By Diana Perez, WBZ-TV

BARRE (CBS) – Where did the money go? That’s the question homeowners in the town of Barre are asking after being told they owe back taxes, bills they say they’ve already paid.

Jim Engel has spent more than fifty hours sorting through his files, looking for proof that he paid his property taxes.

And he isn’t the only one. Board of Selectman Chair Leif Ericson says there are hundreds of people like Jim who paid in cash, and were given generic receipts or nothing at all and now may have to pay again.

WBZ-TV’s Diana Perez reports

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Doug Cope reports

Ericson says town officials realized how widespread the problem when the new tax collector was appointed in August and went through the records and sent out back due bills.

“We had a lot of people come in with paid receipts saying they had paid the bills but there were no records in the office so that was a concern.”

Ericson also says the last tax collector was elected to her position and held it for more than two decades but red flags didn’t start popping up until 2008, then again in 2009 and again in 2010.

“Till it got to the point where we had about one million dollars in uncollected real estate personal property and excise taxes.”

So where is the money? One theory floating around is that the old tax collector pocketed all of it.

But Ericson says there’s no proof of that, instead he offered this explanation, “During that time period we also switched our municipal software. We are leaning towards her not being competent with the software.”

As for Jim, he found his receipts for 2007 but his mortgage company picked up the rest of his back taxes to avoid foreclosing on his property.

For now Barre says it is conducting an internal investigation not a criminal one.

Ericson says there’s simply not enough proof that the old tax collector wasn’t just a poor record keeper so it’s still not clear if the money is missing or just misplaced.

Barre says it’s reached out to the Department of Revenue for a list of guidelines on how to deal with this situation.

Comments (12)
  1. Denise says:

    Well the towns people who paid in cash – should have received a receipt that they paid their tax bill! If not they deserve to have to pay it again. Who would pay anything in cash w/o getting a receipt?

    But my guess is that the “tax collector” did just that collected the taxes… watch out they’ll probably plead ignorance that nobody told them what to do w/ the “cash”…

  2. jim engel says:

    This is regarding a new report I heard on WBZ today about the people that paid taxes in Barre Ma., being charged again for payments. I am one of those people. I went in in August to pay my taxes, and was told I owed two years of taxes I had already paid, going back 6 years. No hint that was any problem with anyone but me. After talking to someone else in town, I was told that most cash payments were missing. When I went back to the new collector, she did then say there was a problem, BUT it was up to all of us to prove we paid them, even though this goes back YEARS. I did find SOME of mine, proving that I did pay, but still can’t find one years worth. I got a letter from my morgage company, saying THEY got notice that I owed back taxes, and wanted to forclose on my mortgage! I asked the new collector if she could at least call the mortgage company, and explain what was going one, and she wouldn’t. Instead of forclosing, my mortgage company paid the town of Barre

    1. tsal1 says:

      Jim Engel – the fact that you found all but one of the receipts proves you paid. The town needs to put a hold on notifying all banks while it sorts its mess out. Clearly the mess was created by the town and it has no right to pass its problems to the residents. What a horrifying story.

    2. Lucy says:

      It is happening again! A new bill has come out todya Jan 26th 2012 for past due taxes for 2009, although I have already proved I paid them. When is the town going to be responsible?

  3. 2 cents says:

    Sounds like the town of Barre of a thief on the loose! Cash payments went into someone’s pockets?? Have they ever heard of a receipt ?

  4. JohnC says:

    Our town had a similar problem a few years back. It turned out that the long-time tax collecter had developed some form of dementia – perhaps Alzheimers’, and had simply stopped keeping any reasonable form of transaction record. Uncashed checks were found in desk drawers, under rugs, and in storage files. It took a couple of years to straighten the mess out. I don’t believe that anyone had forclosure proceedings brought against their property though. I would never pay my property tax (or any large bill) by cash. A check leaves a paper trail. All of the problems in Barre would be nonexistant if people had paid by check. I still believe that the burden of proving non-payment should be on the town, however.

  5. Kelly says:

    Having worked in a Muni Tax Dept for many years it’s been my contention that theft can happen with any bills paid in caxh: Someone comes in pays cash gets a receipt & the person sworn to keep the tax payers trust pockets the money. this person keeps a private record of all cash payments..none of these payments are posted because an audit ihas to be done and if you only record the check payments all the books balance and nobody knows you only took checks to the bank. Before the next billing the payments are posted & the tax payer gets a proper calculated bill. Before the next audit the private record payments are reversed and again the books balance…This usually happens in a one person office so that if a taxpay comes in to ask for a copy of the bill it can be adjusted to look as if the payments have been made..This can go for years and usually is never found till the job is vacated and a new person takes charge. It certinly is a lot of work but putting in the time to make a Million Dollars is a lot of work too. Of course the person with the money will have some grand explination like “Im related to Chuck Turner, Diane Wilkerson is my Auntie or god forbid I have the same DNA pool as the great Sal Dimasi.”..who will be home for thanksgiving……….Use a check trust nobody

  6. emom says:

    It’s a shame that we can not pay bills by cash, we have done so as did our parents and their parents and it was never an issue back then., We have been hearing of this kind of thievery for some time now. WHERE DOES IT STOP. I often pay cash for my bills, Call me old fashion But writing a check or even doing banking business on line frankly scares me a bit. LAUGH, But how many times has a credit card company got hacked, and vital info has been stolen, Its like using credit cards to purchase stuff, HELL NO, cash on the barrel or I don’t need it,, Yes I have a debit card BUT only use it for certain purchases,
    But this is a perfect example of fraud , stealing and taking advantage of folks. Now some could lose their homes How odd that no one could realize something was wrong , But it sure seems all these folks have paid their bills. Well they should be compensated some how. I mean its the towns fault but these home owners now have to prove they paid and fight to keep what they have, How fair is that of the town to tell them its their problem But acknowledge that there is a problem and will look into it.. REALLY sounds like they may have known something was up , after all the person that was working there was replaced.. And further more red flags DID pop up multiple times yet no one followed Thru with it, 3 times they saw a problem and didn’t realize something was wrong, Millions of dollars missing or not collected,,, that’s what runs these towns could this kind of stuff be going on in many towns across the state, I have to wonder.
    I hope they either find the money has been misplaced , but fear more likey been stolen. Look at what the person that held that office before and see what kind of luxury things she did, trips cars, just saying, if things started to show up all of a sudden then maybe there is reason to look at who took the money verses a computer glitch that seems should have been dealt with in the first year,

  7. liz says:

    Even if you find a missing check or receit, they are doing everything to prove it’s not the correct one. If we have to trust them, they have to do the same, None of us should be threatened to loose their homes because of someone elses stupidity.
    This entire mess should be cleaned up before anyone is demanded to pay something they already did

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