WHITMAN — Taxpayers cheated by a former assistant tax collector who pocketed their payments will get about $95,000 in credits, and more claims are expected.
Until restitution is made, the municipal government will absorb the losses, officials said.
On Tuesday, selectmen voted to authorize more than $94,000 in write-offs and abatements in connection with refunds and credits due to taxpayers who made, but were not credited for, excise and real estate tax and sewer and water bill payments from 1999 to 2005.
The action comes after former Assistant Collector Nancy Feakins pleaded guilty in September to stealing $110,000 from the town over a 10-year period.
Feakins was sentenced to two years in the Barnstable County House of Correction with one year to be served, the second year suspended. She was ordered to make restitution of the $110,000.
She will also serve two years of probation after her release in the sentence handed down by Judge David McLaughlin in Brockton Superior Court. The sentence came after Feakins agreed to plead guilty to a single count of larceny of more than $250, defense attorney Lee Garrison said.
According to a prison official, who did not want to be identified, Feakins is still serving time with a projected release date of mid- to late August.
However, Garrison said his understanding was that Feakins has been paroled and released, although he did not know the conditions of her release.
According to a memorandum from Town Administrator Frank Lynam, Town Collector Mary Beth Carter and Town Accountant Claire Smedile, the credits include $51,246.63 in write-offs for excise taxes from 1999 to 2005, $3,705.51 in write-offs for water and sewer bills from 2005, and $34,104.72 in abatements for real estate taxes from 2003 to 2005.
The three constitute a committee formed in January to evaluate claims by residents and make recommendations to selectmen.
In May, town meeting voted to transfer $18,000 from free cash to establish an account to reimburse residents due refunds. Thus far, $5,890.21 has been claimed, according to the memorandum.
“It was a very, very time-consuming thing we did. It was a lot of work, but we got through it,” Smedile said.
Credited was $85,420.74 to those who furnished proof of payment and $11,506.43 to those who claimed to have paid in cash each year and have a demonstrated history of paying tax and utility bills, according to the memorandum.
Garrison said the committee's work was also made necessary by the “laxity” of the system that was employed when the thefts took place.
“It's too bad they didn't have a better system for collection, then they wouldn't have to figure out who paid and who didn't pay later,” he said.
The town spent more than a year investigating the missing money after then Collector Joan McDonough reported discrepancies in her office in March 2005.
Feakins immediately resigned, but the investigation lingered, first through an audit by the town's auditing consultant and then by labor-intensive reviews of records by local police Detective Tim Hanlon and Lynam.
According to the audit report, cash was taken and covered up in two ways. The cash was replaced by equal amounts of payments received by check, or the cash was taken along with the accompanying bill.
In many cases, overdue bills being collected by a contracted collection firm were actually paid in the collector's office and Feakins then marked the bills “deleted,” the audit report showed.
Annual audits did not uncover the missing funds.