By Kurtis Ming

LA GRANGE (CBS13) — Bill Elkins has always paid his taxes, he said.

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So when the 66-year-old grandfather got a letter from the state saying he owed back taxes from 17 years ago, he wasn’t happy.

Elkins jokes his memory isn’t what it used to be.

“I’m doing good to remember what happened two weeks ago,” he said with a chuckle.

But the $6,166.39 invoice from the Franchise Tax Board is no laughing matter — because Elkins said he’s already paid it.

The letter says he owes that money from 1995 — most of it is now interest and penalties, but Elkins said it’s the first he’s heard of any problem.

His bank records don’t go back to 1995, and the accountant who he said prepared his filing has since passed away.

“I don’t have any records of this,” he said. “This is 17 years old!”

Already on a fixed income, Elkins is worried the debt could wipe out his life savings, he said.

“If they attach my bank accounts or where my social security check is, I’m dead in the water,” he said.

Sacramento tax attorney Steve Packey said California has too much power when it comes to collecting back taxes.

“Is it fair? No,” he said.

The IRS can only go back a decade, but CBS13 has learned in California the Franchise Tax Board can go back twice that — 20 years, as long as they first notify you of the delinquency within four years.

“It’s not practical at all. Individuals are not going to keep records for 20 years,” Packey said.

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So how often is FTB collecting on accounts as old as Elkins’?

“Accounts over 17 years old represent approximately 2 percent of the overall inventory,” the Franchise Tax Board’s Dan Tahara said.

The Franchise Tax Board told Elkins it first contacted him about the account in 1996, Elkins said.

Unable to talk specifics on this case, the agency said its policy is to contact people every year about delinquent taxes, which Elkins denies ever happened.

“Before initiating collection on a debt, FTB is required to ensure that a taxpayer has received due process and received notice of the collection actions that might ensue if the liability is not resolved,” Tahara told CBS13. “This is done in every case FTB collects. Taxpayers receive multiple notices to alert them of their debts before we initiate collection activities such as liens and garnishments.”

“I could give them 25 dollars a month, but how long is that gonna take?” he said.

Now Bill worries he’ll be making payments until the day he dies.

“I’m sure my son and daughter in law would take care of us, but it’s still not right,” he said.

So how can consumers appeal if FTB is incorrect?

“For audit assessments, FTB will send a Notice of Proposed Assessment, giving the taxpayer 60 days to protest the assessment and present information supporting their position,” Tahara said. “If FTB agrees with the protest, we will adjust the assessment accordingly. If FTB disagrees, we will issue a Notice of Action informing the taxpayer of the determination as well as their rights and timeframes to appeal that decision to the Board of Equalization.”

“If the taxpayer loses their appeal with the Board of Equalization they can file suit in Superior Court within 90 days,” he said.

“Typically,” Tahara added, “taxpayers should send a letter to FTB explaining why they disagree with the balance due and provide any supporting documentation to substantiate their position.”

Since the 60 days to protest the assessment passed back in 1996, none of those options are available to Elkins.

After CBS13 got involved, however, the state offered to let Elkins pay in installments.

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Elkins still insists he already paid his taxes, and he’s hired an attorney to explore ways to fight the bill.