I-Team: Illegal tax dollars paid by unsuspecting residents

In 2007, the Dighton Water Commission made a mistake.

It redrew the water district to include homes that were within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant even though many of the homes had well water.

In 2011, it was clear that hundreds of residents had been illegally charged a water tax.

"We had the question of the people who had been wronged by the tax. Some had duly protested at the time they were first enrolled in 2007 and each year thereafter," said Patrick Menges, chairman of the Dighton Water District.

Dighton residents Anne Varmagares and Mary-Ellen Travassos were not only upset about the tax but they were told because they didn't protest the tax at the time it was wrongly levied, they couldn't get their money back.

When Travassos called the commission to complain, she says a secretary told her there's nothing she could do about it now.

"She pretty much blew me off," Travassos said.

However, under Massachusetts law, if you're wrongly charged a tax you have 90 days to protest the charge. Anything past 90 days, you're out of luck.

Because of the law, the commission had to get a special law passed that allowed it to take applications for tax abatements from Dec. 15, 2011 to Jan. 17, 2012.

"The state Supreme Judicial Court forbade refunds," Menges said.

The commission did refund about $188,000 to more than 100 residents.

But dozens of residents say they were never notified of the application time, and said there was only one story in the local newspaper about it, and the issue was brought up at several commission meetings.

"The meetings in terms of where they were posted (were) unclear. Some of the notices for meetings were posted at the Dunkin' Donuts," Varmagares said.

"Why would I go to water district meetings when I have well water," Travassos said.

When asked if would be more prudent to send each resident a letter telling them of the time they had to apply, Menges said, "I would say the newspaper article was a thin announcement. I'll say that."

Despite the lack of notification, the residents who did not protest their tax when they paid it appear to be out of luck.

Some residents are trying to see if they can file a class action lawsuit against the commission.

But as of now, thousands of dollars of illegal taxes that were paid by unsuspecting residents stay in the commission's bank account and not theirs.