NAVARRO COUNTY, Texas - You are about to get your property appraisal in the mail and one local family says “don’t believe everything you read” after a mistake caused them to overpay their taxes for 30 years.
They tried to get their money back. While consumer reporter Steve Noviello is On Your Side, he says the law is not.
For Lisa Shear’s mom, being a landowner was a great source of pride.
“Look at that smile on her face,” she said. “It meant everything to her.”
For 30 years she worked to pay her mortgage and keep up with her taxes. She worked hard so one day she could leave her home and 6 acres of land to her children.
“She came from a poor family. She worked hard her whole life,” Shear said. “She did it all alone. I’m so proud of my mom.”
But it turns out that 6 acres of land was actually less than 2 acres. It had been incorrectly recorded decades ago and never fixed.
The mistake was discovered just recently when she sold a piece of the property to a neighbor. The sale triggered an appraisal and recalculation of the land size and value.
“When we found out she was devastated,” Shear said.
It means that for three decades Shear’s mom paid taxes on land more than three times the size and value of what she actually owned.
Tax records show year after year after year the bills came all inflated. And she paid every one of them in full.
In reality, the land was smaller and the taxes were less so Shear reached out to the Navarro County Appraisal District.
“They pretty much told me that we oughta be happy our taxes went down. And I can’t remember the exact words but my interpretation was ‘when hell freezes over you’ll get a refund,’” she said.
That’s when FOX 4’s Steve Noviello stepped in.
“We came here to the Central Appraisal District but the chief appraiser wouldn't speak to us on camera saying if she did, it might lead to a news story. Well, let me be clear, not talking doesn't get you a pass, it just gets you one of these,” he said.
Karen Morris is the chief appraiser for Navarro County. While she wouldn’t talk to FOX 4 on camera, she confirmed by phone that a mistake had been made.
Shear’s mom, who at the time of the call was dying of Stage 4 lung cancer, had overpaid for years.
It turns out, there was room for a refund but regardless of how long you overpay your taxes when it comes to getting a refund state law limits you to five years.
“We hat it for everybody,” said Mike Dowd, the tax collector for Navarro County.
Dowd’s officer was much more cooperative and key in helping Shear quickly get back all of the money the law allows.
“In this case, it was apparently overlooked for 30 years,” he said.
But because of the limits of the law, Shear’s mom was refunded just over a thousand dollars.
“All in total it was $1,385 for her overpaying taxes for 30 years,” Shear said.
She died a week later.
“I’m furious. I’m furious with Navarro County and what they have done,” Shear said. “If it wouldn’t have been for you stepping in, my mother wouldn’t have gotten the $1,385 she got.”
Adding to the outrage, the same law allows the county to collect back 20 years from people who underpay.
“If the government gets to go back 20 years when I think the law for people should go back 20 years as well,” Shear said.
But unless that law changes that’s not happening.
In the end, Shear’s mom did get her wish. She left her land to her youngest son. It’s where its true value lies.
“And he’s gonna try and get it cleaned up and built up and make a life here,” she said.
The advice for consumers is to check all the information on tax bills carefully, not just the home and land value. While the county is responsible for appraising property, consumers are responsible for checking their work.