NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs

Bucks County
Bucks sheriff sales go online

Chester County
Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program

Delaware County
Brandywine Battlefield property purchased

Montgomery County
Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline

Philadelphia County
Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords

 

News Briefs

 

General News

Counties roll out emergency rent and utility assistance programs
Pennsylvania counties have tens of millions of dollars to help renters and landlords impacted by COVID-19.  Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funds can be used to pay for rent, past-due balances, utility costs and certain other expenses for up to 15 months. Tenants can apply, or landlords can apply on behalf of current tenants. The ERAP program does not have a maximum payment, and it allows for funding of past-due amounts — a notable improvement over last year’s Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency program, which capped rental assistance at $750 a month and required that landlords forgive the difference. Applicants are encouraged to act soon, as funds are limited. In nearby Berks County, the ERAP program was shut down for two weeks to allow staff to work through a huge influx of early applications. Visit the SRA’s ERAP webpage for more information and links to each county’s program site.

Lawmakers open redistricting post to public applications
The once-a-decade process to draw new political maps — normally done in secret with little public input — is officially under way in Harrisburg, and the General Assembly’s Democratic and Republican caucus leaders are accepting applications from members of the public to chair the powerful Legislative Reapportionment Commission. It’s only the second time in the commission’s five-decade history that lawmakers have done so. Beyond settling politically charged disputes, the chair is in a position to cast the tie-breaking vote on state House and Senate maps that determine which voters go where, which communities are split apart, and which lawmakers have a shot at getting reelected. Advocacy groups like Fair Districts PA and Common Cause PA are encouraged by State Sen. David Argall’s bill that puts guardrails on who can serve as chair, which prohibits a person from holding the role if they or their spouse were recently registered lobbyists or political candidates, or worked for a political campaign or public official. Read more here.
Source: Spotlight PA; 4/6/2021

School funding suit gets new trial date
A lawsuit alleging the Pennsylvania General Assembly has violated the state’s constitution by failing to provide fair and adequate funding for public education has been given a tentative trial date of Sept. 9 in Commonwealth Court. An April 1 order from Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer sets a pretrial conference date of June 21, when the true date of trial is expected to be set, but offers the tentative September date for planning purposes and lays out a timeline for things like motions and responses. The lawsuit names the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Gov. Tom Wolf, and government officials like state Senate President Pro-Tempore Jake Corman and Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bryan Cutler as defendants, among others. The case was brought in 2014 by six school districts, including William Penn in Delaware County, as well as the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, the Pennsylvania NAACP, and five public school parents to challenge what they view as a skewed funding structure that has harmed the state’s poorest children. According to the suit, Pennsylvania lawmakers have been on notice since at least 2006 that public education required approximately $4.4 billion in additional funding in order for all schools to meet the state’s academic standards and assessments. The petitioners pointed to U.S. Census data ranking Pennsylvania 44th in the nation in terms of state funding, with just 38% of districts’ funding coming from the state. They say this leaves districts heavily reliant on generating funds from local wealth and sets up a system where rich communities thrive and poor communities are left behind. The General Assembly at one point did approve a bill that established funding targets for each school district and a formula for distributing education funds in a more equitable manner, the complaint says, but the petitioners say the formula was later scrapped and districts saw funding slashed by $860 million in 2011 with no ability to increase local funding.
Source: Daily Local; 4/5/2021

Peco seeks electric rate hike that would boost bills by 9.65%
Peco has filed a request with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) seeking a $246 million electric rate. The Philadelphia utility, which serves 1.6 million electric customers in Southeastern Pennsylvania, said the increase is needed to pay for billions of dollars in investment to harden and modernize the local energy grid to accommodate clean energy demands, including more electric vehicle charging and solar energy generation in homes and businesses. As part of its proposal, Peco is seeking $1.5 million of incentives for electric vehicle charging infrastructure to support commercial, industrial and public transit customers, “with a focus on reducing emissions in disadvantaged communities,” according to a company statement. The rate hike would take effect in January 2022 and would be about 10 times bigger than the $24.9 million increase in 2019. Utilities, customer advocates and PUC staff typically negotiate a settlement that reduces the utility’s original request. If approved, Peco said, the typical monthly bill for a residential customer who uses 700 kilowatt hours a month would increase by 9.65% to about $110. A typical small-business customer would see a monthly bill increase of about $44.74, or 5.49%.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 3/31/2021

