NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
$11B budget package passes state legislature

Bucks County
Bucks County releases preliminary budget

Chester County
Valley Township to consider vacant property registration ordinance

Delaware County
Delco 2021 budget calls for no tax hike, significant job cuts

Montgomery County
Schwenksville eyes 22% tax increase

Philadelphia County
City council passes bill to curb real estate scammers

 

News Briefs

 

General News

$11B budget package passes state legislature
An $11 billion no-new-taxes spending package won passage in a lame duck session of Pennsylvania’s legislature, as lawmakers sought to plug a multibillion-dollar deficit brought on by the pandemic and carry state government operations through the rest of the fiscal year. Lawmakers voted as they rushed to wrap up their two-year session. A coronavirus outbreak in the House of Representatives caused hours of delay before the main spending bill passed the chamber, 104-97, and the Senate, 31-18. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, will sign it, his office said. “COVID-19 has left Pennsylvania in a difficult financial situation, and this budget protects against furloughs and deep cuts to critical programs,” the governor’s office said in a statement. Billions in federal aid helped paper over the state’s deficits, while the state draws hundreds of millions of dollars from a bank line-of-credit to prop up cash flow.
Source: Daily Times; 11/21/2020

Quinn’s pipeline safety bill moves to governor’s desk
A bill introduced by state Rep. Chris Quinn (R-168), of Delaware County, that would require pipeline companies to share their emergency plans with first responders is now headed to the governor’s desk in the final step before becoming law. The bill would require pipeline companies that carry natural gas liquids through highly populated areas to provide emergency response plans to local first responders. House Bill 2293 passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. “Too often communication between pipeline operators and our local emergency management professionals breaks down,” Quinn said, “so this crucial legislation will ensure that everyone has the information they need to properly respond should an issue arise.” The legislator said he wanted the Public Utility Commission, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the governor’s office to hear what he was hearing at township-level hearings. “Pipelines traverse through very populated areas of Delaware County, and ensuring public safety in those areas must be our top priority,” Quinn said.
Source: Daily Times; 11/22/2020

How do new state rules affect real estate businesses?
On Nov. 17, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced additional rules in an effort to tamp down the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Hank Lerner, director of law and policy at Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®, wrote an article explaining how the changes affect the practice of real estate.
Source: PAR JustListed; 11/18/2020

Bucks County

Bucks County releases preliminary budget
Bucks County officials unveiled a preliminary $467.4 million 2021 operating budget that projects a $12 million deficit. No decision has been made on whether a tax increase will be considered to balance the budget. According to Chief Financial Officer David Boscola, an initial $21 million budget shortfall was reduced to the current $12 million deficit by trimming budget requests from county departments. County commissioners will analyze the proposed budget and hold a public hearing, though a date has not been set. The budget is scheduled for final consideration and adoption on Wednesday, Dec. 16. Click here (PDF) to view the 2021 preliminary operating budget.
Source: Bucks County; 11/23/2020

Sellersville gets help to improve blight
Sellersville Borough Council is taking steps to combat blight by partnering with the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority (BCRDA). The council voted to provide the BCRDA with $140,000 to purchase a single-family residence on the 200 block of Washington Avenue. The home was declared blighted, and the owner has not addressed the conditions. It will be rehabilitated and placed on the market with the hope that the borough will be reimbursed for the cost to purchase the home with proceeds from the sale. The borough partnered with BCRDA because the organization has powers to acquire blighted properties that the borough doesn’t. BCRDA was founded in 1962 and assists municipalities, businesses, private developers and homeowners with the rehabilitation of blighted and deteriorated properties, and the reuse of other commercial and industrial sites.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/19/2020

Doylestown Borough adopts preliminary budget
Doylestown Borough Council adopted a preliminary budget for 2021 with a tax increase that was first announced in 2019. The borough had committed to a tax increase of 1.841 mills to fund the approximately $11 million Broad Street Gateway Park that is already under construction. The tax increase could have been larger, with the borough facing massive fiscal damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but council opted to keep the increase to the one they had already anticipated. The proposed increase amounts to an additional $55 per year to the average borough homeowner. Click here for more information.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/19/2020

