NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Glenolden updates U&O code in response to SRA lawsuit

Bucks County
Falls to consider sewer lateral inspections at point of sale

Chester County
North Coventry approves comprehensive plan

Delaware County
Chester gets federal housing voucher boost

Montgomery County
County receives $1.8M to clean up lead in Pottstown, Lansdale homes

Philadelphia County
City council votes to shrink 10-year abatement, stoking real estate industry fears

 

News Briefs

 

General News

Glenolden updates U&O code in response to SRA lawsuit
In response to a federal lawsuit filed by the Suburban Realtors Alliance (SRA), Glenolden Borough Council voted Nov. 19 to bring its use and occupancy ordinance into compliance with Act 133 of 2016. “Glenolden is finally doing the right thing, and this is a big victory for sellers and buyers in the borough,” said SRA president Jamie Ridge. “Unfortunately, it took us asking them repeatedly for three years, then filing a federal lawsuit to get to this point.” The lawsuit claims Glenolden violated state law by refusing to issue a use and occupancy permit to a property owner following a resale inspection, requiring that repairs be made within 30 days, and withholding $5,000 in escrow. Despite the new ordinance, the SRA plans to continue pressing the lawsuit and will keep an eye on Glenolden for any future infractions. Read more about the lawsuit on the SRA blog.

Sources: White House, CDC in dispute over crucial study of toxic PFAS chemicals
In 2018, congressional lawmakers appropriated $10 million for a nationwide study to offer more definitive answers about health effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. Concerns about the chemicals have exploded nationally in recent years, following decades of PFAS use in products including nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, food packaging, carpets and military firefighting foams. The $10 million was budgeted for the Department of Defense, then flowed to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which announced that it would use the funds to study highly exposed communities in Pennsylvania and other states. But the study is off to a slow start, with a dispute between the CDC and White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) playing a role, sources say. Scientists say significant delays could limit the effectiveness of the study; most well-known PFAS chemicals decrease in human blood by half every three to five years. With many impacted communities having stopped or curbed drinking water exposure by 2017, would-be study participants may already have less than half of the blood levels they did when exposure was first discovered. Without research to better identify safe levels in the blood, scientists don’t know what any decreases would mean. The original funding of the PFAS health study was hailed as a bipartisan victory in Congress, and Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) have expressed interest in moving the study forward. Click here for the full article.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/1/2019

Purple paint markings will soon mean no trespassing in Pa.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that allows property owners to mark their property boundaries with purple paint stripes instead of posting "No Trespassing" signs, which can deteriorate over time. The new law takes effect in 60 days. It was sponsored by Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-92), of York County, who said, “This purple paint makes it easier to define property lines and provides a more visible notice that private property is not to be trespassed on.” Until now, trespassing on agricultural and other open land has been prohibited if the property is posted with signs that indicate no trespassing allowed. “However, these signs degrade over time, leaving them illegible and tattered, or are removed either by nefarious acts or adverse weather conditions. Paint is a more permanent means of posting a property,” Keefer said. The law specifies that the purple paint to be used must be one of the commercially available “No Hunting” paints. The purple stripes are required to be at least eight inches long and one inch wide. They must be placed between three and five feet from the ground on posts or trees that are no more than 100 feet apart. About a dozen or so states have already passed this law, which originated in Arkansas in 1989.
Source: Penn Live; 11/27/2019

Bucks County

Falls to consider sewer lateral inspections at point of sale
The Falls Township Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance amendment that will create an inspection program for private sewer laterals at point of sale. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m. at the township building, 188 Lincoln Highway, Fairless Hills. The proposed ordinance, titled “Inspection and Replacement of Private Sewer Service Laterals,” may be viewed at the township building, the Levittown Regional Library, the Fallsington Local Library, the Bucks County Law Library and the offices of the Bucks County Courier Times. The SRA has requested a copy of the ordinance and will review it to ensure the amendment complies with the Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/3/2019

PennEast plans appeal to U.S. Supreme Court
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that PennEast Pipeline’s condemnation suits against the state of New Jersey in federal court are barred by the 11th Amendment, which gives states sovereign immunity from suits by private parties in federal court. PennEast is seeking to build a 116-mile long pipeline that would ship Marcellus Shale gas from northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey. PennEast has decided to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the lower court ruling that denied the company the right to seize state-owned public land in New Jersey. PennEast officials say the Third Circuit ruling “has implications far beyond the PennEast project.” The statement continues: “State governments, just like other landowners, should not be allowed to disrupt or veto vital energy infrastructure.” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club said, “This is a shameful move by PennEast, but it was not unexpected. PennEast is trying to do whatever they can to push this damaging and unneeded pipeline through.”
Source: Bucks County Herald; 11/21/2019

