Was Noah a tax dodger, too?

Ark Encounter

So let’s get this straight: The Ark Park is a for-profit, theme-park attraction one day, and then a nonprofit the next… and then back to being a for-profit.

And it all has to do with Ken Ham’s efforts to escape taxes at the expense of us — Kentucky’s taxpayers.

Now, we now know that the real purpose of the Ark Encounter was never religious celebration. Ken Ham’s true “calling” in constructing the country’s largest land-boat was to profit.

Of course, his business should be taxed like any other business. In particular, he should live up to the obligations of the agreement he made to receive Kentucky taxpayers’ support. As Kentucky barrels toward a special session to reform the state’s tax code, Ham’s tax-dodging maneuvers should provide a road map of the pitfalls lawmakers need to avoid.

What did he do?

After manipulating Kentucky’s state government into helping finance the development of a 510-foot “replica” of the biblical Noah’s Ark, snake-oil salesman Ham recently tried to slither out of paying taxes by transferring ownership of his boat to a nonprofit (he also owns) for $10. A property valued by Grant County at around $50 million, sold for $10 — not even Gov. Matt Bevin would agree that’s a fair market price for that property.

The Kentucky’s state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet then suspended the Ark’s tax incentives as a result of the $10 transfer. As a result, the boat was then quickly transferred back to the for-profit company. However, if the entire development remained under ownership of a nonprofit, public charity, Ham and the Ark could have avoided paying property and other taxes — worth millions of dollars.

For instance, as a nonprofit charity, the Ark would have been exempted from property taxes in the city of Williamstown. On a $50 million property, that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars each year lost for local schools, emergency and other public services.

In June, the Williamstown mayor estimated the property tax bill to come in around $250,000. But because the Ark was financed, in part, because of a TIF — or tax increment financing district — the city and county can only expect to keep about $63,000. This TIF is set to last 30 years, but Ham is trying to snake out of it now.

Additionally, the park triples the population of Williamstown on weekends to 12,000 people. This strains the city’s public services, and has led it to impose a “safety tax.” For the Ark, this means that 50 cents of every ticket sold goes to pay for additional emergency services, including police, medical and fire… which could prove useful to the country’s largest timber-framed structure.

The city estimated this tax could raise an additional $700,000 to relieve pressure the theme park has put on its emergency services.

Between the property and safety taxes, that’s potentially a lot of money at stake for a city and county with a relatively small budget — last year’s Grant County budget was only about $12.5 million.

More important, the revenue from those taxes must go to public services; Whereas, if the Ark was a nonprofit, the same money would go back into either the religious land-boat… or Ham’s pocket.

This doesn’t even include the $18 million in sales tax incentives Kentucky taxpayers are providing just for building the park here.

By many accounts — even from Ham himself on Twitter — the Ark theme park has not lived up to expectations. The $100-million project hasn’t delivered the economic boon — rise in tourism, business development, job creation and tax revenue — that was used to justify taxpayer involvement. But that doesn’t mean Ham can’t make his profit.

Even if the Ark Park goes underwater, Ham will still own a property he can sell for a good deal more than $10.

Not that this comes as much of a surprise, but Ken Ham has proven he is no different than other con men, televangelists who prey upon their worshipers for personal profit… his is only different in method.

He’s worn out his welcome in Kentucky, and, similarly, so have the lawmakers who have enabled him to take Kentucky taxpayers for suckers.