NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Infrastructure reform among 2019 NAR policy priorities

Bucks County
Warminster tax hike must be approved by court

Chester County
Landscapes3 adopted by Chester County Commissioners

Delaware County
Cost of new middle school in Clifton Heights to be evaluated

Montgomery County
Norristown budget includes $1.8M deficit

Philadelphia County
City council downsizes new protections for renters in ‘Good Cause’ bill
 

 



 

News Briefs

 

General News

Infrastructure reform among 2019 NAR policy priorities
The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) is working to be at the forefront of discussions as Congress and the White House seek agreement on a comprehensive national infrastructure package next year. The effort is to ensure the voice of Realtors® is heard as the federal government turns its attention to infrastructure as a top federal public policy priority of NAR in 2019. Infrastructure ranked high on the NAR Member Survey and a number of NAR committees will be reviewing issues related to it. The issue is expected to be one that Congress and the White House will take up in 2019 and it’s crucial that Realtors® be leaders in the conversation.
Source: Nar.realtor; 11/29/2018

Suburban Realtors® Alliance celebrates 20 years of advocacy
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance marked the 20th anniversary of its founding with a luncheon in Valley Forge on Nov. 28. Since 1998, the Alliance has focused on impacting public policy for the benefit of real estate and the protection of private property rights in Southeast Pennsylvania. “Since 1998 we’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of municipal government. We’ve heard stories that are funny, often frustrating, and sometimes hard to believe. We’ve been embraced as a good and reliable partner by many municipalities, but sometimes ignored or treated as a pain-in-the-side nuisance by others,” said Jamie Ridge, president and CEO of the Alliance. “Special thanks go to our partners at the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® and Bright MLS, and to our shareholders, the Bucks, Montgomery and Suburban West associations, for supporting our work through the years.” The Alliance strives to be a resource for our shareholder members, local governments and elected officials, and consumers represented by our Realtor® members. We’ll continue to pay close attention to proposed legislation and municipal trends, and focus our energy on all government issues that impact Realtors in our area. Read more about our history in this commemorative booklet (PDF).

Bucks County

Warminster proposed tax hike must be approved by court
Warminster Township officials approved a $22 million draft 2019 budget by a 3-2 vote with Councilwoman Kathy Frescatore and Councilman Brian Munroe opposed. The proposed budget calls for a 7.52 mill tax increase — which would raise the millage rate from 17.07 mills to 24.59 mills. A homeowner with a property assessed at the township average of about $25,500 would pay about $192 more in municipal property taxes in 2019 — a 44 percent increase over 2018. The property tax increase must be approved by the court due to the amount of the tax hike. According to Pennsylvania’s Second-Class Township Code, court approval is required for a general fund tax increase over 14 mills, and puts an absolute cap on the fund at 19 mills. The proposed increase would raise the general fund millage rate for Warminster to just over 18 mills, with the rest of the taxes dedicated to other township funds. Supervisor Chairman Mark McKee said the township was “at the end” of cutting costs and the increased taxes would temporarily help stabilize the township. The tax increase will keep local services running until about 2023, but a long-term plan is needed to meet rising expenses. If approved, this would be the first tax increase for township residents since 2011 and would make Warminster the only township with a local property tax higher than Bucks County’s current 24.45 millage rate. A final budget vote is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 20, at 7 p.m. in the meeting room at 401 Gibson Ave. The budget is available for inspection on the Warminster Township website.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/4/2018

Lower Makefield eyes tax increase
The proposed $13 million budget for Lower Makefield Township includes a 1.24-mill tax increase for 2019. The increase would be divided among the debt service fund (0.44 mills), general fund (0.28 mills), parks and recreation fund (0.24 mills), road machinery fund (0.15 mills) and ambulance fund (0.13 mills). If approved, the tax rate would increase from 19.01 mills to 20.25 mills. Each new mill brings in about $522,000 in new revenue. The increase will add about $52 to the tax bill of a home assessed at the township average of $42,000 for a total of about $850. Township officials stated their focus is clearing negative fund balances and the restructured budget will “reset” township finances. The board intends to approve the final 2019 budget at the Dec. 19 meeting.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/4/2018

Newtown Township passes anti-discrimination ordinance
Newtown Township recently passed an ordinance that will form a three- to five-member Human Relations Commission tasked with reviewing complaints from residents alleging discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations or access to educational institutions based on an individual’s “actual or perceived” race, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not specifically protected under federal or state law, leaving appellate courts in various districts to decide differently as to whether any protections exist at all, said Yardley Borough Councilman David Bria during a presentation to Newtown supervisors earlier this year. Despite bipartisan support and public popularity, bills that have been introduced in multiple state legislative sessions to enshrine sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in Pennsylvania law have stalled in committee. After the vote, Supervisor John Mack said, “It is my hope that this action sends a signal to the Pennsylvania state legislature that it is time to pass legislation to protect the rights of all citizens in the commonwealth regardless of sexual orientation or perceived gender.” Newtown Township is the first Bucks County township to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. Similar ordinances have been approved in the boroughs of New Hope, Doylestown, Newtown, Bristol, Yardley and Hatboro.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/4/2018