Public invited to participate in Delaware River recreation study, town hall
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a heavy increase in the number of people using parks, trails and river recreation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Lower Delaware Wild and Scenic Management Council is studying the recreation capacity of the Delaware River. The council has invited the public to participate in a town hall regarding recreation in the 67-mile stretch of the river and three tributaries that have received a Federal Wild and Scenic Designation. Landowners, residents, anglers, floaters, paddlers and boaters, business owners, municipal leaders, and members of environmental nonprofits are encouraged to participate by completing a questionnaire. Click here for the questionnaire and town hall registration information. The council will host the virtual town hall meeting on Monday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m. to provide additional input into the river use study. Advance registration is requested.
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/24/2020

Bucks municipalities plan budget votes
Several final budget adoptions are scheduled for Bucks County municipalities for the first week of December:

  • Tinicum Township’s proposed 2021 budget is scheduled for adoption at a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Visit the Tinicum Township website to view the proposed budget and meeting information.
  • Lower Southampton Township supervisors will consider adoption of the final budget on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m. Visit the Lower Southampton Township website for preliminary budget information and current meeting guidelines.

Chester County 

Valley Township to consider vacant property registration ordinance
The Valley Township Board of Supervisors will consider for adoption an ordinance amending Chapter 10 of the township code, “Health and Safety,” to add a new Part 6, “Vacant Property Registration and Security.” The new section provides for a designation of public nuisance and sets up a vacant property registration program with a fee schedule. It specifies security requirements, exemptions, applicability, violations and penalties. The ordinance will be considered for adoption on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m. For information on how to join the hearing using the GoToMeeting virtual platform, visit the township website.
Source: Daily Local; 11/18/2020

County urges families to apply for childcare financial relief
Chester County Commissioners are urging families to apply for financial relief for childcare before the Dec. 30 deadline. According to the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU), which administers the childcare grant program, 639 families representing 1,135 children have been approved for childcare subsidies, and 140 childcare providers are receiving funds for pandemic-related costs. “More than $5.3 million in childcare funds have been dispersed to families so far, and applications are coming in daily,” said Kim Bowman, the county’s director of human services. “Still, there are more funds available, and we know the need is pressing.” The commissioners allocated $10 million in childcare subsidies for families and $5 million for childcare providers, funded via the federal CARES Act. Guidelines for eligibility can be found on the CCIU website and include annual income limits, residency and reasons for childcare. Subsidies are available to families with children from birth to age 12, though children with disabilities may be eligible through age 21.
Source: Chester County; 11/19/2020

West Chester $100 stimulus plan rejected
West Chester Borough Council voted to bank all of its $8 million in savings rather than use some of it to present $100 gift cards to every adult permanent resident. Former candidate for mayor Kyle Hudson had floated a plan to take $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund to present residents with gift cards that could have been used at local, independent businesses. About 18,000 residents would have been eligible for the stimulus funding. Hudson argued that the stimulus boost would have had a ripple effect, with recipients spending the proceeds at other borough businesses and would have created a permanent change in buying habits. Councilman Bernie Flynn was opposed to the stimulus program for financial reasons. “It’s very bleak at this point,” Flynn said about the borough’s financial outlook. He said the borough is facing three “very large bills” to the tune of $3 million. He also said that the borough will need to tap the reserve fund — borrowing interest-free from itself — to pay bills until property tax checks start streaming in. Flynn did not rule out “massive” layoffs and cutbacks.
Source: Daily Local; 11/21/2020