Bucks Democrats appoint transition budget/finance review committee chair
The two Democrats who will assume majority control of the Bucks County Board of Commissioners in January, Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Bob Harvie, have appointed Thomas Lynch to chair the transition team’s budget/finance review subcommittee. Currently, the county is facing a $16.3 million deficit in its $450.8 million operating budget for 2020. The budget will be adopted by the end of the year by the current administration, led by Republican commissioners Rob Loughery, the chairman, and Charles Martin. The budget will come under review again after Marseglia and Harvie take control next year, along with current state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-18) who will represent the Republican minority. A final adoption of the reviewed budget is expected by Feb. 15.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/2/2019

Bristol Township proposed budget holds taxes steady
Bristol Township Manager William J. McCauley III presented council with a proposed $68.19 million 2020 budget that would maintain the current property tax rate of 23.98 mills. That amounts to an average real estate tax bill of about $429 in 2020. The township’s refuse fee will also remain steady at $317. The budget includes a $2.15 million reduction in spending, mostly because there are not as many capital improvement projects planned for next year. A hearing on the budget will take place Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. in the township building, with adoption expected following the hearing.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/2/2019

Falls eyes 28th year without a tax increase
Falls Township supervisors reviewed the $32.7 million budget for 2020 that does not include a tax increase. If the budget is approved as is, taxes will remain at 7.22 mills — marking the 28th straight year without a tax hike. Township finance director Betsy Reukauf reported that the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $30,000 will continue to pay about $217 in township real estate tax. The proposed budget is scheduled for a public hearing and possible adoption at the supervisors’ Monday, Dec. 16, meeting. The proposed budget can be viewed on the Falls Township website.
Source: Bucks County Courier Times; 12/2/2019

Chester County 

North Coventry approves comprehensive plan
North Coventry supervisors approved the township’s 2019 comprehensive plan on Nov. 11. Work began in July of 2018 to revise the existing plan, which was adopted in 2001 and updated in 2006. A link to download the approved plan is available here.
Source: North Coventry Township; 11/26/2019

East Marlborough supervisors holding the line on taxes
The East Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors passed a proposed budget, which totaled about $2.9 million and included no increase in taxes. The supervisors also said goodbye to Laurie Prysock, who is taking a new job after three years as township manager. John Sarro, chairman of the board of supervisors, complimented Prysock for stepping into the role efficiently after the 40-year tenure of Jane Laslo. The supervisors named Hannah Christopher as interim township manager.
Source: Daily Local; 12/4/2019

Parkesburg train station to undergo improvements
The Parkesburg Train Station will undergo major upgrades beginning late next year to improve parking, stormwater management and ADA accessibility. Read more on the borough website.
Source: Chester County Planning Commission; 11/27/2019

Oxford Borough to consider repeal of per capita tax
Oxford Borough Council will conduct a public hearing to consider and possibly enact an ordinance repealing a section of Chapter 24 of the borough code regarding the per capita tax. Specifically, the ordinance would repeal ordinance No. 1959-2, which imposes a tax of $5 for general borough purposes upon each resident or inhabitant of the borough over the age of 21. If passed, the repeal would take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. The public meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. at the borough building, 401 E. Market St.
Source: Daily Local; 12/04/2019

Delaware County

Chester gets federal housing voucher boost
The Chester Housing Authority (CHA) announced this week it has received its first increase in federal housing vouchers since 2002. The 25 Housing Choice Vouchers, provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are earmarked for non-elderly disabled applicants. The increase brings HUD vouchers administered by CHA to a total of 1,591 households. The vouchers, part of the category known as Section 8, are open to households with any disabled resident. “We’re first going to go to the approximate 500 families on our waiting list and determine if 25 of them qualify for this,” said CHA Executive Director Steven Fischer. Qualifying households will receive housing through a private landlord and pay what is deemed affordable according to their income — typically 30% of income. CHA will then pay the balance of fair-market rent to the landlord. CHA will be responsible for managing the waiting list, determining eligibility, issuing the voucher and calculating reasonable rents, as well as cultivating relationships with landlords. All landlords under contract must comply with standards of accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act for applicable voucher tenants, according to Fischer. “We’re coming off our 12th year in a row of being rated a ‘high performer’ by HUD,” said Fischer. “What that translates to in the voucher program is that we have very strict standards for landlords in order for them to remain in the program.”
Source: Daily Times; 12/2/2019