Yardley budget will hold the line on taxes
Yardley Borough Council approved a preliminary $2.6 million budget that will hold the line on taxes for 2019 while saving funds for a key capital improvement project. The tentative spending plan is available for public review at the borough building and online. The borough plans to eliminate the per capita tax and the occupation tax, which generates about $21,000 annually for the borough, but which council members felt was a “nuisance tax” for residents. Council is expected to vote on a final budget at the Tuesday, Dec. 18, meeting at Yardley Borough Hall.
Source: The Advance of Bucks County; 12/2/2018

Chester County 

Landscapes3 adopted by Chester County Commissioners
The Chester County Board of Commissioners has unanimously adopted Landscapes3, the county’s next long-range comprehensive plan. Landscapes3 seeks to balance preservation with growth across the county’s landscapes through six goal areas: Preserve, Protect, Appreciate, Live, Prosper and Connect. To continue to balance growth and preservation, Landscapes3 recommits to core principles that will position the county and its municipalities for success, including resource preservation, revitalized urban and suburban centers, diverse and affordable housing, transportation choices, collaboration and resiliency. “Landscapes3 will renew our commitment to balancing growth and preservation while embracing the unique characteristics of our county, including healthy natural areas, robust farms, cherished historic sites and vibrant communities,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Michelle Kichline. Other initiatives include: studying the economic value of protected open space study; updating an inventory of natural resource ordinances; creating a National Register interactive map; generating an affordable housing zoning tool; updating an existing urban community design guide; and developing an up-to-date inventory of trails in the county and creating an interactive online map of these trails.
Source: Daily Local; 11/30/2018

Phoenixville revitalization comes at steep price for some longtime residents
In recent years, developers have flocked to Phoenixville to build high-end apartment complexes for millennials and baby-boomers, leaving many middle-income residents without affordable housing options. “Nobody expected Phoenixville to go from a working-class town to such a hot commodity,” said Kris Keller, executive director of Orion Communities, a nonprofit that helps people struggling with homelessness. Some residents have been forced to relocate to lower-income communities, while others have found themselves homeless. Conversations around the problem have resulted in an affordable-housing complex, SteelTown Village, set to open soon. The problem of affordable housing is not exclusive to Phoenixville. Chester County officials will examine ways to provide more affordable housing in the county during a December planning meeting.
Source: Vista.Today; 12/5/2018

Coatesville council eliminates reserve trust fund
A trust fund created from the sale of the Coatesville Water Authority, which has often been a contentious issue during budget season, will cease to exist in its current form. City Council voted Monday night to essentially eliminate the City Reserve Trust Fund and move the remaining money — about $4.5 million — to the city’s general fund. According to city solicitor Anthony Verwey, of Gawthrop Greenwood, there were a number of issues with the ordinance that established the fund. Verwey said the original ordinance attempted to limit and restrict future councils with regard to their governmental functions relating to the finances of the city, and the adopting council did not have the power or authority to so limit future councils’ governmental functions. Council always had the legislative authority to repeal the ordinance creating the City Reserve Trust Fund, he added. Over the years, council had withdrawn money from the trust fund to pay for deficits in the city’s annual budgets.
Source: Daily Local; 11/28/2018

Downingtown council discusses proposed budget
Downingtown Borough Council members recently discussed the proposed $11.9 million budget for 2019. Council President Anthony Gazzerro thanked the administrators for their role and praised the work by borough officials to lower the bank debt service. The proposed budget is balanced and has a slight increase from the current year budget. “We’re heading in the right direction,” Gazzerro said. “We’re getting above water and getting out of debt.” This is the seventh consecutive year without a tax increase, with a rate holding steady at 7.65 mills. A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell thanked the administrators for their efforts to maintain the budget without needing to increase taxes.
Source: Daily Local; 12/4/2018

West Whiteland Township to establish volunteer service credit program
West Whiteland Township will consider an ordinance to enact a volunteer service credit program. The goal of the program is to encourage membership and service in volunteer fire companies and nonprofit emergency medical service agencies that serve the Township of West Whiteland. The ordinance authorizes a tax credit of up to $500 of earned income tax levied by the township for active volunteers who had been certified under the township’s program. The ordinance will be considered for adoption at a public meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the West Whiteland Township Municipal Building, 101 Commerce Drive, Exton.
Source: Daily Local; 12/4/2018

