For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/6/2021 3:33:25 PM
The state Department of Revenue Administration has approved an emergency expenditure request from Peterborough selectmen to overspend their budget by $1,753,479 to make up for taxpayer money stolen in a cybercrime over the summer, town administrator Nicole MacStay told the Select Board Tuesday evening.
Unassigned fund balance, money that has accrued after town bills are paid, is the designated source for this spending. But the town could limit withdrawals from the fund balance by making savings elsewhere, or if more of the missing money could be recovered, or if it is able to get an insurance settlement for a portion of the loss.
A total of $2.3 million was taken by criminals who posed as the ConVal School District and Main Street bridge contractor Beck & Bellucci and persuaded town finance officials by email to send vendor payments to bank accounts set up by the scammers. The U.S. Secret Service recovered about $600,000 of the stolen money intended for the contractor.
The town has already paid Beck & Bellucci the balance of the money owed to them and has made arrangements with the ConVal School Board to begin restoring its lost payment.
In a letter to the selectmen, School Board Chairman Timothy Theberge said the town may add $125,000 to its monthly payments in October, November and December.
“However, based on the Town’s ability to issue a TAN (tax anticipation note) or make full payment of the amount due immediately from the Town’s unassigned fund balance, the Board will not extend any modified payments beyond December 2021 at this time,” the letter stated. “The Board encourages the Town to make the full payment as soon as possible.”
MacStay said the board decision helps the town from a cash flow standpoint.
“Incredibly, incredibly helpful for them to give us that flexibility,” MacStay said.
Money from the unassigned fund balance has been used in the past to make reductions in the overall property tax for residents. Fund balance money will not be available for that purpose this year, MacStay said.
Meanwhile, strong demand for housing is driving up property values, town finance director Lilli Gilligan said.
New data indicates the average increase in assessed value for single family homes in town will be 33%, 24% for condominiums and 11% for commercial properties.
Gilligan cautioned that value increases don’t automatically equate to tax increases. Spending drives property tax increases. If spending was unchanged, and values went up, the tax rate would go down and taxes wouldn’t change.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ‘People should wait until we get the tax rate,’ ” she said. “If they get a new value and multiply it by the current tax rate, they’re not going to have an accurate idea of what their tax bill is going to be.”
Peterborough’s tax rate of $30.84, comprising municipal, county, state education and local education spending, is in the top 10 highest for all towns and cities in the state.