Kennett Township adopts preliminary budget calling for no tax hike
Kennett Township supervisors adopted a preliminary budget with no real estate tax increase for 2021. Included in the proposed budget is a new Local Services Tax, an annual tax of $52 on people who work in the township. The township held seven budget hearings to engage the community in a discussion about priorities for 2021. Chairman Richard Leff praised the heightened level of transparency of the budget process. A previous version of the proposed budget showed a real estate tax increase of nearly one mill with increases in the public works, police and capital budgets. “While costs continue to increase along with demands for government services, we pushed and cut as much as we could to balance this budget without an additional burden on the taxpayers,” said Vice Chairman Whitney Hoffman. The balanced budget is available for public inspection on the township website and is slated for final approval on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Source: Southern Chester County Weeklies; 11/19/2020

Recorder of Deeds system to go offline during upgrade
The Chester County Recorder of Deeds office is migrating its database from an outdated Oracle system to a larger and more secure SQL system. During the migration, e-recording will be unavailable from Friday, Nov. 27, to Sunday, Nov. 29.
Source: Chester County Recorder of Deeds; 11/24/2020

Delaware County

Delco 2021 budget calls for no tax hike, significant job cuts
Delaware County’s 2021 budget will include no tax increase as county council looks to eliminate 241 positions to make up for a $23 million shortfall. It will be the seventh year in a row that the line has been held on county taxes. County officials say the $352 million preliminary budget will be available for public inspection on Wednesday, Dec. 2, when the first reading by county council will take place. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m., there will be a public presentation on the budget, and council is expected to vote on final passage on Wednesday, Dec. 16. Council members have said that the largest part of the budget are wages and benefits, which typically increase by 4% annually. They said that to balance the 2021 budget without raising taxes, they directed county executive director Howard Lazarus to reduce expenses by 7% to 10%. Council Chairman Brian Zidek said county leaders have been working relentlessly “to create efficiencies, something that really hadn’t been given priorities in the past.”
Source: Daily Times; 11/23/2020

Radnor Township updates procedures during COVID-19
Radnor Township has tightened its precautionary health protocols due to rising COVID-19 infection rates. Members of the public who require staff interaction must conduct such work by appointment. All departmental customer service windows are closed, but each department will have a table in the lobby for common forms, and boxes for incoming and outgoing paperwork. Visit the township website for further details.
Source: Radnor Township; 11/23/2020

EPA soil sampling moves to Winona Homes in Norwood
Contractors for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been sampling soil from 68 residential properties in the Winona Homes development in Norwood. The EPA is investigating whether contamination from Norwood Landfill, or from in-filled soil brought on site during construction of the homes, could be the cause of an outbreak of cancer in the area. New findings helped the EPA focus on an area where fill soil may have been placed during the 1957-1958 construction of the homes.
Source: Daily Times; 11/19/2020

Residents voice concern about proposed PECO facility in Marple
An online petition opposing a PECO “gas reliability station” in Marple Township has amassed more than 1,900 signatures, as residents voice safety concerns over the project that the utility company says will serve a growing natural gas market in Delaware County. The station would be part of a larger natural gas project, with gas being directed from a facility in West Conshohocken, down Route 320 at 525 psi to Marple, where the pressure would be reduced to 99 psi and then distributed to customers throughout Delaware County. In order to begin construction of the facility at Sproul and Cedar Grove roads, PECO was seeking an exception to the zoning code, as the area where the property is located is zoned Neighborhood Center. The township zoning hearing board denied PECO’s request but said that a presentation would be given to the township. “The problems are it is very closely surrounded by residents and low-intensity businesses,” Julie Baker, one of the nearby residents who opposes the facility, said. “We’re going to be stuck with the station for a long time if they’re allowed to build it.” Petition-signers note that facility would be located in a residential neighborhood with Russell Elementary School close by. They are concerned about a possible gas release or explosion. They say PECO doesn’t allow emergency responders access to its facilities and worry that a company response could take up to an hour.
Source: Daily Times; 11/19/2020

