MANOR, Texas (KXAN) – Retired U.S. Marine David Pate, and his wife Jeanne, a former teacher, moved into a new home just outside Austin in February 2021. As soon as they moved in, they applied for property tax exemptions. A month later they were approved for disabled veteran and over 65 exemptions.

The tax bill they received in October showed the couple owed $0 in property taxes. The couple believed the senior and 100% disabled veteran exemptions covered them for the entire year.

The Pates were shocked when nearly a year later they learned not only had their tax exemptions been taken away – but they now owed $3,770.09.

“[They] told us it was a mistake, and they shouldn’t have given them to us because we weren’t in our house in January,” Pate said.

The couple qualified for senior and disabled veteran property tax exemptions for most of 2021. The home was still under construction in January 2021. In April 2022, TCAD said it mistakenly granted the over 65 and disabled vet exemptions for the entire year.

An April 2022 review of the Pates application flagged the error and the exemptions were stripped entirely.

The Pates were left with four months to appeal and get their disabled veteran and over 65 exemptions added back on.

But when Jeanne Pate began calling the TCAD to figure out what she needed to do to have them reinstated – she says she got no help.

Instead, Jeanne says she was bounced from office to office until she said she was days away from the tax bill’s due date. If she didn’t meet it, she would face late fees. She paid it on June 29.

“Being on a limited income, you have choices you have to make. To have to pull $3,770 from my savings account, that didn’t make me happy,” David Pate said. “We have it set aside if something happens to either one of us.”

The KXAN investigates team reached out via email to the Travis Central Appraisal District. Within a few days, the spokesperson let us know the Pates needed to submit two documents to have their exemptions retroactively granted. The Pates said they were never told.

TCAD said the Pates were sent a letter, certified mail delivered April 11, that gave them specific instructions for how to appeal, but said the couple did not start the appeals process. The letter did not specify which documents were needed to prorate their exemptions. The letter said the couple had 30 days to submit a written protest to the Travis County Appraisal Board.

“You got a lot further than we got. I think it is sad that it took us reaching out to someone else to fight for us. We should have been able to fight for ourselves,” Jeanne said.

We asked TCAD Chief Appraiser Mayra Crigler about the Pates’ experience trying to get answers.

“You know we are incredibly busy and there are a lot of calls that are coming in. We have got a lot of new staff members, so it was probably just a training issue on our part — training new staff members to understand so they appropriately assist taxpayers,” Crigler said.

Crigler said TCAD is doing additional training sessions for its staff to avoid similar issues.

The property will still have a tax bill for 2021, but it will be lower, according to TCAD. Even though the Pates have been retroactively granted their exemption – it could be another three months before they get a refund. The tax office sends one update to the Travis County Tax Office on the first of the month. Then, the Travis County Tax Office can take up to two months to send homeowners a check.

Since January 2022, the Travis County Tax Office has issued 10,756 refunds totaling $75,250,657. The refunds are not all due to mistakes. The majority are the result of late applications for exemptions, according to a spokesperson for the Travis County Tax office.