Delaware County

Cost of new middle school in Clifton Heights to be evaluated
The Upper Darby School Board this week approved architectural services to cost out the option of building a middle school in Clifton Heights. Residents are concerned that building a school on the land would remove the active recreation spaces there. The district is looking to build a new school to accommodate approximately 600 students as overcrowding continues at deteriorating Beverly Hills and Drexel Hill middle schools. Any suggestion to build on the Clifton Heights land has raised concerns among borough residents who actively use the ballfields located there for youth sports, carnivals and holiday celebrations. After Clifton Heights schools were absorbed into the Upper Darby School District in the 1970s, a lease agreement was made to allow the borough to use the ballfields for $1 a year.
Source: Daily Times; 12/1/2018

Developer eyes new homes next to Nether Providence park
A developer who hopes to construct homes on a currently wooded tract adjacent to Sapovits Park in Nether Providence Township is working with the community to arrive at an approach that neighbors can support. Residents of the predominantly African-American neighborhood just south of Media Borough have raised concerns about gentrification, the possibility of increased taxes and traffic, stormwater runoff and other potential impacts on the community. Sarah Peck, who owns Malvern-based Progressive New Homes, said she is committed to listening to those who live nearby and, toward that end, has unveiled an alternative proposal that seeks to respond to earlier feedback. During a recent meeting with residents, Peck said the revised approach would be a change from her firm’s previous proposal to build a dozen single homes on the five-acre property, carrying a price tag of more than a half-million dollars each. The new proposal calls instead for 32 units in 16 buildings, with a pair of homes on two different levels in the same structure. The upstairs units would have two garages while the downstairs units would have a single garage. Costs for those units would range from $250,000 to $375,000, which Peck said could be affordable for those in the community. The latest plan also calls for the preservation of two of the five acres, including no impact on a stream that runs through the property. Peck said the undeveloped woods would serve as a buffer between the park and the development, and it would be deed-restricted to guard against other future uses. For now, Progressive New Homes is moving forward with presenting its initial proposal to the township planning commission. Another meeting of community residents to discuss the development has been tentatively scheduled for the night of Tuesday, Dec. 11, at Christ Christian Community Church.
Source: Daily Times; 12/2/2018

Millbourne Fire Co. could be looking at end of line
The Millbourne Borough Fire Department has been out of service for three and a half months with no hopes of restoring service due to a dispute between the fire company and borough over staffing and use of the building. For now, Upper Darby has been answering calls in the borough, but it has notified Millbourne that as of Jan. 1, 2019, that will come with a cost. Fire Company Chief Joseph Artmont and Assistant Chief Joseph Artmont Jr. say the future is dim for the 110-year-old department, given the deadlock situation. According to the Artmonts, the fire department declared “out of service” (OOS) status at the Sept. 18 council meeting after unsuccessful efforts to talk to officials about staffing at the firehouse. Since then borough officials have contacted neighboring towns for estimates on costs to provide fire service to the tiny town — including Upper Darby, Philadelphia, East Lansdowne, Yeadon and Lansdowne. Borough officials estimated the town averages 25 fires per year.
Source: Daily Times; 12/4/2018

Radnor looks at 6 percent tax increase for 2019
The Radnor Board of Commissioners introduced a 6 percent tax increase as part a proposed final comprehensive budget of $34.5 million for 2019. If approved at the Monday, Dec. 10 meeting, the millage rate will be set at 4.1582, a 0.2354 mill increase. A mill equates to $1 in taxes per $1,000 in assessed property value. A 6 percent increase represents a $63 increase for the median household and would generate an additional $760,000 in revenue for the township. At a previous budget meeting, officials cited the need for additional revenue after business taxes declined some $2 million. The board also approved a 10 percent hike in the sewer rental fee in a 5-2 vote. Township Manager Robert Zienkowski and William White, finance director, recommended skipping one year’s payment toward the township’s other post-retirement employee benefits fund. Zienkowski suggested the board schedule additional meetings beginning early next year to work on funding capital projects. A “long-term fix” is needed, “so that when the board decides this, this is something that hopefully will carry on for the next 10, 20 years,” said Zienkowski.
Source: Main Line Suburban Life; 11/27/2018

Montgomery County

Norristown budget includes $1.8M deficit
The proposed 2019 budget for Norristown Municipality was recently presented to council members during a special meeting. The $34.5 million budget represents a 1.9 percent increase in spending over 2018 and comes with recommendations for either a 0.5 mill or 1 mill tax increase. The 0.5 mill option would represent a 3.4 percent tax increase and would amount to about $44 per year for the average property assessed at $88,800. The same property would see an increase of $89 per year with the 1 mill tax increase. Norristown is facing an anticipated budget deficit of $1.78 million. Part of the problem, according to Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones, is that the assessed value of Norristown properties has gone down and the current tax rate of 14.7 mills will generate less tax revenue. Jones said the budget would be posted on the Norristown website and is slated for adoption on Tuesday, Dec. 18.
Source: Times Herald; 12/3/2018