Delaware County computer system hack prompts criminal investigation
A criminal investigation has been launched into the hacking of Delaware County’s government computer system. “The County of Delaware recently discovered a disruption to portions of our computer network,” a county press release said. “We commenced an immediate investigation that included taking certain systems offline and working with computer forensic specialists to determine the nature and scope of the event. We are working diligently to restore the functionality of our systems.” Officials won't say what's been affected, other than that the breach does not involve emergency services or Bureau of Elections computer networks.
Source: 6 ABC; 11/23/2020

Montgomery County

Schwenksville eyes 22% tax increase
Schwenksville Borough Manager Anne Klepfer recently presented borough council with the proposed budget for 2021. The $1 million budget requests a tax hike of 1.4 mills to bring the total millage rate to 7.8 — an increase of 22%. The proposed increase is to cover revenue losses in earned income taxes and the state’s liquid fuels fund — both related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased expenses include necessary repairs in stormwater and road infrastructure made evident by flooding that occurred this year. Klepfer noted that Schwenksville's comparatively small size and lower property values mean 1 mill of property tax generates only $50,000 in tax revenues. For comparison, one mill would raise about $263,000 in nearby Lower Frederick Township, $495,000 in Perkiomen Township and $819,000 in Skippack. If adopted, this would be the first tax increase for the borough in five years.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/24/2020

Montgomery County introduces 2021 budget with 5% tax increase
The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners released their proposed 2021 budget that includes a 5% tax increase. The increase equates to $29 more dollars per year for the average homeowner and would provide $10.5 million in new real estate tax revenue. The budget also includes a five-year capital improvement plan. The proposed 2021 operating and capital budget are posted on the county’s finance webpage. The commissioners will hold two virtual public hearings on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to discuss the proposed budget and capital improvement plan. Click here for public comment and meeting attendance information.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/20/2020

Last-minute tax hike proposal nixed in Lower Merion
Lower Merion Township administrators released a preliminary 2021 budget that did not increase taxes above the current rate of 4.19 mills. However, at a board meeting a week later, a proposed tax increase and the addition of $100,000 to the capital improvement program (CIP) for unspecified sustainability projects were thrown into the budget mix. Commissioner Ray Courtney said the township’s projected $4 million deficit had grown to $6 million and is projected to hit $7.5 million next year. The township has relied on reserve funds to cover the shortfall but, according to Courtney, if Lower Merion wants to maintain a 15% general fund balance, it will require a 20% tax increase next year. Courtney said moving forward he would like the township to start the budget process with a 3% tax increase — which would be about $50 to the average tax bill if it were enacted this year. A motion was made for the 3% increase by Commissioner Rick Churchill after the board agreed to another motion to add $100,000 to the CIP. The proposed tax increase was rejected by a 8-to-6 vote. There will be a budget hearing in early December, and a final vote on the 2021 budget is expected on Wednesday, Dec. 16.
Source: Main Line Media News; 11/19/2020

Taxes steady in Limerick
Limerick Township supervisors unanimously voted to advertise the 2021 budget. If adopted without change, it will mark the fifth consecutive year without a tax increase for township residents. The $22.2 million budget is balanced with about $713,000 from reserves, but the township administration hopes to recoup that money from unbudgeted revenues.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/19/2020

Montco municipalities plan budget votes
Several municipalities in Montgomery County are planning to adopt their 2021 budgets in the first week of December:

  • Perkiomen Township’s proposed final budget is slated for adoption on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. The proposed budget reflects no tax increase for 2021. Visit the Perkiomen Township website to review the proposed budget and view virtual meeting information.
  • Lower Frederick Township’s proposed final budget may be examined at the Lower Frederick Township building, 53 Spring Mount Road, Schwenksville, during normal business hours. A vote to adopt the budget is expected during the supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. Visit the Lower Frederick Township website for meeting information.
  • Lower Providence Township’s proposed final 2021 budget is available for public inspection weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the township building, 100 Parklane Dr., Eagleville. The board of supervisors will hold a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. to adopt the final budget. The meeting will be open to the public for in-person attendance following COVID-19 capacity restrictions and also accessible virtually via Zoom. Instructions can be found on the Lower Providence Township website.

