It should be quite a show Monday evening when representatives from the Ark Encounter, incorporated in Missouri as a for-profit corporation, explain to the Williamstown city council how it should be exempt from a tax because it is really a non-profit religious organization.
The Ark Encounter, after all, is such a good show that it attracted 1.4 million visitors — at prices ranging from $16 for a child to $30 per adult, $34 to $60 if you add in the nearby Creation Museum — in its first year of operation.
With the onslaught of visitors, city leaders recognized a need to beef up emergency-response capacity and so levied a tax of 50 cents per ticket on for-profit admission-based businesses. There are only three and Ark Encounter is by far the largest, with the city estimating it will account for about $700,000 of the $715,000 anticipated from the tax.
Even though the city’s emergency services must respond to accidents at the park — which in addition to tours of a very large stationary boat billed as a replica of Noah’s Ark, includes a zipline tour, camel rides and a petting zoo — park officials said they were “blindsided” by the new tax.
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Ark Encounter has benefited from a boatload of taxpayer subsidies — a state tax rebate of up to $18 million over 10 years plus an expanded interchange at the I-75 exit that cost about $10 million, $62 million in city-issued junk bonds, a rebate of the 2-percent city payroll tax on all employees, a special local tax-increment financing district that requires the city to return 75 percent of property-tax revenue increases, an outright gift of $175,000 and 100 acres of land by the Grant County Industrial Authority.
The council must hold firm, as it has signaled it plans to do.
Faith may move mountains, but it will not provide reliable emergency services for a million-plus visitors each year.