Radnor makes cuts, still eyes 6% tax hike in 2020 budget
Radnor Township taxpayers will face a 6% rather than a 9% tax increase after township officials went over the budget and found more savings. The Board of Commissioners approved the $34.3 million proposed budget, with the final budget expected to be adopted at the Monday, Dec. 9, meeting. At its Nov. 19 meeting, the board appeared poised to impose a 0.377-mill tax increase specifically to fund the fire companies and ambulance service. Township Manager Robert Zienkowski said that some commissioners had raised concerns that the dedicated tax would end up “tying future boards’ hands.” Instead, Zienkowski suggested that the millage rate be increased just enough to meet the township’s cash reserve policy of 25%. William White, the finance director, warned that the budget will be tight. White said the latest version will no longer separate that amount out but includes a 0.25 mill tax increase, bringing the total millage to 4.4082 mills. That will mean a homeowner at the median assessment of $260,000 pays an additional $65 in real estate taxes to the township in 2020. The sewer fee will also increase by 10%.
Source: Daily Times; 12/2/2019

Ridley budget calls for first tax hike in five years
Ridley Township real estate taxes will go up in 2020, the first time in five years, according to the preliminary budget approved recently by the board of commissioners. Also scheduled for increases are trash and sewer fees. Assistant Township Manager Blaise Caponi presented the budget, which reflects an increase in the real estate tax millage rate of 0.464 mills for a total millage rate of 9.73 mills, or $9.73 for each $1,000 of assessed valuation. A homeowner with an average assessment value of $120,000 will see a roughly $56 increase of their real estate tax bill in 2020. The sewer fee will go up $25 for a total of $375 per unit, and the rubbish collection will go up $10 to $240 per unit. Final adoption of the 2020 budget will be Thursday, Dec. 19, at 6 p.m.
Source: Daily Times; 12/4/2019

Proposed Chester budget packs 10% tax hike
Chester City Council recently moved through a series of financial ordinances, including approving a preliminary 2020 budget of $55.7 million, marking the city’s third consecutive balanced budget. The preliminary budget holds the line on some taxes but includes a 10% increase in real estate millage from 29.792 mills up to 32.7712 mills. If the budget is adopted as is, it will be the first real estate tax increase in roughly 25 years. Business privilege taxes are set to stay flat at 3 mills for retail businesses and 2 mills for wholesale. The local services tax remains at $52 per year. Refuse collection fees for single-family homes and apartment single-living units are slated for $175 per year, up nearly 15%. The residential earned income tax remains at 2.75%, one of the highest in the state, and the nonresident earned income tax will stay at 2%. Chester is currently working to exit its “financially distressed municipality” status under Pa. Act 47 by 2021, to avoid entering state receivership. The tax ordinances will head to their second and final reading vote during council’s quarterly meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m., before the final budget vote on Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 10 a.m. Council also passed an ordinance changing the city’s tax reassessment period from triennial to annual and bringing its real estate assessment ratio in line with the county ratio beginning in 2021. An antiquated city ordinance setting property assessments at 25% of market value will be phased out after 2020. The county ratio, set by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and used by all other municipalities in the county for local taxes, is 56.4% for 2020. All appeals from real estate appraisals for tax assessment in 2021 and onward will be filed with the county board.
Source: Daily Times; 11/30/2019

Montgomery County

County receives $1.8M to clean up lead in Pottstown, Lansdale homes
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services has received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. The federal grant will be used to address lead and other hazards in housing units located in Pottstown and Lansdale. Montgomery County has over 163,000 homes built before 1978, putting its inhabitants at risk for lead exposure. The grant, one of six awarded in Pennsylvania, will support the county in remediating lead and other hazards in homes owned or occupied by low-income families with children under 6 years old.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/26/2019

Lower Pottsgrove budget has 22% tax increase
The proposed $6.4 million budget for Lower Pottsgrove Township includes a 22% property tax increase to help pay for capital costs. The proposed budget hikes the overall tax rate from 3.618 mills to 3.868 mills. The primary millage increase is for the township’s capital fund — which will see an increase from 0.25 mills to 0.5 mills. A mill is a tax of $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. If adopted without change, a property assessed at the township average of $125,000 will pay an additional $31 a year. A public hearing and possible adoption vote will be held on Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. in the township building.
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 12/3/2019

