Among the many different-themed events are an Elvis Dance Party and a Pumpkin Scavenger Hunt. However, Pennmark still wants to keep retail at the heart of the property. The owner has already invested $5 million on fitting out space for new tenants, and plans to spend an additional $5 million as more lease commitments come in.
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal; 11/29/2017

PUC OKs rate hike for Pennsylvania American Water
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved a settlement that allows Pennsylvania American Water to raise water and wastewater rates, effective Jan. 1, 2018. The typical monthly residential water bill for Pennsylvania American Water customers using 3,630 gallons will increase by $5.22 per month, from $55.63 to $60.85. The settlement will result in an increase of approximately $62 million in annual revenue. The primary factor behind the rate increase is the approximately $1.26 billion of investments to replace and upgrade aging infrastructure since its last rate case in 2013, officials said. Pennsylvania American Water President Jeffrey McIntyre said the approximately $1.26 billion in improvements for treatment plants, storage tanks, wells and pumping stations reflect a commitment to protect public health in the more than 400 communities served by Pennsylvania American Water. The investments also include replacing nearly 450 miles of aging pipe, as well as valves, service lines, hydrants and other parts of the company’s nearly 10,700-mile network of water and sewer lines. The settlement approved by the PUC includes adjustments to wastewater rates for customers served by the company’s 16 wastewater systems. The changes affect Pennsylvania American Water’s approximately 55,000 wastewater customers in Adams, Beaver, Chester, Clarion, Cumberland, Lackawanna, Monroe, Northumberland, Pike, Washington and York counties. Additional water and wastewater rates information is available on the company’s website under Customer Service & Billing, and click on Your Water Rates link (https://amwater.com/paaw/customer-service-billing/your-water-rates).
Source: Daily Local; 12/8/2017

Growing police force in Kennett Township necessitates substantial tax hike
A substantial rise in taxes to pay for the municipal police force will be part of Kennett Township’s 2018 budget. In recent years, the township’s police force has grown, and the expenses for it have grown as well. The 2018 budget projects $1.5 million in expenses for emergency services, so the supervisors voted for an increase of 1.9 mills in the real-estate tax rate, which currently stands at .4 mills.  Supervisor Richard Leff said the total tax bill for an average household in the township would come to about $930 per year, which he said was in line with other municipalities in the area. The supervisors said they had known for a long time that the costs, and therefore income, for police services would have to go up. Leff said another consideration was the township’s surplus, from which emergency services costs had been paid in recent years. Currently the township has the equivalent of about a year’s worth of expenses in its reserves, which was what its accountants recommended. It would not be wise to draw it down any further, Leff said. Township Manager Lisa Moore said the residents, herself included, appreciated having their own police force who could respond much more quickly than the state police.
Source: Kennett Paper; 12/8/2017

Delaware County

Delco unveils $650M budget with no tax increase
Delaware County officials unveiled a $650 million budget and, as promised, it comes with no real estate tax increase — even as state and federal funding decreases and the need for various services increases. “You’ll see even though that’s an immense amount of money, we have a very lean budget here in Delaware County,” county Councilman John McBlain said. “It is a fourth year in a row with no tax increase and I’m very proud of that.” County Executive Director Marianne Grace outlined the components of the budget. “Approximately 50 percent of our revenue comes from our real estate taxes and the other 50 percent comes from departmental earnings, other income, the unassigned fund balance and grants,” she said. Council Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone also noted the county’s bond ratings of Aa for Standard & Poor’s and Aa1 for Moody’s as an example of the county’s financial strength.
Source: Daily Times; 12/8/2017

Ridley Township Use and Occupancy process
The Suburban Realtors Alliance has received a number of calls from Realtors regarding the Use and Occupancy inspection process in Ridley Township. Reports that buyers and sellers are being required to make sidewalk repairs ahead of closing have been noted. If you experience a similar issue, please contact the Alliance staff at sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com or 610-981-9000. Realtors are reminded that the Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act has been in effect for all Pennsylvania municipalities since January 2, 2017. The Act forbids municipalities from requiring the repair of property maintenance issues that have been discovered through a municipal inspection as a condition of granting a resale (use and occupancy) certificate. The Act applies to both interior and exterior property maintenance issues, including sidewalks and curbs. 

