School board wants Kentucky Noah's Ark to pay higher taxes

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -

A Christian theme park with a 500-foot-long (152-meter-long) Noah’s Ark is not paying enough in property taxes, according to a Kentucky county school board.

Grant County’s school board filed a lawsuit against the Ark Encounter after losing an administrative appeal. The school board alleges the theme park has been undervalued by county officials.

The park in northern Kentucky 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.

The lawsuit by the school board filed in July said the county’s property valuation administrator assessed the park’s worth at $48 million in 2017. The school board argued the Ark Encounter is worth much more, perhaps up to $130 million, meaning it is paying thousands less in property taxes than it should. County schools are funded by property taxes.

The Ark Encounter is no stranger to legal battles, namely a dispute over a state tourism incentiveworth 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 a statement Tuesday, the Ark Encounter declined to comment on the new lawsuit.

“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 statement said.

In its lawsuit, the school board cited several assessment figures, including an estimate by the 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 the 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 the Ark Encounter’s assessment.

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