Red Flag on Spencer Trust Spending
Barrington Town Councilor Ann Strong stirs debate on the type of allocation that should be allowed by the trustees from the Amey Tucker Spencer Fund.
A red flag was raised at the second meeting in two months – after meeting usually once a year -- of the Barrington Town Council and finance director sitting as the six trustees of the Amey Tucker Spencer Fund on Monday, March 4.
The red flag involved the type of allocation the money in the fund, known as the Spencer Trust, should be used for. It came when the trustees got to the agenda item on “previous expenditures.”
Town Councilor Ann Strong believes allocations from the $3.357 million fund should be given only for needs that meet “the true spirit of the will” of Wilton H. Spencer, who died in 1936. His will set up the trust fund.
Strong pointed specifically to a $200,000 loan given to the developer of the Walker Farm Lane affordable housing development.
“I don’t think that fits in this spirit,” Strong said, even though the Spencer Trust by-laws list affordable housing as one of the social services to be delivered to “poor and unfortunate persons” in Barrington.
Gary Morse of Barrington, a frequent critic of affordable housing in Rhode Island, agreed. He said candidates for Spencer Trust aid should not be people who have $90,000 a year incomes, which qualifies them for those subsidized homes.
In determining an appropriate allocation, Morse said, “it might be better to look at what the Spencer Trust isn't” -- not what it is.
Either way, he said, people in Barrington who are on food stamps or are getting heating assistance – not people from outside of Barrington who are able to buy affordable housing here – would appear to be the appropriate targets of the trust fund's allocations.
Barrington Solicitor Mike Ursillo, whose law firm was paid out of the Spencer Trust fund for legal work tied to the closing for Walker Farm Lane, said: “You can certainly determine how the money is spent going forward.”
The by-laws seem to limit the spending of the money to tax-exempt, charitable organizations that can deliver social services to the poor, including but not limited to affordable housing, house repairs, transportation, meals and education.
Town Councilor Bill DeWitt proposed setting up a separate 5 to 7 member commission similar to the Housing Board of Trustees to disburse the funds.
No other trustees supported that proposal after Ursillo said Spencer's will was silent about who should administer the fund except for the “town,” which is interpreted to mean the Town Council.
No matter the type of allocation, Huff said, the trustees can only spend around $84,000 a year – the interest from investing the funds with a conservative strategy. They can’t dip into the principal.
There is about $339,000 in interest that has built up and is available to spend, Huff said.