A county board of education in Kentucky is suing creationist Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter theme park and a government body that determines property values, asserting that the tourist attraction has been undervalued, causing the county to lose money that should be going to the area’s public schools.
The Grant County Board of Education filed the lawsuit in state court in July, arguing that for the 2017 tax year, the Grant County Property Valuation Administrator (PVA) assessed Ark Encounter’s property at just over $48 million when it’s actually worth $130 million, reported the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The figure is important because it determines the tax rate paid by Ark Encounter, and much of that money goes to the county’s public school system. Education officials say Ark Encounter paid nearly $276,000 in taxes in 2017 but had the property been assessed at a higher rate it would have paid $746,200. The result is that local public schools may be missing out on a significant amount of tax support.
The Courier-Journal reported that the education board asked the Grant County Board of Assessment Appeals to reassess the property, but it declined. The board of education then asked another government body, the Kentucky Claims Commission, to look into the matter, but that body denied the appeal as well.
Donald Ruberg, the education board’s attorney, told the newspaper that Ark Encounter is “without a doubt” worth more than the PVA assessed. Ruberg said the problem may stem from the fact that Ark Encounter, which Ham claims is a replica of the biblical Noah’s Ark, is a unique attraction in the state, and that officials at the PVA did not know how to determine its value accurately.
The attraction, known informally as the “Ark Park,” is owned by Answers in Genesis, Ham’s Christian fundamentalist ministry. Ham, an Australian evangelist, focuses most of his ministry on attacking evolution; he also runs a nearby creationist museum. He insists the story of Noah’s Ark as outlined in the Bible is literally true, the Earth is only 6,000 years old and humans coexisted with dinosaurs.
Officials at Ark Encounter have moved to dismiss the lawsuit.
“[A]s required by law, we have been faithfully paying our property taxes each year as assessed by the county’s PVA, and these monies have greatly benefited the school district,” said Melany Ethridge, a spokeswoman for Answers in Genesis.