The International Business Times reports:
The group that owns the theme park Ark Encounter have sold the park to their nonprofit affiliates for 10 dollars to avoid paying taxes, according to a report Monday by the Lexington Herald-Leader. The Christian theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky is owned by creationist Ken Ham and features a life-sized recreation of Noah’s Ark.
Ark Encounter LLC sold the park’s land on June 28 to its nonprofit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon, for ten dollars, just a day before the city sent a letter rejecting the organization’s request to be exempted from a new safety tax because of its religious affiliation.
By selling the land to its nonprofit counterpart, the group has claimed that the park is a non-profit establishment and not subject to the new safety tax passed by city officials. The safety tax, if implemented by the city, would collect 50 cents of every entry ticket sold on $40 adult tickets and $28 children’s tickets. The theme park pulls in an estimated 1.4 million visitors a year, which, when the safety tax was imposed, means the company would owe the city of Williamstown approximately $700,000.
More from the Lexington Herald-Leader:
Ark spokeswoman Melany Ethridge declined to answer questions about the deed, a possible lawsuit, or the theme park’s future tax status. Instead, she provided a statement that said Ark Encounter officials “remain hopeful” that they can reach an agreement with the city regarding the safety tax.
“The Ark Encounter seeks to pay its fair share when it comes to a safety-fee assessment recently instituted by the city of Williamstown,” Ethridge said. “The Ark Encounter has conveyed that sincere sentiment to Williamstown’s leadership and will continue to work with city officials to find a fair and equitable solution regarding contributions to the safety fund.”
Like other city officials, Crupper, a 26-year council member, said he was disappointed in Ark officials’ reaction because the tax will finance emergency equipment that serves Ark Encounter, which now has a petting zoo and a zip line course.
“This ordinance was carefully thought out. This does not affect their bottom line,” Crupper said. “We have to make sure your police and fire and emergency services can assure safety. If you’re going to pay $40 for a ticket and $10 to park, I don’t think you’re going to argue over 50 cents.”
Hemant Mehta rants at the Friendly Atheist:
Just to summarize here, Ark Encounter used its for-profit status to receive all sorts of tax breaks. Then the Creationists told Williamstown officials that they ran a non-profit ministry to avoid paying more taxes. And now they’re basically confessing that they were a for-profit business this whole time because they just sold the boat to the non-profit entity that oversees it. If that’s confusing… well, welcome to how Creationists think.
Let’s suppose for a moment that all of this is legal. At best, it suggests that Ark Encounter is incredibly unethical. Williamstown gave the Creationists cheap land and tax breaks galore over the next few decades with the hope that Ark Encounter would eventually create lots of jobs and bring in tourists who would spend money at surrounding businesses.
Ken Ham is paying them back by restricting jobs to his anti-gay Creationist buddies, threatening to sue the city over the safety fee, and finding a way to possibly withhold taxes that would fund local schools.