Lost money could have impact on Peterborough property taxpayers

  • The Peterborough Town House Staff photo by Ben Conant

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/15/2021 3:47:48 PM

In a normal year, the Select Board would take money from an unrestricted fund balance account to reduce property taxes in the town of Peterborough.

But this is no normal year.

Selectmen on Tuesday will consider making a withdrawal from that fund, which now contains $3 million, to help make up the shortfall caused by a $2.3 million email fraud that victimized town hall over the summer.

Town Administrator Nicole MacStay said that because of that withdrawal, the fund likely will not be available to use this year to decrease the tax load.

“This absolutely is a negative,” MacStay said. “It takes away, or limits the selectmen’s ability to have an impact on the town’s portion of the tax rate.”

Last year, $900,000 was taken from the fund to reduce taxes.

Peterborough’s combined property tax rate of $30.84 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is one of the highest in the state.

Another potential impact for taxpayers could come if money has to be returned to the fund to return it to a healthy level so it is available in the future when needed.

The exact impact is hard to assess until it is known how much of the stolen money may be recovered and how much of the loss may be covered by insurance. The Secret Service has recovered $594,000 so far.

MacStay compared the unrestricted fund balance to a household budget and a personal checking account. A family might have certain money that it needs every month to pay bills. These would be restricted funds.

If money is left over after bills, this would be similar to an unrestricted fund balance.

“Typically the unrestricted fund balance is used to help us meet cash flow needs throughout the year,” she said. “To use that analogy again, this is the town’s primary checking account.”

The fraud that was carried out against the town utilized emails that persuaded town officials to change the routing of payments intended for the ConVal School District and Beck & Belluci, the contractor working on the Main Street Bridge project.

The money that has been recovered were those funds meant for Beck & Belluci. The payment to the school district has not been recovered, MacStay said.

Now all payments made by the town, save two, are being done by paper checks. The Internal Revenue Service and the New Hampshire Retirement System require electronic fund transfers.

MacStay said that if the town receives any more requests to change routing on electronic fund transfers, “we would be taking a magnifying glass to that and scrutinizing that before implementing anything.”

She said the town has received no further word from investigators about the possibility of recovering more of the stolen money.

Requests to the Secret Service for information about the case were not immediately returned.


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