Nether Providence to consider requiring knox boxes for certain structures
Nether Providence Township adopted an ordinance requiring the installation of knox boxes on certain structures, specifying the size and type of fire department connections. Knox boxes are small, wall-mounted safes that hold building keys for fire departments, emergency medical services, and sometimes police to retrieve in emergency situations.
Source: Daily Times; 11/30/2017

Archdiocese OKs agreement of sale with new Don Guanella developer
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and a West Conshohocken-based developer have entered into an agreement of sale for the 213-acre former Don Guanella property that had been at the center of a vocal outcry from the community. In 2015, the archdiocese entered into a $47 million agreement with Goodman Properties for the Sproul and Reed roads property for a development that included residential, retail and entertainment uses. That sale was never completed as Marple Township did not approve zoning variances that would have permitted the mixed-use development. The terms of this agreement were not disclosed. “Our plan is to work with the community and preserve a portion of the property,” Peter Miller of Carlino Commercial Development said. “That’s a fundamental part of our thinking.” He said they were working with representatives of Save Marple Greenspace and the Natural Lands Trust in this effort.
Source: Daily Times; 12/7/2017

State finds Chester Upland finances in ‘chaos’
The Chester Upland School District is in “administrative chaos” said Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who released an audit that claims the district and the state have failed Chester students. Financial records for the school years encompassing 2013-2016 were incomplete or unavailable, completely hindering the audit conducted by DePasquale. In that span, the district’s debt rose from $79.4 million to $163.5 million, while the general fund balance plummeted into the red. “It is rather rare to find a school district in such disarray that we are unable to complete an audit,” DePasquale said. The condition of the district’s finances “leaves doubts about whether the district’s students are getting the education they deserve and need,” he added. The district released a statement in regards to the findings Wednesday: “Since the current administration has been in place, the district has been ‘very responsive’ to reviews. We are working to correct policy violations, as well as catalog district data. The current administration has been in place for a short time, and we strongly believe that stability and systemic organization is key to guiding Chester Upland toward success. We look forward to continuing our work with the district and the community to redefine and enhance the quality of education for our students.”
Source: Daily Times; 12/7/2017

Montgomery County

Limerick to consider residential rental registration and inspection ordinance
Limerick Township supervisors will consider for adoption a residential rental registration, licensing and inspection ordinance after a public hearing scheduled for December 19, 2017 at 7 p.m. at the Limerick Township Municipal Building, 155 S. Limerick Rd. The proposed ordinance amends Chapter 135, Rental Property, to provide provisions for the registration, licensing and inspection of residential rental properties within the township “to encourage owners and occupants to maintain and improve the quality of life and quality of rental housing within the Township.” The proposed ordinance will require inspection of residential rental properties every two years or at change of tenant. The inspection shall include the interior and exterior of each residential unit in accordance with the International Fire Code, 2009, or most recent version adopted by the township; the International Property Maintenance Code, 2009, or most recent version adopted by the township; and other applicable Commonwealth or Township code, regulation or ordinances related to safe occupancy of the residential rental unit. Click here for the proposed ordinance.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/12/2017

Draft Jenkintown2035 Comprehensive Plan open for public comment
Jenkintown’s last full comprehensive plan was completed in 1962, but the borough continued to do extensive planning work with a focus on economic revitalization in the downtown core area along York Road. Jenkintown2035 is a draft Comprehensive Plan that will serve as the Borough’s long-range community vision and establish the policies, priorities, and guidelines to achieve that desired vision. The draft Jenkintown2035 Comprehensive Plan can be reviewed online here or at Borough Hall or the Jenkintown Library. The Jenkintown2035 Steering Committee welcomes comments and recommendations at http://jenkintownboro.com/jenkintown2035-feedbackcontact/.
Source: Jenkintown Borough; 11/28/2017