PennDOT urges caution with online renewals
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) reminds customers to use the official website — www.dmv.pa.gov — when renewing their driver’s license or vehicle registration. Some third-party websites can appear “official” but charge unnecessary fees.
Source: Gettysburg Times; 4/1/2021

Bucks County

Bucks sheriff sales go online
The Bucks County Sheriff’s Department scheduled its first online auction of properties for April 9. The decision to go online was made to avoid overcrowding, said Sheriff Milt Warrell. About 180 properties were scheduled to be sold at the auction, a high number because it is Bucks County’s first sheriff’s sale this year. The auction was conducted by Bid4Assets, a national firm that recently hosted online auctions of properties in Berks, Monroe, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. According to the company, the sale is projected to increase participation from bidders and surplus overages returned to former homeowners, all at no cost to Bucks County.
Source: Bucks Courier Times; 4/4/2021 & Doylestown Patch; 4/5/2021

Doylestown announces return of ‘pedestrian zones’
Doylestown Borough is giving local businesses a boost with the return of its “pedestrian zones” on weekend nights from Friday, April 9, through September. The pedestrian zones started last year in an effort to keep local businesses operating during the pandemic. A rotating schedule will close different streets through the summer to allow businesses to set up shop outside. Patrons and business employees will still need to wear face masks and practice social distancing. More information about the pedestrian zones and Operation Doylestown, a local business support program, can be found on the borough website.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/3/2021

Chalfont Habitat ReStore relocating to larger digs
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Chalfont has announced it will relocate to Warminster and double its size, making it one of the largest ReStore locations in the county. The new 40,000-square-foot facility at 539 Jacksonville Road is scheduled for a grand opening in early summer 2021. Habitat for Humanity ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell new and gently used building materials, appliances, furniture and home accessories at a fraction of retail price. Proceeds from ReStore help provide affordable housing across the county, store officials said.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 4/6/2021

Course examines the historic architecture of Doylestown Borough
Delaware Valley University’s Office of Continuing & Professional Studies is launching a virtual, synchronous noncredit historical architecture course that will explore the development and architectural history, styles and preservation of Doylestown Borough. Historical architect Jennifer Jarret will host the two-week course via Zoom on Thursdays, April 15 and 22, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., followed by a virtual walking tour on Saturday, April 24, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Registration costs $55, and the course is open to ages 18 and older. Click here for more information.
Source: Doylestown Patch; 4/8/2021

Chester County 

Chesco to offer webinar on Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program
Chester County will host a webinar for members of the public to learn more about eligibility and benefits of the Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program (ERAP). The webinar will be held Friday, April 16, at 11:30 a.m. Visit the county website for more information and a link to join. Chester County’s ERAP can only be accessed by dialing 2-1-1 and selecting the prompt for “Housing Crisis.” Funding will serve individuals and families that are obligated to pay rent and meet the following three criteria:

  1. Qualify for unemployment or have experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19.
  2. Demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.
  3. Have a household income at or below 80% of the area median.

The SRA has put together an information page on ERAP programs in Chester County and other local counties.
Source: Chester County; 4/7/2021

Coatesville leaders discuss redevelopment efforts
The Coatesville 2nd Century Alliance recently updated stakeholders on efforts to revitalize the city. Watch a recording of the update on YouTube. Executive director Sonia Huntzinger shared a strategic planning update on the nonprofit’s initiatives for the next five years. She was joined in the virtual forum by several other community leaders, including Joe DiSciullo, chair of the Coatesville ReDevelopment Authority, Tomas Hanna, superintendent of the Coatesville Area School District, Vanessa Briggs, president and CEO of Brandywine Health Foundation, and Linda Lavender-Norris, president of Coatesville City Council. City Manager James Logan announced a job fair that will be held Saturday, April 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at City Hall. Logan also said local and county advocates are working on programs to support first-time homeowners.
Source: Daily Local; 4/1/2021