Philadelphia

City council passes bill to curb real estate scammers
With the passage of a recent bill, City Council aims to curb the prevalence of real estate speculators known as wholesalers. “When I introduced this legislation in October, I mentioned the signs we all see in our communities — the ‘we buy houses’ signs,” said Councilmember Allan Domb, who spearheaded the legislation. Those signs reminded Domb of the “many ways people can be taken advantage of” in a real estate market where home values are rising in areas that have not experienced such growth in the past. In gentrifying areas like the section of North Philadelphia near Temple, longtime owners may be unaware of the equity they have accrued. Wholesalers, who primarily operate under layers of LLCs, do not typically buy houses. Instead, they make an offer to the homeowner and then assign or sell the sales contract to someone else for a better price. This leaves the homeowner with less than what the house is worth and more profits for the wholesaler. The bill will require a licensing system for wholesalers, who will be required to follow a set of ethical guidelines. The licensing requirements include an application fee of $200, proof of insurance, the name and address of an actual person (not just an LLC), and a criminal background check. Wholesalers also must provide to homeowners a disclosure — explaining their right to hire a real estate agent or seek legal counsel — at least three days before presenting an offer to the homeowner. The disclosure must include resources to assess the fair value of the property. The bill also creates a Do Not Call list for homeowners who do not want to be solicited to sell or rent their property.
Source: Plan Philly; 11/19/2020

Clarke proposes ban on roof decks and certain building materials in gentrifying Strawberry Mansion
City Council President Darrell Clarke wants to help preserve a section of Strawberry Mansion before developers get to it. Clark grew up in the neighborhood east of Fairmount Park and north of fast-gentrifying Brewerytown, and has represented it since 1999. Now he is working with community leaders to pass a bill that would guard against change in the historic heart of the neighborhood through the creation of a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCO). It would be the first NCO in North Philadelphia, spreading a preservation strategy that has helped other parts of the city like Queen Village and Powelton Village maintain their historic charm in the face of development pressures. The district’s creation would allow Strawberry Mansion to enforce neighborhood-specific building regulations to retain the historic character of buildings, some of which date back more than 100 years. It would restrict building height and also ban the use of building materials like vinyl, stucco, horizontal aluminum and concrete masonry units on building facades. Roof decks would also be prohibited — a harsh rebuke to developers who increasingly rely on the Instagrammable amenity to attract buyers willing to pay premium rates for the open-air skyline access. In lieu of the elevated outdoor space option, porches spanning the width of the front facade with a minimum depth of six feet would be required. The proposed NCO restrictions would cover residential structures within the area bounded by Lehigh Avenue, 29th Street, Sedgley Avenue, Montgomery Avenue, Conrail Right-Of-Way, Oxford Street and 33rd Street.
Source: Plan Philly; 11/19/2020

Council president pushes for reduction of commercial real estate abatement
A 10% reduction of Philadelphia’s 10-year tax abatement for commercial development is on the table after City Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker introduced a bill to trim the incentive that has long been the center of debate over inequality in the city. The abatement change could replace a 1% construction tax proposed as a funding mechanism for a $400 million package of housing and community development programs. City Council President Darrell Clarke began discussions about the bill with a speech that took aim at real estate industry leaders who have fought the proposed construction tax and battled against changes to the residential abatement before that. Over the next decade, the reduction to the commercial abatement would generate about $83 million in revenues for city services and schools. If approved by council and signed by the mayor, $45.6 million would go to schools and $37.5 million to city services. The proposed 10% reduction to the 10-year abatement’s value would generate roughly the same amount of money as the construction tax proposed by Clarke in October. The council president introduced the 1% construction tax along with a measure that would push back implementation of the residential abatement reduction to 2024. That reduction — which essentially halves the abatement’s value — is slated to go into effect at the start of the new year if no action is taken.
Source: Plan Philly; 11/19/2020

 
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