Taxes steady in Worcester
The proposed 2020 budget for Worcester Township includes no new taxes and no increase to the township real estate tax rate. If approved without change, the tax rate will remain at 0.05 mills — the lowest municipal millage rate in Montgomery County. The owner of a property assessed at $400,000 pays $20 in property tax to the township. The budget also proposes the elimination of the annual per capita tax, which is presently levied in the amount of $1 per nonstudent resident age 18 and older. The proposed budget will be considered for adoption at the Wednesday, Dec. 18, business meeting. The proposed budget can be viewed at the township building during normal business hours or on the township website at www.worcestertwp.com.
Source: NorthPennNow.com; 12/2/2019

Report: $50K not enough for families in Montgomery County
A report issued by the advocacy group Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) says that a family earning $50,000 in Montgomery County struggles to pay its bills. The report, titled “Underwater: What’s Sinking Families in Montgomery County,” says the primary cause is incomes staying stagnant as basic costs like child care, health care and housing have increased over the past 20 years. The report calculated that Montgomery County families earning $50,000 are likely to have just $1,570 left per year after covering child care, health care, housing, utilities, transportation, food and taxes. The report also found that public schools in the county are financially strapped. A Temple University Center Regional Politics study from earlier this year reported that state-mandated costs are outpacing state funding, putting 60% of Pennsylvania’s school districts in financial distress. As school districts raise taxes to try to cover the difference, families are financially stressed even more. Funding struggles lead to academic struggles, and PCCY reports that districts with high shares of low-income students see 54% of students fail the math exam and 37% fail in reading. The report concludes by saying, “The American Dream is eroding in Montgomery County. Incomes that used to provide a comfortable middle-class life are barely even enough to cover the basics.”
Source: Pottstown Mercury; 11/29/2019

Philadelphia

City council votes to shrink 10-year abatement, stoking real estate industry fears
A dramatic change to Philadelphia’s controversial 10-year property tax abatement advanced through a marathon committee hearing. The bill, which will halve the tax break’s value for new homes, initially passed unanimously and without amendment, despite a lobbying blitz by the real estate industry. But after pressure from Mayor Jim Kenney, an amendment was added to push the implementation date back to Dec. 31, 2020. The bill is expected to be approved by the full council next Thursday, during the last meeting of 2019. Mayor Kenney has until Jan. 6 to sign the legislation, which means it would become law early next year. Industry opponents argued fiercely that a reduction in the tax break’s value would kill Philadelphia’s building boom and cause a recession in their industry. But the council ignored their pleas. “While we remain concerned about the loss of long-term revenue and the possible negative impacts a change would have on development, we understand the concerns of residents that view the current abatement as unfair,” said Jim Engler, chief of staff to Mayor Kenney. The administration, however, opposed a proposed increase in the homestead exemption, which gives homeowners a break on their property taxes. The abatement reform bill, written by Council President Darrell Clarke’s office, would reduce the property tax break on new residential construction by 10% each year over the subsidy’s decade-long span. Only in the abatement’s first year would real estate taxes on a new building be fully zeroed out. (The abatement does not apply to land value, only the building.) The following year, the owner would owe 10% of the assessed taxes, then 20% until in the final year they would be paying 90% of the taxes owed. The proposal affects the property tax abatement for new homes, but does not touch the abatement for commercial and industrial properties. The reform also leaves the tax break on residential rehabs intact. Read more here.
Source: Plan Philly; 12/3/2019 and WHYY; 12/5/2019

Philadelphia L&I redesigns website
The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) has launched an upgraded website. The new site is more user-friendly and adds new content not previously available online. L&I’s redesigned website offer:

  • Easy-to-read explanations of code requirements for the safe and lawful construction, maintenance and use of buildings
  • Step-by-step guidance for getting licenses and permits
  • Easy-to-find tools for looking up permit status, licensed contractors, property history and more
  • Quick access to online licensing — and, soon, online permitting — through L&I’s eCLIPSE technology tool.

L&I’s new website was designed and built in partnership with the City’s Office of Digital Transformation. The site is also built to evolve with user feedback.
Source: City of Philadelphia; 11/25/2019

 

 

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