TOWN OF NEWBURGH — The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York is challenging nearly $200,000 in fire and other special district taxes assessed for three Town of Newburgh properties, including two hotels the organization bought to house volunteers helping build its world headquarters in Warwick.
In a petition filed in Orange County Court last month, the umbrella organization for Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed that the town “either unintentionally as a mistake or intentionally and without lawful authority” miscoded the former Hilton on Crossroads Court and the former Hampton Inn on Route 300 for 2016, 2017 and this year.
With a combined market value of nearly $23 million, the hotel properties were not assessed town, county and school taxes for those years. But the town assessed $196,000 charges for the Orange Lake Fire District and lighting and water districts during those years.
Newburgh also assessed $1,600 in special district taxes over three years for a vacant commercial property Watchtower owns at Route 17K and Route 300.
“Petitioner would not be required to pay the resulting unjust charges if its exemption from taxes had been justly, correctly, and lawfully granted and administered,” Watchtower’s attorneys wrote in the organization’s petition in county court.
Watchtower bought the two hotel properties in 2014 as it built its 1.6 million-square-foot headquarters on Kings Drive in Warwick. Market value for the Route 300 hotel property is $7,378,500 and for the Crossroads Court hotel $15,435,300, according to county property records.
The organization applied for exemption under a section of state real property tax law covering property used “exclusively for religious, charitable, hospital, educational, or moral or mental improvement of men, women or children purposes.”
Instead, the town gave the organization an exemption under a different section of state law covering property owned by a religious organization but used for residential purposes. That exemption still required the payment of special district taxes.
Watchtower applied in January for refunds of special district payments made on the three properties in 2016 and 2017.
Its application was denied in a March letter from John McCarey, the county’s director of Real Property Tax Service. McCarey said that Watchtower’s initial exemption application in 2015 was approved for all but special district taxes and that the organization failed to challenge that determination at the time.
“I believe that all religions improve the quality of life in the area,” Newburgh Supervisor Gil Piaquadio said. “However, in my opinion, not contributing towards volunteer fire districts who would be called upon to fight a fire in these multi-story hotels is unfair to the fire districts and taxpayers.”
Although Watchtower’s headquarters in Warwick is complete, the two hotel properties are still being used, the organization said in its court filing.
Volunteers “supporting” the headquarters and Watchtower facilities in the towns of Fishkill, Patterson and Shawangunk used the Hampton, according to court documents. The former Hilton houses volunteers visiting the area for retreats, according to Watchtower.