Julieanna Tineo’s garden greets the street in front of her house.

It’s filled with many plants: oregano from Puerto Rico, medium-sized tomato shoots, tree-like shrubs covered in white, star-shaped flowers.

“I took a little when my son went to Hawaii,” she said, referring to the flowering plant.

But after living in Harker Heights for 50 years, Julieanna Tineo, 62, and her husband, George, 63, might soon lose their garden, as well as their home.

Caught by rising area property taxes, the Tineos are one of the 321 delinquent tax lawsuits the Appraisal District of Bell County served to residents who were unable to pay their tax bills this year.

In the past year, properties within Harker Heights city limits were appraised 5.57 percent higher than the year before.

Often, however, the Tax Appraisal District of Bell County is able to work out an agreement with residents for the amount of delinquent tax lawsuits that threaten home foreclosure, said Harvey Allen, attorney for the tax district.

“We’re in the tax-collecting business, not the real estate business,” he said, explaining most of the properties that are sold in the end are vacant lots.

Falling on hard times, the Tineo’s started to get behind on their taxes after George Tineo, lost his Fort Hood job three years ago, Julieanna Tineo said.

“He just hasn’t been able to find work (since then), and with the economy, no one is hiring,” she said, explaining that she baby sat children to help with finances until her husband recently became ill.

The couple slowly slipped into debt after three years with only George Tineo’s monthly retirement check as their consistent income. They’ve defaulted on their property taxes, owing $2,000 in outstanding payments, as well as a slew of federal taxes, among other debts.

The Tineos were served in mid-July. A day after the sheriff walked up the driveway to give them the papers, George Tineo had a stroke.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said, referring to obvious medical bills that were coming down the pipeline. “I never thought I’d have to sell my house for $2,000.”

Even though they have been paying the debt off little by little, it’s hard to keep up with the late fees, Julieanna Tineo said. Plus, they now have to pay the increased property taxes for the current year on time, or else they lose their home, she said.

“I’m not a whiner. I’m a Latin from Manhattan ... but, it’s embarrassing. We’ve never had to go there, to be in debt. Pulled down and pulled down again until you feel like you’re drowning,” she said, tearing up. “It feels like someone just keeps poking you.”

Contact Courtney Griffin at cgriffin@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7559

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