When the Ark Encounter theme park opened in July 2016, with its giant replica of Noah’s Ark and other attractions, people in Williamstown, Ky. hoped tourism would give their local economy a boost.
They even offered the creationist theme park $18 million in tax breaks. Now, taxpayers in this small town find it’s costing more than it’s bringing in. WHAS 11 reports Ark Encounter’s brought in hundreds of thousands of tourists. Unfortunately, the tab for hiring enough police officers and fire fighters is a hefty $715,000.
Mayor Rick Skinner declared:
“I’m not sure what will happen next, disappointment is there. The budget for this year, it starts July 1, for the added expenses was $715,000, $700,000 of that would project from the Ark.”
The plan to cover these expenses was to charge 50 cents for each ticket sold, plus the $45,000 per year they expected to receive in property taxes. Unfortunately, Ark Encounter founder and owner Ken Ham has different ideas. To avoid paying these taxes, he sold his for-profit creationist theme park to his non-profit, Crosswater Canyon. Groups with non-profit status are exempt from many of the taxes the rest of us pay, even when they’re phony “Christian” non-profits.
Now the town of Williamstown in the dead-broke state of Kentucky is left high-and dry. As Mayor Rick Skinner explains:
“This year we’re standing to get 45-thousand from the ark in property tax. Of course, that would go away if they become a non-profit and elect not to pay property tax, which everyone thinks this is leading to.”
Of course, the town does not lack for ways to retaliate. They’ve taken away that sweet $18 million in tax breaks, and the state of Kentucky’s backing them. As Laura Brooks from the Tourism, Arts, and Heritage points out, “When they became a non-profit entity, they became in breach of their contract.”
As WHAS 11 News adds Ark Encounter didn’t bother telling the city council about their plans:
She [Laura Brooks] told WHAS 11 News the state was not informed of the change, and uncovered it themselves almost a month later. The Ark Encounter hasn’t received any of that $18 million from the state yet, but Brooks says if it doesn’t turn back into a for-profit attraction, they may never get it.
The mayor adds that he’s hopeful about hashing out a deal that “both Williamstown and the Ark Encounter can live with.” But overall, he says, “I’m very disappointed in the whole situation.”
Ark Encounter’s reps claim they’re a “religious” organization. But The Lexington Herald Leader reported earlier that the city flat-out rejected their request to be exempted from that 50 cents per ticket safety tax. City attorney Jeffrey Shipp also reminded them in his letter that they’ve been registered as a for-profit with the state of Kentucky since 2011.
The 50 cents per ticket was also supposed to pay for emergency equipment. The tickets for Ark Encounter are priced at $30 for adults and $28 for children, so we’re talking about a lot of money. In addition, the city values the property at $48 million (with the theme park claiming it’s only worth $18 million). Since the people of Williamstown were also counting on the property taxes to finance struggling schools in Grant County, this is a big blow indeed.
Ken Ham’s bait-and-switch is a cruel thing to do to the town that put so much hope in him and his theme park. The stats on City-Data.com shows 24.1 percent of Williamstown’s residents living below the federal poverty line in 2015. This is even higher than Kentucky’s 23.3 percent for the entire state. And the even sadder thing is that 13.8 percent live at 50 percent below the poverty line.
WHAS 11: Ark Encounter’s tax breaks revoked after owners sold it to their own non profit to avoid taxes.
Featured image: Video screen grab WHAS 11.