Williamstown rejects Ark Encounter plan to pay less tax

Williamstown rejects Ark Encounter plan to pay less tax

WILLIAMSTOWN, KY (WAVE) – The Ark Encounter has taken steps that would allow it to avoid paying taxes. Tuesday, Williamstown officials called their bluff.

The Ark Encounter project was announced right as Mayor Rick Skinner was taking office seven years ago. It has since provided a boost to tourism in the city, but not quite as much as they had hoped.

"We're optimistic that the Ark's going to be a big boom for Williamstown," Skinner said.

It's also created a need for six part-time firefighters, two new police officers and a fire truck capable of reaching the top of the Ark.

That's why in April, the city created a 50-cent fee on each ticket the Ark Encounter sells, which are $28 for children and $40 for adults. It's budgeted to generate around $715,000 a year for the city.

"They thought we blindsided them because we didn't bring them into the conversation, but we did back into the figures that we thought we needed," Skinner said.

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Since the city created the fee in April, the Ark has sold its property to its non-profit parent company Crosswater Canyon for $10, despite being valued at tens of millions. It would allow them to avoid both the 50-cent safety fee and property taxes.

The Ark Encounter made a proposal to the city to cap the ticket fee around $350,000 or about half what it pays now.
Tuesday, city council took no action on the Ark, which in effect rejects its proposal. That means the Ark Encounter either has to pay up, or it can attempt to go non-profit.

"Anytime you take that out of the budget, that would be a hurt," Skinner said.

It's even more important for the county where the school district relies on property taxes.
"That's a $48 million assessment for them that goes away," Skinner said. "That would drastically hurt the grant County school system."

In a statement, the Ark Encounter officials said, "We certainly want to contribute our fair share into the safety fund, and seek an equitable remedy."

"We're developed over the years a good relationship," Skinner said. "We both want it to work out, so hopefully it will."

Officials said if the Ark Encounter makes the move to go non-profit, they could consider legal action.

Ark Encounter officials did not speak at the meeting.

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