Answers in Genesis is trying to screw over the city of Williamstown once again.
Having received a sweetheart deal to build Ark Encounter there, promising to create jobs then later saying they were only available to other fundamentalist Christians, and taking money from employees’ paychecks to help repay loans, the company now wants to avoid paying a “safety fee” like other ticket-taking attractions in the area.
That safety fee would help the city upgrade its emergency response equipment — which is important if Williamstown really wants to become a tourist destination — but the folks at Answers in Genesis say they should be exempt from paying it because they’re a religious ministry.
During brief discussions regarding the annual budget at the Williamstown City Council’s June 20 meeting, Mayor Rick Skinner mentioned the Ark Encounter was requesting an exemption from the safety assessment fee on grounds that they are a religious organization.
The fee collects a 50-cent charge on tickets in admission-based businesses within the city of Williamstown, and currently affects only three businesses: the Ark Encounter, Williamstown Family Fun Park and Main Street Gardens.
The city’s budget estimates $715,000 in revenue from the safety assessment fee, which begins collecting from the three businesses on a monthly basis beginning July 1.
About $700,000 of the projected revenue is from the Ark Encounter, based on the projected 1.4 million in attendance at the tourist attraction. Representatives from the Ark Encounter initially said they would request an exemption from the fee if the city intended to collect more than $350,000 from the business, according to Skinner.
Even Williamstown officials recognize that.
[Mayor Rick] Skinner and the other councilmembers voiced their disagreement with the exemption request; with councilman Kim Crupper noting that the Ark Encounter operates on a for-profit status. City Attorney Jeff Shipp added that the organization’s corporate filings in Missouri indicate that they are a for-profit corporation. Shipp said he would craft a formal response to the appeal sometime in the coming week.
The council members are right about that.
When Ken Ham was raising money, he said that Ark Encounter was not a non-profit project for financial reasons. The page is no longer on Ark Encounter’s website, but you can see an old version of it right here.
Due to the size of the Ark Encounter project, a for-profit LLC structure was selected to be able to help raise the approximately $150 million necessary to build it ($125 million of that total will come through investments)… The for-profit LLC structure allows for the primary funding to come from private equity investment, while at the same time ensuring that the control of the content, design, and operations of the Ark Encounter will be led by Crosswater Canyon, a wholly owned subsidiary of Answers in Genesis.
The for-profit LLC structure also allows the Ark Encounter to be eligible for various economic development incentives that would not have been available with a non-profit structure.
So it was a for-profit then… but it’s a ministry now?
Answers in Genesis can’t have it both ways. They want all the perks for being a church while reaping whatever benefits they can from being a money-making tourist attraction.
And both of those labels hurt the people of Williamstown and Grant County, who have been duped into thinking this huge attraction would bring more business and employment to the region. There’s plenty of evidence that tourism isn’t anywhere near what the expectations were, and employment isn’t available to everyone in the community.
Now, Ham’s team wants to deprive the city of funding it desperately needs to help make the community a safer place.
(Thanks to Dan for the link)