The city of Williamstown plans to reject a request from the Ark Encounter claiming exemption from a recently implemented safety assessment tax on the grounds that it is a religious entity, the Grant County News reports.
The tax collects a 50-cent charge on tickets in admission-based businesses within the city of Williamstown, and currently affects only three businesses: the Ark Encounter, Williamstown Family Fun Park and Main Street Gardens.
In April, the proprietors of a gigantic wooden Noah’s Ark in Williamstown said they were “blindsided” by the tax and said they might consider raising ticket prices.
The tax does not apply to non-profit, religious, and charitable events and organizations.
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The city plans to use revenue collected from the fee to fund upgraded emergency response equipment to better serve Williamstown’s needs as a growing tourist destination.
The city’s budget estimates $715,000 in revenue from the safety assessment fee, which begins collecting from the three businesses on a monthly basis beginning July 1. The park opened last July, promising a surge of economic development. But nearby residents and businesses say that flood of customers hasn’t materialized. Ken Ham, CEO and president of Answers in Genesis/Ark Encounter, disputed those claims.
We’ve done our research … and everything that we have found is that they are a for-profit company.
Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner
About $700,000 of the projected revenue is from the Ark Encounter, based on the projected 1.4 million in attendance at the tourist attraction. Representatives from the Ark Encounter initially said they would request an exemption from the fee if the city intended to collect more than $350,000 from the business, according to Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner.
According to the letter sent by John E. Pence, secretary general for Answers in Genesis, the Ark Encounter was organized exclusively for religious purposes, and is solely owned and operated by Crosswater Canyon, a Kentucky non-profit corporation which is recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization and public charity under Section 501(c)(3) religious organizations and public charity.
“Both Ark Encounter and Crosswater Canyon are clearly religious organizations,” the letter reads. “The Ark Encounter project was designed to factually present the biblical and historical truths of the Bible, including the biblical accounts of Noah and the Ark, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, and other biblical truths revealed in Scripture, through the Ark’s exhibits and guest experiences. Crosswater Canyon was organized exclusively to support the religious mission and purposes of Answers in Genesis, and to own and manage the Ark Encounter for Answers in Genesis.”
Answers in Genesis co-founder and chief communications officer Mark Looy said that visitors to the Ark Encounter clearly recognize it as a religiously run attraction with a religious purpose, and that the organization filed the appeal because they feel the business should be exempt.
“We simply applied for the exemption that is allowed under the specific wording of the safety assessment fee ordinance as it was adopted, as you would expect other exempted organizations to do,” Looy said.
Skinner and the other Williamstown City Council members voiced their disagreement with the exemption request; with councilman Kim Crupper noting that the Ark Encounter operates on a for-profit status. City Attorney Jeff Shipp said the organization’s corporate filings in Missouri indicate that they are a for-profit corporation. Shipp said he would craft a formal response to the appeal sometime in the coming week.
“We’ve done our research … and everything that we have found is that they are a for-profit company,” Skinner said.
Looy confirmed that the Ark Encounter is a for-profit entity, but reiterated that it is wholly owned by Crosswater Canyon, a non-profit organization. Looy said that even though the Ark Encounter is established as a for-profit subsidiary of Crosswater Canyon, the Ark Encounter is a religious organization, and therefore qualifies for the exemption.
When asked what the organization planned to do should their exemption request be denied, Looy said: “We are still considering our options.”
Answers in Genesis Co-Founder Mike Zovath met with Skinner on June 27 to discuss solutions to the issue, but no agreement was reached.
The Ark Encounter is situated in a Tax Increment Financing zone, an area designated by local governments intended to attract developers.
Skinner said the council plans to discuss the issue at their July 10 meeting, and added that representatives from the Ark Encounter will likely attend to present their case.