Money taken from tire dump account questioned at Southampton Town Meeting
SOUTHAMPTON — Residents were asked Tuesday at Town Meeting to transfer funds back into an account after officials realized the money had been used inappropriately to balance the budget in 2010. Voters unanimously approved the transfer of about $4,700 to an account that is earmarked for use only on a property that used to be a tire dump.
The account in question was created nearly a decade ago when the town received $153,000 as part of a bankruptcy case involving land owned by the late Elwyn and Louise Fowles. The town used most of the funds, as well as another $600,000 in grants, to remove or bury about 150,000 tires that were dumped on the Fowles’ property. It was determined that the tires would be hazardous to the town’s water supply if they caught fire.
Earlier this year, Christine Fowles, executor of her late parents’ estate, asked the town to account for how it spent the $153,000, stating that it was her understanding that any money leftover after the cleanup would be returned to the family. There was approximately $12,000 in the account at that time.
That was when town officials realized $4,704.79 had been transferred from the account to the town’s general fund in 2010. Select Board Chairman Michael Phelan said the money never should have been removed, but would not say who authorized the transfer.
Judy Kuehner of 168 County Road was one of the residents at the meeting who questioned how the money was removed. “Who allowed it and how come it’s taken so long to show up? It should go back to the Fowleses,” she said, followed by applause from most of the 533 voters at the meeting.
The Fowleses originally got permission from the town to put tires on the land because it was eroding rapidly due to drainage pipes under Route 10. The parcel is located between Gunn Road and College Highway near the former Buckwheats Bar.
Robert Fletcher, co-owner of Fletcher Farm, purchased the Fowles site after the bankruptcy and said the 8.4-acre tire dump land is under the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program. “I came before the Selectmen in January 2010 asking if they could return the land to the farm. I was told that this will never happen,” he said.
Phelan said in an interview last week that he was under the impression the land was not farmable because of its deteriorated state.
Fletcher also said that the town has not used the money in the tire dump account to stabilize the land. “The washouts are as bad if not worse than they ever were,” he said. “If you do not plan to use this money, it should be returned to the Fowles family.”
Highway Superintendent and Select Board member Edward J. Cauley said he believes the Board of Health has used the money to commission a few environmental inspections of the land in recent years. But he added that details about how the money was spent are somewhat hard to find because the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, which oversaw the cleanup, destroyed the records after seven years, according to its policy.
A three-ring binder containing information about the chronology of the tire dump cleanup was also reported missing from the Board of Health office this summer. Former health director Josh Mathieu noticed it was missing following Fowles’ request for account details.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.