This Bulletin serves to provide general guidance regarding Pennsylvania Act 15 of 2020 (formerly known as PA Senate Bill 841)—legislation in response to COVID-19 which has a significant impact on municipalities and their operations. Blakinger Thomas’ Municipal Group will provide further updates should any new municipal-legislative developments occur in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.
As applied to municipal governance, the three overarching impacts of Act 15 of 2020 are as follows:
- The explicit authorization that any agency, department, authority, commission, board, council, governing body, or other entity of a political subdivision may conduct hearings, meeting, proceedings or other business through the use of remote “authorized telecommunications devices”* until expiration of the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency declaration;
- The tolling of most deadlines relating to applications, permits, appeals, and the like; and
- The temporary shifting of due dates for local real property taxation.
*Authorized Telecommunications Devices: any device which permits, at minimum, audio communication between individuals. (Note, does not necessarily require video communications)
Quorum: The physical presence at a meeting location of a quorum of the participating members is not required, provided the quorum is established through the authorized remote telecommunication platform.
- Generally: Public notice of any remote meeting must, to the extent practicable, be posted on the municipality’s publicly accessible website (if exists), in an advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation, or both. The public notice must include the date, time, technology to be used, and public participation information regarding how to access and participate in the remote meeting, and how the public may submit written comments (see section below on Public Participation).
- Normal Applications, Submissions, Etc.: If there is to be consideration of any application, plat, plan, submission, appeal, or curative amendment unrelated to the Governor’s COVID-19 Declaration of disaster emergency (i.e., a normal zoning application), notice to the public and interested parties must be provided at least FIVE (5) days prior to the remote meeting via a post on the municipality’s publicly accessible website, in a newspaper of general circulation, or both.
Public Participation: To the extent practicable, the general public should be allowed to participate in a meeting, hearing, or proceeding through the remote meeting platform or written comments. Written comments may be submitted to the municipality’s physical address or via email (designated by the municipality).
Minutes of Meetings Held without Advance Public Notice: Draft minutes of any meeting called under emergency circumstances without advance public notice, to address any issue related to the Governor’s disaster emergency declaration related to COVID-19, must be posted on the municipality’s website within 20 days after the meeting, or before the next regularly scheduled meeting, whichever is earlier.
TOLLING OF TIMEFRAMES & DEADLINES
General: For any approval, application, plat, plan, submission, appeal or curative amendment received or pending as of the date of or during the Governor’s declaration of a disaster emergency related to COVID-19, the statutory timeframes for the municipality/body’s review, hearing, and decision are suspended and tolled as of the date of the Governor’s disaster declaration (March 6, 2020), or as of the date received (if received during the disaster declaration), and shall resume on May 20, 2020 (30 days after the effective date of the Act (April 20, 2020)).
Applicability: The tolling provisions apply to every approval, agreement, permit (including building or construction permits), or other authorization or decision allowing a development or construction project to proceed, or relating to or affecting development pursuant to a statute, regulation, or ordinance. In other words, the tolling applies to conceivable approval or proceeding which relates to development, including, for example, under the MPC, Second Class Township Code, Sewage Facilities Act, PA Construction Code, etc.
Applicant’s Request within 30 Days After Effective Date: Within 30 days of the effective date of the Bill, an applicant may request a meeting, hearing, or proceeding on an application, submission, etc. as would be traditionally held as required by law. The municipality, agency, etc. shall have the sole discretion to proceed with such a request. If the municipality authorizes the proceeding in response to the applicant’s request, then the applicant and each party receiving actual notice of the proceeding shall be deemed to have waived any challenge to the proceedings under Sunshine Act or any other law that governs the notice, conduct, or participation in a meeting or proceeding.
Notice Requirements: Written notice must be provided to each applicant subject to the tolling provisions of this Bill, which provides: the disaster or emergency, the time extension under this section, and the right to request a hearing within 30 days (as described above). (Note, a failure to receive the notice does not affect the tolling of the statutory timeframe).
REAL PROPERTY TAX RELIEF DEADLINES
General: Local taxing districts are granted temporary authority to do any of the following for the collection of real property taxes, which are now due by December 31, 2020.
- Collect the tax at the discount rate no later than August 31, 2020.
- Waive any fee or penalty associated with late payment of the tax is paid in full by December 31, 2020.
Resolution Required: The taxing district’s governing body must authorize the above actions, if any, by majority vote. The resolution must be delivered to the tax collector for the particular taxing district within 30 days of SB 841’s enactment, which is May 20, 2020. Therefore, taxing districts must act swiftly to comply with this section.
**This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist. This article was posted on May 1, 2020. Please be aware that the laws and regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic are being updated rapidly. Please check back or contact us for the most up-to-date information.**