Jim Boerner served in the Air Force until he was forced out by a medical discharge. He suffered brain and spinal injuries in 1991 at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.
After leaving the military, Boerner paid cash for his yellow mobile home. According to Newsweek, he’s been assisted by a Maricopa County program that reduces the tax burden on those with fixed incomes and disabilities.
With his own home, Boerner was happy living in Arizona, where, As AZ Central reports, he lives with his cat Samantha, fixes guitars found at garage sales, and delivers flowers to widowed neighbors on holidays. He was happy until a sheriff’s deputy arrived to tell him he might not be living there much longer.
A missed property tax payment triggered a state law that allows mobile homes, considered personal property, to be sold in auction. Boerner was told he had missed a $236 payment, and his home was going to be sold.
“I said, ‘What are you talking about? … This has got to be wrong,’ ” Boerner recalled. “Had I known I was in peril of losing my home, I would have paid it in full.”
The Maricopa County government could offer little help once the auction took place. The sale of Boerner’s home was finalized and the new owner intends to evict the veteran.
“It’s difficult. It’s just difficult. I love my home. I love my neighbors. … This was my nest egg, you know? That’s why I paid cash for it. This is where I was going to retire. And now I don’t have that assurance anymore,” Boerner said.
Boerner would have had 5 years to pay back taxes had he lived in a single-family home, but Arizona law does not categorize mobile homes as such. Maricopa County treasurer Royce Flora says it’s frustrating to hear a veteran is being stripped of his dignity because of this oversight, .
“A home is a home, and they should be treated the same,” Flora said.
The County Assessor’s Office told The Arizona Republic that it had no record of Boerner applying for the tax exemption in 2017 or 2018, though Boerner does, and recalls receiving postcards of confirmation for both applications. Throughout the process of trying to find out how much he owes, to what office, and how to pay it has been nothing less than confounding to the veteran. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Assessor’s Office and county call center have all given different answers as to when his payment deadline was up, some going to far as to tell Borner not to worry.
That was before his home was sold at auction for $4,400.
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A man claiming to have bought the home offered it back to Boerner for $30,000, much more than the veteran could afford.
“I was begging him to rethink,” Boerner said.
Conversations over text between Boerner and the buyer, a man named Lester Payne, soon got heated, with Boerner threatening to publicize the buyer’s criminal past. According to AZ Central, Payne was previously convicted of felonies for aggravated assault, misconduct involving weapons and endangerment along with misdemeanors for driving under the influence and shoplifting.
Flora has asked the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to investigate the auction, and reverse the sale on the ground of Boerner being given the wrong deadline dats over the phone on more than one occasion. The treasurer has even offered to pay $15,000 of his own money to keep Boerner in his home.
But Payne isn’t willing to sell.
“I’m keeping the home,” he told the Arizona Republic. “My grandma needs a house. She likes the (mobile home) park.”
The matter is being sent to the state legislature, with Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, now in talks with other government officials, hoping to change the law. Several representatives are now in league, working to reverse the sale of Boerner’s home.
“Nobody wants a disabled veteran kicked out of his home in 107 degrees,” said Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.