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Grant Co. school board sues Ark Encounter over property taxes

Posted: 5:48 PM, Aug 27, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-27 17:48:12-04
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — The Grant County school board is suing Ark Encounter to get the Christian theme park with a 500-foot-long Ark replica to pay more property taxes.

The school board alleges that Ark Encounter has been undervalued by county officials and filed a lawsuit against losing an administrative appeal.

In the suit, filed in July, the school board said Ark Encounter is worth up to $130 million, but the county’s property valuation administrator assessed the park’s worth at $48 million. County schools are funded by property taxes.

The Ark Encounter responded in a statement Tuesday, saying:

“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, library, etc."

The Northern Kentucky park preaches a literal interpretation of the Bible’s Old Testament. The centerpiece is a massive wooden ark that houses exhibits telling the biblical story of Noah, who built the giant boat to survive the flood.

Ark Encounter fought a legal battle over a state tourism incentive worth up to $18 million that critics argued shouldn’t go to a religious-themed attraction. The developers of the park include the founders of the nearby Creation Museum, which has exhibits that assert the Earth is only 6,000 years old. The ark attraction won the battle over the tax incentives in a federal court ruling in 2016.

In its lawsuit, the school board cited several assessment figures, including an estimate by Ark Encounter’s accounting firm to Kentucky tourism officials that the park’s development costs were $72 million. Another estimate presented by the Ark’s attorney in 2017 said $90 million. The school board also argued that Ark Encounter generated about $50 million in revenue in 2017, and “such an income would result in a fair market value of the property of $130,000,000 or more.”

In June 2018, the county’s board of assessment appeals declined to reassess the value of the property after a request by the school board. The school board appealed that decision to the Kentucky Claims Commission for Tax Appeals, but lost that appeal. The Ark Encounter argued in that appeal that the school board lacks standing to bring a case.

The suit asks that a judge reverse the ruling dismissing the school board’s appeal and rule that the school board has standing to appeal Ark Encounter’s assessment.