Downingtown development nears approval
Trestle View Village is close to becoming a reality in Downingtown Borough’s Johnsontown neighborhood. Borough council must first vote to grant the developer a variance to allow 66 units — instead of 44, which is presently allowed under current zoning rules. The request comes with a recommendation for approval from the planning board, though it’s ultimately the council’s decision. During the planning board’s review hearing, several residents spoke up against the proposed development. The property that would become Trestle View Village is a combination of about 10 properties from Willow Street to Keene Lane, according to builder Francis Taraschi. If borough council approves the conditional usage request, construction of luxury townhouses will begin soon. Sidewalks for the neighboring community are also planned.
Source: Daily Local; 4/6/2021

Chester County Planning Commission to host Open Space Summit
The Chester County Planning Commission will host a virtual Open Space Summit on Thursday, April 29. The event will be a celebration of open space preservation achievements in 2020 and a look ahead to future initiatives. Learn more about the event and register here.
Source: Chester County; 4/7/2021

Proposed Reading-to-Philly Amtrak route runs through Montco, Chesco
Amtrak is working on a plan to bring back passenger rail service from Berks County to Philadelphia — with stops as it travels through Montgomery and Chester counties. Amtrak’s expansive vision comes in the wake of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that includes $80 billion designated to expand and improve the nation’s northeast train corridor. Amtrak spokesperson Beth Toll said she could not disclose what impact the Amtrak expansion will have on a plan by local officials to restore train service from Reading to Philadelphia. John P. Weidenhammer, Berks Alliance chairman, said Amtrak’s plan to expand is excellent news for Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, and noted that an additional proposed rail expansion in the Allentown and Scranton areas would be an economic boost for Pennsylvania.
Source: Times Herald; 4/2/2021

Delaware County

Brandywine Battlefield property purchased
North American Land Trust (NALT) has acquired a historic Brandywine Battlefield property — located on Oakland Road in Delaware County — with the intent to protect the land forever under conservation easement before ultimately opening its 72 acres to the public as Brinton Run Preserve. Originally considered for development, the property’s diverse array of plant and wildlife species and its historic significance will be forever preserved. In addition to removing a modern home, NALT plans to reintroduce native plant species across the property, undertake riparian maintenance, implement a trail system and create opportunities for community programming. Interpretive opportunities to help passive recreational users better understand the history of the Battle of Brandywine are also in the works. Through local partnerships with the Brinton 1704 House, Chadds Ford Township and other groups, NALT hopes to create a community space where everyone is welcome to enjoy nature and appreciate the unique history of Brinton Run Preserve. Brinton Run Preserve is not yet open to the public.
Source: Daily Local; 4/4/2021

Haverford offers residents free trees
The Haverford Township Shade Tree Commission is offering 100 free yard trees to Haverford Township residents for pre-scheduled, socially distant pick-up on the morning of Saturday, May 1, in the township's east parking lot. Pre-registration is required, and a link to sign up will be posted on the township's news webpage on Monday, April 19.
Source: Haverford Township; 4/2021

Lansdowne marks Fair Housing Month with resolution
In honor of April being Fair Housing Month, Lansdowne Borough passed Resolution 2021-08, which commemorates the 53rd anniversary of the Civil Rights Fair Housing Act of 1968. "This Act provides equal housing opportunity for all Americans regardless of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, as well as to ensure fair practice in the sale, rental or financing of property," according to the borough website. "The Borough of Lansdowne recognizes the particular contributions of past and present Lansdowne residents since 1956 who worked to build local support for state and national fair housing laws, embracing the integration of their neighborhoods and advocating for a diverse and welcoming community." Read the resolution here (PDF).
Source: Lansdowne Borough; 4/2021

