BOSTON (AP) _ The town of Ripton was the town that never complained. It was on record as volunteering to take a toxic waste dump. Then it said it would take nuclear warning towers no other community wanted.

But it's all a fiction; there is no Ripton, Mass., except in the minds of legislators who kept the joke alive in the 1992 budget.

In a rare light moment during budget wrangling, the House gave Ripton nearly $400,000 ''to investigate ... the predacious activities of the endangered howame antalyst.'' To some, that sounded suspiciously close to ''House Ways and Means Analyst'' - the people who put out the budget.

Others see it differently.

''That's a very, very rare vicious animal, exclusively in Ripton as I understand it,'' said Robert Austin, assistant commissioner of the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. ''I hope it's not too late to save it.''

Nobody is talking about Ripton's origins. All that is known is that some legislators recall its first mention came in the early 1980s, and that it since has been symbolic of civic duty.

''They're known for being a rather hospitable community, in terms of taking projects that other communities don't want,'' said Democratic Rep. Christopher Hodgkins, who has a Ripton sign in his office but denies inventing the town.

Former state Sen. Peter Webber, who now serves as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Management, first noted Ripton cropping up in the early 1980s.

''I can't claim authorship or starting it, but I've been brought into the inner circle over the years, since the mythical town is in my former district,'' said Webber, who represented communities in the western part of the state.

Legislators from rural western Massachusetts have used the town to tweak their colleagues - pointing out that nobody really knows what goes on out in the boondocks. Since its inception, the House Ways and Means Committee has helped perpetuate the prank, trying to see if those responsible for putting together the budget at other stages would catch Ripton.

''Part of the fun is to see if we can get it to the governor's desk,'' said John Regan, a committee spokesman.

Money for Ripton was not included in the budget's bottom line, and the budget is now before the state Senate, where Ripton's funding is likely to get knocked out. In the past, money allocated for Ripton reverted to the state's main bookkeeping account, legislators said.

There were a few legislators who noticed the strange language in the House budget this year, but they were told it was a village that was part of another community - and they believed it.

Not everybody sees the humor in Ripton during these hard times.

''Here we have a half a million dollars for something that doesn't exist and not a penny for living expenses for seniors in nursing homes,'' said Jim Braude, executive director of the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts, a group that pushed unsuccessfully for higher taxes instead of cuts.

Dominic Slowey, spokesman for the department of administration and finance, took a more philosophical view.

''What do you say about a town like that?'' he asked. ''It's a perfect place to vacation and to take a break from reality.''