Peterborough: Meeting Tuesday to determine budget action on $2.3 million scam

  • The Peterborough Town House Staff photo by Ben Conant

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/20/2021 3:40:06 PM

The Peterborough Select Board will meet Tuesday evening to consider overspending the municipal budget to cover money lost when the town was scammed out of $2.3 million by cybercriminals this summer.

A total of $594,000 was recovered by the Secret Service, leaving the town needing about $1.7 million, which it could garner by tapping a $3 million unrestricted fund balance.

This account contains money that accrues after the town meets its obligations. It can be used to meet emergency needs, or to reduce property taxes.

Last year, $900,000 was taken from the fund to reduce property taxes. The town’s tax rate of $30.84 is one of the highest in New Hampshire.

The prospect that a withdrawal to cover the fraud means a similar tax reduction won’t be possible this year has some in town concerned about the potential impact on taxes and discussing whether spending reductions are in order.

“It is time for the Town to tighten the belt until the funds can be replenished,” one local resident, Allison Cabana, said in one of dozens of comments on local social media pages. “We need to practice this with our own budgets and the town needs to follow the identical thriftiness.”

The more money the town can transfer from the unrestricted fund balance the better in terms of reducing property taxes, but there’s a limit to how much impact it can have.

According to the state Department of Revenue Administration, the municipal portion of the town’s $30.84 tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation is $9.92, or about a third of the total. Local education takes up the lion’s share. County and state education also are included in the total rate.

Therefore, the effect of using fund balance money to reduce the town’s portion of the property tax rate can be somewhat muted by other components of the rate.

“There are a lot of moving parts to setting a tax rate, and trying to predict what the tax rate will be even at this stage is impossible,” said Town Administrator Nicole MacStay. “Among the many variables include the Average Daily Membership of students in the ConVal School District and the proportion which come from each of the nine towns in the district, the relative property valuations of each of those towns to each other, the amount of fund balance the school district applies to reduce their levy, etc.”

She has said a transfer of money from the unrestricted fund balance to reduce the tax load may not be possible this year because money will need to be taken from that account to cover the fraud.

However, it’s still unclear if more of the stolen money can be recovered, or to what extent insurance may cover the loss caused by the business email compromise scam.

The Select Board will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the town hall to consider requesting emergency approval to expend funds in excess of the authorized appropriation. It will also be broadcast live on Comcast Channel 22 and streamed live over the Town’s UStream and YouTube channels.


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