Our clandestine operative in Kentucky (code named “Blue Grass”) has alerted us to the most recent news in the tax battle between the city of Williamstown and Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the world’s holiest man who knows more about religion and science than everyone else. He’s the Australian entrepreneur who has become the ayatollah of Appalachia.
For background on Hambo’s tax battle, our last post about it was Hambo’s Ticket Tax Battle Continues. Essentially, the city of Williamstown wants to impose a safety tax of fifty cents for every admission ticket sold by Ark Encounter, the bizarre, land-locked “replica” of Noah’s Ark, the biblical tourist attraction run by ol’ Hambo. Ark Encounter is a subsidiary of Answers in Genesis (AIG) — Hambo’s creationist ministry. The tax doesn’t apply to non-profit, religious, or charitable events and organizations, and the city is well aware that Ark Encounter is a for-profit corporation. Nevertheless, ol’ Hambo doesn’t want to pay the tax.
The latest news is in the Lexington Herald-Leader of Lexington, Kentucky, the second-largest city in the state. It’s titled Could a $10 sale mean no more taxes for Noah’s Ark theme park?, and they have a comments section. Here are some excerpts from the news story, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
On June 29, Williamstown City Attorney Jeffrey Shipp sent a letter to the Biblical amusement park Ark Encounter, rejecting their request to be exempted from a new safety tax because they are a religious organization. Shipp said it was clear that Ark Encounter is a for-profit entity, which is how it has been listed with the Secretary of State’s office since 2011.
We know all that. Here’s the latest development:
But the day before, Ark Encounter LLC sold its main parcel of land — the one with the life-size Noah’s Ark — for $10 to their non-profit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon. Although the property is worth $48 million according to the Grant County Property Valuation Administrator, the deed says its value is only $18.5 million.
Whoa! Now the ark is owned by a non-profit corporation, so maybe it’s exempt from the tax — at least that’s the general idea. But — unless we’re missing something — Ark Encounter LLC will still be selling tickets, and it’s a for-profit corporation. This is getting interesting. The newspaper tells us:
That’s the latest salvo in an escalating argument between local officials and Ark Encounter, but some are worried Ark Encounter’s maneuver is a precursor to declaring itself exempt from all taxes, including property taxes that help fund Grant County schools. “I believe this is the first step,” said Williamstown City Councilman Kim Crupper. “The impact would be far larger than just Williamstown.”
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! That’ll teach those politicians to mess with ol’ Hambo. He’s the holiest man in the world — and holy men don’t pay taxes! The news story continues:
The council is scheduled to meet Tuesday night with Ark officials to continue talking about their differences, but Crupper and Mayor Rick Skinner said they think a lawsuit is imminent.
Then they give a brief summary of the tax breaks ol’ Hambo has already received:
Ark Encounter officials worked out a series of incentives with state and local officials, including a controversial sales tax rebate under the state’s Tourism Development Incentive Program that could return as much as $18 million over 10 years to Ark Encounter. The state also pledged about $2.4 million to improve the Interstate 75 interchange near the Ark.
In addition, the city and county created a tax increment financing district for Ark Encounter. The deal means Ark Encounter gets back 75 percent of the increase in property taxes within the TIF district, encompassed by the Ark’s 800 acres, for 30 years. The property started with an assessment of $1.3 million in 2011.
Slick, huh? One more excerpt:
[Williamstown Mayor] Skinner said losing all of Ark Encounter’s property taxes would hurt the city, county, and most of all, schools. “It would be a huge hit to the schools,” he said. Skinner said he is “disappointed” in how much the town’s relationship with Ark officials has deteriorated, but said he would wait to comment further until Tuesday’s meeting.
We have no idea how this will end, but we’re learning a lot about ol’ Hambo. So is the city of Williamstown.
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