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Tax office mistake may cost man his home

Bexar County Appraisal District Photo Courtesy: Kash Cashell 2-4-16

A county oversight that saved a homeowner thousands of dollars may now cost him his home. At the age of 34, Raymond Sanchez bought his first and only home.

"All of my memories have been here since my children were very small," Sanchez said.

He bought the home from an elderly man who had been granted the 'over 65' exemption, which puts a cap on the amount of property taxes a person over the age of 65 will pay on their home.

When the home changed owners, the exemption was never lifted.

"Twenty some years later, it came to haunt me," Sanchez said.

The Bexar County Appraisal District notified Sanchez he had been mistakenly granted the exemption.

He had only been paying an average of $650 a year instead of the nearly $2,900 dollars he actually owed.

"I had been paying the wrong taxes since I bought this house," Sanchez said.

Every year he got a tax bill and paid it in full, not realizing he wasn't being billed for the full amount.

In 2011, he received 5 amended property tax statements in the mail back billing him five years.

Sanchez owed the county more than $13,000.

It was also an oversight on Sanchez's part and while he had the benefit of 20 years of reduced taxes, he only had to make up the last five years as per the state tax code.

He could not afford to pay the entire amount of front, so he opted for payment plan set up by the Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector's office.

Sanchez says it was the amount over and above what he owed that broke him financially.

Under the plan he would pay 450 dollars a month, $115 of that amount was interest.

"The interest rate and the penalty are by code and it's statewide. It's not something we have an option on," said Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Chief Appraiser, Lisa Anderson.

The state mandated interest on delinquent tax bills is 1 percent the first month and it increases by a percent each month thereafter.

In addition to that, there is a 6 percent penalty that increases by 1 percent per month up to 12 percent.

Sanchez did the math and quickly realized he would be paying 24 percent interest after 12 months.

"I can't afford staying here. I am already behind," Sanchez said.

"There is no separate section for the collection of penalty and interest for people who have erroneously paid versus people who just haven't paid," Anderson said.

Chief appraiser for the county, Mary Kieke said the appraisal district started reviewing exemptions back in 2004.

She found thousands of people who didn't have an application on file were getting exemptions.

She also said there isn't any way of knowing how many people were wrongly getting the over 65 exemption or how much money the county lost due to this oversight.

Kieke pointed out the appraisal district has made tracking exemptions a priority in the last decade, but she reminds homeowners that they too have a responsibility to read and understand their tax bills.

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