The long local nightmare is over. After doing just about everything they could to get out of it — including nearly losing a tax rebate worth more than $18 million — Ken Ham and his merry band of Creationists have finally agreed to pay a safety fee to the city of Williamstown.
The safety fee was never anything more than a $0.50-per-ticket surcharge, paid for by visitors, that funds police cars and fire trucks. The city needed that money because of all the additional people visiting Williamstown because of Ark Encounter. Even if visitors to the Ark were rarely in peril, you need those resources on hand in case of emergencies.
The surcharge only affected three ticket-taking attractions in the community, but since Ark Encounter draws the lion’s share of tourists, Ham was expected to give the most money back. Williamstown officials had budgeted for the Ark to cover about $700,000 out of the estimated $715,000 over the next year.
Initially, Ham said no. He offered a maximum of $350,000 as a compromise, but the city rejected it. They also rejected another offer of $500,000. That’s because neither offer would cover the cost of vehicles needed for all those additional tourists.
Ham then tried to turn his for-profit Ark into a religious ministry just to avoid paying anything… and that move completely backfired. (Hey, it’s not the first time Creationists didn’t do the proper research.)
But that meant both sides were right back to where they started. The city needed the Ark to pay the safety fee. Ken Ham didn’t want to help the community despite using its resources.
The city has now won. Ham agreed to pay the fee, without a cap, in order to end this whole controversy.
Ham said that he sat down with Ark Encounter staff regarding the safety assessment fee, and that they collectively agreed that it would be best to just accept the terms of the ordinance, despite their objections over the wording, the lack of a cap and the way it places the bulk of the burden on the attraction.
“We’ve done the best we can … but we’ll just revert to the original situation and move on,” Ham said.
Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner said he is glad to see the situation resolved, and that the two institutions were able to avoid a potential lawsuit, which several city council members feared would be the end result of the debate.
“I’m glad we could reach an agreement that benefits both the city and the Ark, and I think the safety assessment fee will do that,” Skinner said. “Both the Ark and the city are going to be around for a long time, so it’s important for us to find common ground on issues affecting the people of Williamstown.”
At the end of the day, this was a battle between parents and a baby. Ham threw a tantrum, his toys were all over the room, and everyone was exhausted… but the parents were finally able to put him down for a nap.
At least until the next time he cries.
(Thanks to Dan for the link)