Four-story apartment building being considered in Narberth
A new four-story, 56-unit apartment building is being proposed for 114 Forrest Ave. in Narberth Borough. In September, Narberth council passed a provision allowing apartment or mixed-use buildings in the borough’s 5A zoning district if certain criteria are met — the building must be located on a corner and would be limited in height and stories. The proposed plan would then be permitted by conditional use. Robert Kagan, one of the current owners of the existing property, said of the plan: “When I look at all the growth that’s going on in every community up and down the Main Line, I think that Narberth could use a little bit of growth as well.” No decision was made on the proposed plan, which was continued until the December meeting.
Source: Main Line Times; 11/30/2018

Towamencin property tax steady; nonresident EIT to rise
The 2019 proposed budget for Towamencin Township does not include a property tax increase for residents. It does, however, propose an increase in the earned income tax for nonresidents from 0.5 percent to 1 percent. According to Township Manager Rob Ford, only one other municipality in Montgomery County does not have a full 1 percent earned income tax for nonresidents. The township’s tax collector estimated the increase could bring in $75,000 to $100,000 without touching township residents. If the budget is approved, real estate taxes will remain at 3.808 mills and the township’s homestead exemption will be kept at $45,000. Ford said the average assessed value in the township is $151,000 and the tax due on that property would be $575 before the homestead exemption. Removing the exemption’s $45,000 from that property’s assessed value would reduce the taxable assessed value to $106,000 and result in a township tax bill of $404.
Source: The Reporter; 11/30/2018

Pennsburg Borough Council posts vacancy
Pennsburg Borough is seeking an interested resident to fill a vacant position on borough council. Interested persons should drop off or mail a Letter of Interest and Affidavit of Residency to the Pennsburg Borough Office, 76 W. 6th Street, Pennsburg, PA 18073 no later than Friday, Dec. 28, at 3 p.m. Please click here for contact information and the affidavit.

Philadelphia

City Council downsizes new protections for renters in ‘Good Cause’ bill
Councilman Curtis Jones substantially scaled back a bill meant to protect Philadelphia renters. Jones introduced amendments to his “good cause” eviction legislation that would make it applicable only to leases with a duration shorter than a year. Most leases in the city are annual. “We wanted to bring it down to reality,” Jones said. “Over the last year we’ve been whittling away and adding to the legislation, and I think we are close as we are going to get without changing the whole dynamic of the bill.” Originally introduced in October 2017, the bill would require that landlords have a “good cause” for evicting a tenant upon the expiration of a lease, or at any other time. A good cause would include nonpayment of rent, nuisance behavior or breaking the term of a lease. The bill would not prevent landlords from hiking the rent at the end of a lease, but it would require owners to give tenants notice at least 30 days before raising the rent, filing an eviction or making any other big change to a lease. If the bill becomes law, tenants would be empowered to challenge evictions that don’t meet “good cause” standards in court or before the Fair Housing Commission. Jones’s policy director, Samantha Williams, said that his office introduced the amendment because of concerns about the vulnerability of renters who have month-to-month leases. These renters were the most at-risk, Williams said.
Source: Plan Philly; 11/29/2018

Retailers are looking beyond Rittenhouse Square, expanding Center City’s shopping district east
The Center City District expects the success of retailers near Rittenhouse Square to continue expanding to the greater downtown, while East Market Street is poised to realize its potential and become a hot new retail area, the group’s annual report concludes. The group cited multiple positive signs: Greater Center City has become the fastest growing residential section of Philadelphia, attracting 26 percent of all those moving into the city in the past five years, the report said. The city has added 77 national retailers since 2000. More than two million square feet of retail are under construction. Hotel occupancy is up, and Center City is in the midst of reviving its historic department store district. “The critical mass of large-scale, mixed-use development along Market East will create a continuous shopping and dining experience from Independence Mall to the major convention center hotels adjacent to City Hall,” the report says. Lauren Gilchrist, senior vice president of research for JLL Philadelphia, a real estate consulting firm, said the low vacancy rate in Center City’s prime retail corridor is a sign that downtown has a healthy retail market. Gilchrist said Center City has been “under-retailed for a long period of time." But the current retail selection, along with recent developments, show “the city overall has been tremendously successful during this market cycle in capturing growth of young, urban-oriented professionals,” Gilchrist said. According to the report, foot traffic along the city’s prime retail corridor around Rittenhouse Square “remains strong,” but rising rents on West Walnut Street have also led retailers to pop up on the numbered streets between there and Chestnut Street. While searching for lower rents, retailers also can look at the “burgeoning Center City East retail district,” the report said. Over the next few years, the area will benefit from $910 million in investment and the addition of 1.2 million square feet of retail.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 12/4/2018


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