As regular readers are aware by now, the Creationists behind Ark Encounter, a for-profit company, recently sold the attraction for a whopping $10 to Crosswater Canyon, a non-profit group which they also run.
The whole point of that was to avoid a $0.50-per-ticket “safety fee” the city of Williamstown adopted in order to pay for things like police cars and fire trucks. Things that Ark Encounter’s existence made more necessary.
Ken Ham and his team didn’t want to pay the full fee, so they turned their for-profit into a non-profit religious ministry to weasel out of it, since churches don’t have to pay those kinds of taxes. (City officials are still negotiating with Answers in Genesis to work out a compromise of sorts.)
One of the consequences of that move is that, if Ark Encounter really is considered a religious ministry, it wouldn’t have to pay property taxes… which is how the city, county, and state pay for all the nice things. Like schools and roads.
But the sale raises another big question: Since Ark Encounter argued that it was a for-profit company in order to reap the benefits of a Kentucky tourism-related sales tax rebate worth over $18 million, what will become of it now that the attraction is essentially a church?
Given the significant public subsidies that have gone to this attraction, it is concerning that Ark operators are playing games with the ownership of the property. Of particular concern to the Authority and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet should be that the change in ownership does not allow for continued sales tax rebates without new authorization. The Authority and the Department of Revenue cannot distribute sales tax rebates to Ark Encounter, LLC or the new owner of the Ark for any sales taking place after June 28, 2017.
Sales tax rebates are only available to an “approved company,” which is limited to a company that has received final approval under KRS 148.853. See KRS §148.851(2).
While Ark Encounter, LLC is an approved company, we have found no evidence that the Authority approved Crosswater Canyon, Inc. Along with this letter, we are requesting a copy of any Tourism Development Agreement(s) that the Authority has with the operators of the Ark. A review of the Tourism Development Agreement dated May 19, 2011, states that Ark Encounter, LLC may not transfer its rights under the agreement without the express prior written consent of the Authority.
In English, that says the state approved the tax rebate for Ark Encounter, LLC, the for-profit company… but it never approved a rebate for Crosswater Canyon. Therefore, Ken Ham shouldn’t be eligible to receive any of that sweet sweet tax rebate money from this point forward.
FFRF is now asking for the State to “Suspend the availability of tax rebates to the operators of the Ark” and — this is fantastic — “Terminate any applicable agreements with Ark Encounter, LLC.” That second bit would force Ham’s team to start from scratch if they ever wanted a tax rebate in the future.
If such a request does come before the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority, the transfer should be denied because the change in ownership is detrimental to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, FFRF asserts. Selling the attraction for a nominal amount to avoid taxes that are owed to the state and local community is not a bona fide justification that the Authority should accept.
“It is highly immoral for an entity supposedly founded on morality to engage in behavior like this,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “But perhaps the fire sale of $10 reflects the true worth of the park.”
Let’s hope this Creationist maneuver — all to avoid helping make their own community a safer place for citizens and tourists — comes back to bite them in the ass.
Maybe then I’ll start to believe in karma.