Watchtower tax-exemption pressures mid-Hudson town

Warwick HQ

A detailed report in the Times Herald-Record by Hema Easley and James Walsh, indicates a high level of frustration with the Watchtower’s expansion in the town of Warwick and surrounding area. Buying up property and paying very little in local taxes is making the town officials of Warwick, NY, begin to look closer at Watchtower operations.

Flush with cash from the piecemeal sale of its world headquarters and associated properties in Brooklyn,” the Council are questioning the tax-exempt status as Jehovah’s Witnesses build a new 1.6-million-square-foot headquarters in Warwick.

Warwick Plans

Warwick Plans

The Warwick premises includes offices, residential buildings, a cafeteria, a vehicle maintenance building, an infirmary and a parking garage.

To support this mammoth effort, Watchtower has purchased properties across Orange County and nearby areas. The properties include apartment buildings, single-family homes, a warehouse, a former corporate office building, hotels, offices, and land approved for building residential units. It is expanding its printing press and residential premises in the Town of Shawangunk in southern Ulster.

Yet the Watchtower Society pays almost no property taxes.

Town Assessor Dennis Ketcham denied the exemption, viewing Watchtower’s use as industrial or commercial, rather than religious.

“I didn’t believe constructing bathrooms met the religious use test,” he said in a recent interview.”

State Sen. John Bonacic in an email to the Times Herald-Record said,”that he continues to push for legislation that would combat abuses of property tax exemptions in New York. He is currently carrying four bills in the Senate to address this issue.

The town officials appear nervous of litigation, not least because Watchtower is a particularly litigious organization. A history of court decisions in favor of religious organizations puts municipalities in a no-win situation, said Jeanne Zaino, a professor of political science at Iona College in Westchester County.

They can either grant the tax exemption and lose tax dollars,” she said, “or deny it and prepare for a court challenge, the outcome of which is uncertain.” She said, “Watchtower is better positioned for court action because of the money it has. The downside is that when property tax exemptions are granted, the rest of the taxpayers have to pick up the tab.”

Representatives from Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that the Town will benefit from job creation. But any jobs created will no doubt be for Jehovah’s Witnesses who are brought in from out of town. These will not be jobs for local unemployed people. They also argue the area will benefit from tourism, but questions can be raised about the reality of tourism. What is probably meant is that Jehovah’s Witnesses will arrive in buses with packed lunches to visit a printing press and surrounding buildings. They will be whisked away to dedicated accommodation. The idea that the general public will stop by because the location is a tourist attraction is disingenuous.

The comments by locals under the article indicate a high level of frustration.
One commentator questioned why the organisation would want tax exemption on a sports facility, especially given that Jehovah’s Witnesses are discouraged from playing competitive sports or “wasting time” in activities that take them away from the preaching work.

The consensus from the Council and those commenting appears to be, Watchtower should be paying tax on commercial operations.

More information

Times Herald-Record Watchtower’s growth strains town budgets in mid-Hudson Link


Watchtower purchases Inn for volunteer labor Link


About Susannah

"Susannah," JWReport's News and Opinion Editor, is very familiar with the Watchtower Society and its leaders past and present. An experienced editor and writer, she was born and raised in the UK where she was an active Jehovah's Witness until she was 28. She now lives and works in southern Europe.


Watchtower tax-exemption pressures mid-Hudson town — 5 Comments

  1. The watchtower never has created work for anyone. The watchtower exploits to his witnesses with deception “volunteer work for the God Jehovah”. All buildings around the world, the Watchtower has made with the same money that witnesses should give and return if the Society watchtower “lends”, and work without unpaid labor, uninsured, without food, without pay.
    And as the report says, the argue about tourism, will be the same witness visiting their peers for to give them foods and of course petty and controlled visits “as a reward” for their efforts which falsely called “tourism”.

  2. Sophia, the statements you made are simply not true. The million plus dollar headquarters building operated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in upstate New York, is not a 6 million dollar private residence for a greedy televangelist or mega church pastor. It is a building to house volunteers and equipment for the spread of the good news around the world. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are not about just buying up property for personal gain. In that case, the Jehovah’s Witnesses would not have sold their property worth $375 million in Brooklyn, New York which was their previous base of operations with regards printing.
    A facility of this size is needed to produce over 17 million Bibles and publications every year.(
    The facts seem to show that the Jehovah’s Witnesses simply moved their base of operations from Brooklyn to Wallkill and Warwick, NY.

    Then you speak of exploitation and deception regarding the volunteer work of Jehovah’s Witnesses when the truth of the matter is that the 17 million books and Bibles published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have a price tag on them and are given to the general public strictly on a donation basis. There is a difference between unpaid labor and volunteering.

    The volunteers do not receive pay because they are volunteers in the true meaning of the word. Naturally, the Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot do this all on their own, the headquarters facility will logically request services from neighboring businesses like contractors, repairmen, internet, sewage and electricity. The economy definitely benefits from any movement of people into an area. Jehovah’s Witnesses volunteers will doubtless need to purchase food, gas, lodging and other services when visiting the Watchtower headquarters. I spend a few hundred a week while out of town visiting another state or city and I think generally most people do add to the economy when visiting a city out of town. So your comments were unfounded and not based on fact rather, a pre existing negative schema you have regarding the Witnesses of Jehovah, Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Mister John Henry,….you speak of the money that the Jehovah’s Witness organization cost a year,…. What about all of the other religious organizations in your city and across the United States? Why are you attacking a very small religious organization on the scale of Catholics, Protestants, Judaism or Muslims? Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion just like the others and enjoy the same benefits any other nonprofit organization aquires from their government. Let me divergent your attention to some of these television evangelists that own private homes worth twice as much as the printing and worship facilities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in upstate NY. The private jets to exotic locations, luxury cars,…. and they are Tax Exempt. Go and attack those guys and let us open a debate on the openness and transparency of nonprofit organization’s regarding their finances, which currently, you don’t have to do it you are a “church”. Is that day comes when all nonprofit organization including churches must be transparent and report their finances, I think you would see there is a bigger fish out there and she will be caught naked.

    • Chase,
      I find your comment interesting unfortunately a well worded comment is not fact.
      Comparing the JW Organization to other dysfunctional Religious practices does not put a feather in your cap.
      The JW Organization is notorious for their bold claims of being the only organization in this “System of Things” that is in touch with Jesus and dispenses the “Truth” according to Jehovah’s Word. All the practices that follow these claims are what people speak against. It’s not personal, it’s a response to the JW’s claims against other Religions and Governments.
      I think if you took a real deep look (with an open mind), into the organization itself, not the “Good Will Intended Preaching” by the lessors of the “Composite Faithful and Discreet Slave”, you might see things from another perspective.
      What’s good for the Goose……..

      Peace and Love

  3. If you look on the JW Web site under news you, will see all the work that the witnesses do to help in areas where natural disasters have occurred. Also, the society has renovated the dam that was very much in need and that a local company had promised to fix when buying up land,. They never did. The witnesses did fix at no cost to the town. Also, the area was a filthy run down abandoned building with contamination in it. The witnesses have restored the area to its original pristine condition and have cleaned up the environment. They won 7 green awards for this. Why are you focusing on the witnesses, what about all the other churches that do not pay taxes? You reveal your hatred by your accusations against peaceful clean, morally upright people striving to serve the True God JEHOVAH to the best of their imperfect ability.

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