On April 20, 2020, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 841 into law. Senate Bill 841, now Act 15 of 2020, includes three provisions that assist municipalities during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.
Real Property Taxes
Act 15 authorizes taxing districts to provide temporary relief to taxpayers for real property taxes due by December 31, 2020. The Act defines a taxing district as any county, city, borough, township, or town authorized to impose taxes on the assessed value of real property. Under the Act, a taxing district is given several options. It may elect to collect real estate taxes at its discount rate until August 31, 2020, and/or waive late fees or penalties for taxes paid in full by December 31, 2020.
Taxing districts are not required to implement the discount extension or the late penalty waiver. They may choose to do nothing or enact one or both relief measures. To do so, the governing body of the taxing district must pass a resolution, by a majority vote, identifying the relief measure or measures it wants to put in place. Following adoption, the taxing district must deliver the resolution to the tax collector within 30 days of April 20, 2020.
Meeting by Telecommunication
Under Act 15, the General Assembly has also authorized municipalities to operate under modified procedures with respect to meetings, hearings, and other business.
First, authorities, boards, commissions, councils, and other municipal entities included in a declaration of disaster emergency are permitted to conduct meetings through an authorized telecommunications device for the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency. An authorized telecommunications device is one that, at minimum, allows for audio communication between individuals. Further, Act 15 eliminates the need for a quorum of members to be physically present at a meeting during the disaster emergency; instead, a quorum can be established by members participating by an authorized telecommunications device.
Second, municipalities must continue to allow members of the public to participate in meetings. To the extent practicable, the public should be allowed to participate by authorized telecommunications device or by written comments submitted by mail or email. Municipalities should take care to collect any comments mailed to the municipality’s physical address in advance of the meeting and should designate an email account to receive written comments from the public.
Third, municipalities must provide advance notice, to the extent practicable, for each meeting held by authorized telecommunication device. Notice must be posted on the municipality’s website, in a newspaper of general circulation, or both. Moreover, the notice must include the date and time of the meeting, the authorized telecommunications technology to be used, and any instructions for public participation. In the event that a municipal entity must call an emergency meeting without notice to the public to address an issue related to the COVID-19 disaster emergency, those meeting minutes must be posted within 20 days or before the next regularly scheduled meeting, whichever is sooner. However, municipal entities must not consider any application, plan, or other submission unrelated to the COVID-19 disaster emergency without providing notice to the public and any interested parties at least five days in advance. Such notice must be posted on the municipality’s website, in a newspaper of general circulation, or both.
Statutory Time Limits Suspended
Act 15 of 2020 also suspends and tolls statutory time limits on certain applications that would otherwise require action or be deemed approved by municipalities during the COVID-19 disaster emergency. As a result, any plan, appeal, curative amendment, or other submission for review, hearing, and decision that was received prior to and was pending as of Governor Wolf’s declaration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency is now suspended, and the timeline for action on the submission resumes on May 20, 2020, 30 days after the effective date of the Act. This means that, if, on the date of Governor Wolf’s declaration, a municipality had 10 days left to render a decision on an application, that municipality would have 40 days from April 20, 2020, to render their decision. With respect to any submission received during the COVID-19 disaster emergency, the timeline for review, hearing, and decision is suspended and tolled as of the date received, and shall resume on May 20, 2020. Effectively, the statutory timeline for review, hearing, and decision would therefore begin 30 days after the effective date.
Municipalities must provide written notice to each applicant subject to the suspension and tolling of time limits under Act 15, informing them of the time extension due to the COVID-19 disaster emergency, as well as their right to request a meeting, hearing, or proceeding.
Upon receiving notice, applicants may, by May 20, 2020, request a meeting, hearing, or proceeding on their application during the COVID-19 disaster emergency. The municipality has discretion to proceed with the applicant’s request for a meeting, hearing or proceeding. If the municipal entity proceeds on the applicant’s request, the applicant and each party who receives actual notice of the hearing or proceeding is deemed to waive any challenge to notice, conduct, or participation.
The members of the Stock and Leader Municipal Law Group stand ready to answer any questions your municipality may have regarding Act 15 or any other municipal issues.