While the big news from today is that Ark Encounter is no longer eligible for a tourism-related tax rebate from the state of Kentucky that could have been worth about $18 million over the next decade, remember that the whole controversy stemmed from the “safety fee” imposed upon them by the city of Williamstown.
In short, the city needed money to pay for fire trucks and police cars to take care of the growing number of citizens and tourists. They decided to institute a $0.50-per-ticket fee to all ticket-taking attractions in the community, knowing full well that Ark Encounter brought in the lion’s share of visitors. In fact, Williamstown officials estimated they would receive $715,000 a year for the safety measures… with $700,000 coming directly from Ark Encounter.
Ken Ham and his team didn’t want to pay that fee, so they tried to cap their donations at $350,000, then $500,000, then nothing at all because they sold the entire Ark for $10 to a non-profit company they owned thereby making them exempt from the entire safety fee.
(That’s not even true. The city can just rewrite the rules to say non-profits also have to contribute for the safety fee. But that’s another story.)
Ham just posted a message on Facebook, written by Answers in Genesis CCO Mark Looy, about the injustice of the safety fee. He’s trying to justify why Ark Encounter doesn’t want to pay what Williamstown is asking, but in the process, he confirms every awful stereotype about him.
“Because the new ordinance passed by the City of Williamstown essentially singled out the Ark Encounter to shoulder nearly all the burden for additional safety services that will benefit the entire community and not just the Ark, and because of the ordinance’s wording concerning exemptions to the safety fee, we needed to keep our options open to protect the organization for the future. We have always said we want to pay our fair share for safety services, and believed we had made a highly reasonable counter proposal to the city council.
“It has always been our desire to be a partner in helping to grow the economy of a community that welcomed us so kindly. We are saddened that the city council did not extend the courtesy of discussing this ordinance with us before passing it and taking it public, and was not willing to negotiate further.
“We are thankful that even with over a million Ark guests who have come to Williamstown in just over a year, the number of calls from the Ark Encounter for emergency services has been quite small.”–Mark Looy, CCO
Let’s dissect that a bit, starting from the end.
1) “The number of calls from the Ark Encounter for emergency services has been quite small.”
That’s nice. But that’s irrelevant. If people are coming to Williamstown these days, it’s inevitably to visit the Ark. If there are health scares in Williamstown, they’re more likely going to happen to people who are visiting the Ark. So even if it hasn’t happened very often so far, the city needs to be ready to act in case emergency situations arise.
2) “The city council did not extend the courtesy of discussing this ordinance with us before passing it and taking it public, and was not willing to negotiate further.”
How do you negotiate with people who refuse to pay their fair share? Ark Encounter didn’t want to pay what it would cost to protect them. They low-balled the amount they were willing to offer, then pulled a maneuver to get out of paying anything. They can’t be trusted to do the ethical thing, so at this point, the City Council is squarely within their rights to institute rules without contacting Ken Ham first. They tried to work together. Ken Ham tried taking advantage of them — as he’s done many times before with all the tax breaks he’s received. What more is there to negotiate?
3) “The new ordinance… essentially singled out the Ark Encounter to shoulder nearly all the burden for additional safety services that will benefit the entire community and not just the Ark.”
This is the dumbest statement of all. Williamstown had a population of just under 4,000 people in 2010. It’s probably not that much higher today. And Ken Ham built a $100 million boat smack dab in the middle of the city. The whole community now revolves around the Ark. New people are coming into the city because of the Ark. The increase in safety equipment is needed because of the Ark. The stress levels are rising because of the Ark.
That’s why it’s entirely understandable why city officials would ask Ark Encounter to pay the bulk of the safety fee.
It’s also very telling that Ham would be upset that Ark Encounter’s contribution would benefit “the entire community and not just the Ark.” Once again, he’s showing that this is all about him. He doesn’t care about people who aren’t affiliated with his boat. A better person would say, “I built this boat in Williamstown to help the community, and I’m thrilled that our safety fee contributions will help everybody in town.”
I’ve argued before that Ham doesn’t give a damn about the small businesses in Williamstown; he’s even blamed them for the Ark’s struggles. This is just an extension of that argument.
As of this writing, he still hasn’t addressed the tax rebate he’s no longer getting.
(Thanks to @Mariposaland for the link)