There’s a controversy brewing in Williamstown, Kentucky that involves Ark Encounter and the City Council. If the two sides can’t resolve their issues, we may see a lawsuit very soon, but that would be disastrous for the city and unwelcome publicity for the Creationists.
As I mentioned the other day, the battle revolves around a “safety fee” that the city has instituted on all ticket-taking attractions in the city. For Ark Encounter, that mean adding a surcharge of 50 cents per ticket to pay for fire trucks, police cars, etc. — the very things that make the city a safer place for residents and tourists.
Using the estimate of 1.4 million visitors a year, this would amount to approximately $700,000 that Ark Encounter would owe the city annually.
The Creationists at Ark Encounter don’t want to pay that much. They’ve now tried two different tactics to get out of it, and both of them have become news over the past couple of days.
Tactic 1) The Creationists running Ark Encounter say they’re a non-profit religious ministry and therefore exempt from paying the safety fee.
That claim is absurd, in large part because Ark Encounter said for years they were a for-profit tourist attraction in order to receive huge tax breaks, cheap land, and interest-free loans.
But just the other day, we learned that Ken Ham’s buddies sold the land on which the giant boat rests for a whopping $10… to themselves.
… Ark Encounter LLC sold its main parcel of land — the one with the life-size Noah’s Ark — for $10 to their non-profit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon. Although the property is worth $48 million according to the Grant County Property Valuation Administrator, the deed says its value is only $18.5 million.
In other words, Ark Encounter sold its for-profit business to the non-profit entity that oversees it… all so the city (and everyone else for that matter) can’t tax them.
The Grant County News reported today that city officials find that maneuver incredibly shady because the sale went down shortly after the safety fee proposal was passed.
Williamstown City Councilman Kim Crupper said he was somewhat surprised and disappointed that Ark Encounter officials are seemingly trying to circumnavigate the fee, but added that nothing is certain at this point.
“For them to pull this kind of trick, to try to not pay their property taxes and school taxes, and things that property owners have to pay … their timing of doing this in comparison to that ordinance that we as a city council passed … makes one guess why they would do such a thing,” Crupper said. “Is the ordinance what has driven this, or have they planned this all along? That’s the question that I would have to ask.”
It’s a great question, and it’s one Answers in Genesis refuses to answer.
[Answers in Genesis Co-Founder Mark] Looy did not directly address whether or not Ark Encounter officials were transferring the property specifically to reattempt to claim exemption from the safety assessment fee.
Suppose that’s legal, though. What a slap in the face it would still be to the people of Williamstown who sacrificed so much to give Ken Ham everything he needed for the Ark. They bent over backwards to accommodate his wishes… and he’s thanking them by refusing to pay his share for the safety of people in the community (many of whom might need those resources precisely because they’re coming to Williamstown to visit the Ark).
Tactic 2) Ark Encounter’s team says they’ll pay the safety fee… but they want a cap on how much they’ll give.
This is the proposal that Ken Ham’s people made at a city council meeting today. Forget the surcharge of 50 cents a ticket with no ceiling, they said. They want to give no more than $500,000 a year — even if safety costs go above and beyond that because of the Ark.
Linda Blackford at the Lexington Herald-Leader reports:
[The $500,000 cap is] what the Williamstown City Council heard Wednesday night from City Attorney Jeffrey Shipp, although Ark Encounter officials did not attend the meeting.
Council members didn’t vote on the offer, but Mayor Rick Skinner said it was clear no one was interested.
“We just think it doesn’t work,” he said…
Of course that won’t work. There can’t be a cap because the mere presence of Ark Encounter requires more public resources.
The city has already added two police officers, six part-time firefighters, two police cruisers, a new but already used fire truck and a tornado warning system that would be placed at Ark Encounter, Skinner said.
“We’re not building a rainy day fund,” Skinner said. “These are real services we’re dealing with for safety.”
All of that presumably costs more than $500,000. That’s why the city needs Ark Encounter to pay whatever it owes instead of placing some arbitrary cap on the amount. (I guess the Creationists think they deserve praise, though, since their initial offer was a cap of $350,000.)
When all is said and done, Tactic 1 would be a huge problem for the city because Ark Encounter functioning like a church means they wouldn’t have to pay local, state, or federal taxes. That would be a huge hit to local schools (just to name one example) that need those property taxes.
But Tactic 2 isn’t all that much better because Ark Encounter is saying that even if their attendance numbers get higher — a big “if,” I know, but bear with me — they don’t want to pitch in for the resources that would need from the city.
Think about that. If 2 million people visited the Ark, as Ken Ham once estimated, and the clientele includes a lot of older people, you’re going to need firetrucks and emergency personnel at the Ark fairly regularly.
No wonder the city doesn’t want to agree to a cap.
I’ve said this before, but this is not surprising in any way. Ken Ham’s team has screwed over the people of Williamstown in so many ways that this controversy can best be described as “the most recent one.”
The city shouldn’t put up with it. And by refusing to accept the $500,000 cap, maybe it’s a sign. They’re finally realizing they made a deal with the devil and it’s time to fight back.
Both sides plan the meet in person within the next week to hammer out some sort of agreement. For the sake of the people in the community, let’s hope they can hash something out, or else it may require a lawsuit to settle. That would be just as harmful to the people in the city as the content in the Ark itself.
And on a personal note, the Lexington Herald-Leader and the Grant County News have been vital for everything I’ve been posting about Ark Encounter. They’re doing all the leg work here. Please, please, please click on those links and pay for a subscription to one or both if you can. It’s the best way to get information on everything Ark Encounter is doing.
(Thanks to Dan for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)