Taxes increase in Upper Moreland
The Upper Moreland board of commissioners approved a 2018 budget that includes a 1.9 percent increase in the tax rate. The township tax rate will increase from 4.939 to 5.033 mills. A mill is a tax of $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value, so a home assessed at the township average of $127,740 can expect to pay an additional $12 in taxes for 2018. The budget increased 4.6 percent over 2017 and will fund several capital projects and increased funding for the Willow Grove Fire Company, Upper Moreland Free Library and the Upper Moreland Historical Commission. “The 2018 operating budget will ensure township services are maintained at their current levels, important capital improvement needs are addressed and a prudent amount of reserve funds retained,” officials noted in their budget statement.
Source: Public Spirit; 12/12/2017

Franconia to consider amending accessory structure regulations
Franconia Township supervisors will consider enacting an ordinance that will increase the permitted size of accessory structures and buildings for conditional uses within the R-130 Residential Zoning District and to limit the number of accessory buildings per lot to one. The proposed ordinance will be considered at the December 18, 2017 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Franconia Township Building, 671 Allentown Road, Telford, PA 18969. The public is invited to attend and will be given an opportunity to provide comments regarding this ordinance.  The proposed ordinance is available for public review at the township building during normal business hours.
Source: The Reporter; 12/8/2017

Philadelphia

Philadelphia Housing Authority slow to pay for eminent domain
The Philadelphia Housing Authority took 1,300 properties through eminent domain in 2015 to make way for a massive redevelopment of the Sharswood neighborhood and Blumberg housing projects, located just North of Fairmount and Francisville. The area is surrounded by rapid gentrification, and the move was pitched as an effort to preserve an island of affordiblity for low-income people in a sea of rising housing prices. Fewer than 150 homes were occupied at the time of the seizure, and those residents were relocated throughout the city. Two years after the properties were taken, only 10 percent of the 800 privately-owned properties seized have been paid for. Many owners are tied up in a slow appeals process trying to get a better price. The Housing Authority offered wildly varying amounts for similar properties—often well below the city’s tax assessment for the properties. Many of the owners of the now vacant properties purchased the properties from the Housing Authority in a 2011 auction with plans to hold them as investments. The former owners contend that they paid their taxes and would like a fair price from the city.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/8/2017

PA Auditor General: State should return PPA control to city
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently announced the findings of two audits of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). The audits found that former Executive Director Vincent J. Fenerty had free range to hire whoever he wanted, manipulate records, and use the PPA’s funds to pay for lavish expenses. One audit estimates that Fenerty’s actions and decisions shortchanged the Philadelphia School District by $322,232. In addition, $76.8 million in unpaid parking fines since 2012 is also money that could have gone to the School District. Under the current state-mandated formula, the PPA sends the city the first $35 million it raises beyond the cost of running its on-street parking operation. Revenue raised beyond that amount goes to the School District – about $10 million annually over the past few years. DePasquale said Fenerty should have been fired in 2015 after he admitted to sexually harassing a coworker, but was instead allowed to continue to work with unchecked control of the agency. The audit found Fenerty manipulated records to improperly pay himself $2,000 for unpaid leave and make similar improper payments to other senior managers. Because the payments may have violated the state’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Act, DePasquale said we would refer the case to the IRS, the state Attorney General’s Office, and the State Ethics Commission. DePasquale called the board of directors of the PPA “absentee landlords” that failed to rein in Fenerty and recommended that the state should return control of the authority to the city. City Council passed a resolution calling on the mayor, legislature, and governor to take steps to return the authority to city control. Gov. Wolf issued a statement also calling for abolishing state control of the authority.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/8/2017


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