To the editor:
Last week’s excellent front page Times article on Barrington’s Spencer Trust was an eye opener for town residents. Since 2005, when the Spencer funds came to Barrington, the Trust has apparently been mishandled by a select few.
The intent of the Spencer Trust was very clear: “the income of which shall be used annually to help the poor and unfortunate people of said Town of Barrington”.
Approximately $85,000 was to be distributed by the Trustees annually. Between 2005 and 2012, there were no Trustees or bylaws in place. There is still no application form. Why?
It appears certain town officials used the Spencer Trust to push forward an affordable housing agenda most residents understand will reduce the property tax base, and place a burden on our schools and services.
Town leaders need to be forthright and address the long standing controversy surrounding the trust, and finally deal with the lack of transparency. Why were organizations like Tap-In kept in the dark until 2013, as were needy Barrington residents, while affordable housing developers were given red carpet treatment with highly questionable grants?
Spencer Trust grants to the Walker Farm developer, West Elmwood Housing, should never have taken place. To begin, the Walker Farm affordable housing project was based on approximately $550,000 in Town Council approved HUD grants. The fact that HUD money was involved required the project to be available to anyone outside of Barrington who qualified under HUD’s much higher income threshold levels than the Spencer Trust allows.
Further, money was lost by the Spencer Trust in the West Elmwood transaction as the housing loan was a “no interest” loan, and certain development costs of the property (engineering/environmental, etc.) were not recovered by the Trust.
The Town of Barrington took $268,000 from the Spencer Trust in March 2010 to buy 2.8 acres of land at 139 George St. earmarked for future affordable housing. The Town Planner then applied for a HUD grant to further this initiative which was approved by the Town Council making the George Street project in violation of the Spencer Trust by-laws due to the overriding HUD regulations.
Additional controversy was created when, in 2010, the town solicitor’s law firm was paid $9,114 by the Spencer Trust for legal work on this project, two years before Trust registration documents were filed with the Attorney General by the town solicitor. Who was approving these transactions if the trust was not yet a properly registered trust?
The Spencer Will requires the interest income be spent annually, not saved up for big budget affordable housing initiatives. According to the prior town finance director, at the start of 2013, there was approximately $575,000 in “saved up” assets in the Trust. Going forward, the Trustees need to address that issue.
On March 4, 2013, the Spencer Trustees included in their meeting an agenda item: “Review of Previous Expenditures”. That agenda item was never completed.
Residents/Taxpayers want, and expect, a proper audit of previous expenditures to finally end the controversy this matter has created.