Prison study unveils savings through deprivatization
The findings of an analysis commissioned by the Delaware County Jail Oversight Board determined that the county could save up to $7 million annually by taking over operations of George W. Hill Correctional Facility. The assessment included a reduction in staff, mostly administrative and in the K-9 unit — and potentially in population — and featured a 6% salary increase for staff and a $1.6 million increase in programming. Proponents said the plan demonstrates an ability to direct revenues toward rehabilitating citizens and retaining employees, while opponents questioned the risk it would place on the county, such as potential litigation costs. It showed that the facility could be under county operations as early as next March, if notification to the current operator, GEO Group Inc., is given in August. “We are the only county in the state of Pennsylvania who does not run their own jail and who outsources it to a private entity. We can’t lose sight of that,” said Kevin Madden, chairman of the Jail Oversight Board and a county councilman. “Other counties have found ways to mitigate risks.”
Source: Daily Times; 4/2/2021

Montgomery County

Lower Merion extends business privilege/mercantile tax deadline
Lower Merion Township commissioners approved a temporary extension of the filing and payment deadlines for the township’s 2020 final and 2021 estimated business privilege tax returns from Thursday, April 15, to Monday, May 17. The payment deadline was changed to be consistent with the revised filing and payment deadlines established by the Internal Revenue Service. The extended filing and payment deadlines will not apply to delinquent taxes or delinquent returns for years prior to 2020, or the local services tax or any other township fees. Adjustments will be posted on the Lower Merion Township Finance Department website.
Source: Main Line Media News; 3/26/2021

Proposed Reading-to-Philly Amtrak route runs through Montco, Chesco
Amtrak is working on a plan to bring back passenger rail service from Berks County to Philadelphia — with stops as it travels through Montgomery and Chester counties. Amtrak’s expansive vision comes in the wake of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that includes $80 billion designated to expand and improve the nation’s northeast train corridor. Amtrak spokesperson Beth Toll said she could not disclose what impact the Amtrak expansion will have on a plan by local officials to restore train service from Reading to Philadelphia. John P. Weidenhammer, Berks Alliance chairman, said Amtrak’s plan to expand is excellent news for Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, and noted that an additional proposed rail expansion in the Allentown and Scranton areas would be an economic boost for Pennsylvania.
Source: Times Herald; 4/2/2021

Final phase of redevelopment at former Souderton High School moving forward
Souderton Borough Council recently gave conditional preliminary approval for the final phase of the redevelopment of the former Souderton Area High School property. The overall plan for the property in the block between North School Lane, East Chestnut Street, County Line Road and East Broad Street (Route 113) is for a mix of residential and commercial buildings, but to date only townhomes have been built. The final push for redevelopment will consist of two phases, said Borough Manager Mike Coll. The first phase will include the construction of a Dollar General store, completion of Market Street between School Lane and County Line Road, construction of 18 townhomes along Chestnut Street, and a mixed-use building to serve as a model. The final phase includes 20 townhomes, five additional commercial pad sites, a restaurant and 28 residential units built over commercial space.
Source: Souderton Independent; 4/6/2021

Rep. Webster relocates district office
State Rep. Joe Webster (D-150) and his staff have moved to a new district office located at 35 Evansburg Road, Collegeville. The 150th House District includes Lower Providence, Skippack, part of Upper Providence, part of West Norriton, and the boroughs of Trappe and Collegeville. The office phone number is 484-200-8263, and the hours of operation will be weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Appointments must be made ahead of in-person visits, and masks must be worn at all times when visiting the district office. A list of constituent services is available at Webster’s website.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 4/1/2021

Philadelphia

Philadelphia rental and utility assistance program open for tenants and landlords
Philadelphia’s latest version of its pandemic rental assistance program includes funds for renters’ utility payments as well as rental assistance. People who have experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic can apply for a piece of the roughly $97 million in federal funds now available in the latest round of assistance at the program website. Tenants and landlords can receive up to 18 months of rent and/or utility assistance, with rent payments capping out at $2,000 monthly and $2,000 each for water, electric and gas bills. Read more here.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 4/5/2021

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