Co. cool to student loan idea



August 14, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Allen County commissioners were receptive — in theory — to participating in a program to entice college graduates to locate to Allen County, but said they would not commit tax dollars to the program.
Barbara Anderson, Kansas Department of Commerce representative, encouraged county commissioners to enroll in DOC’s Rural Opportunity Zone program for student loan forgiveness, which requires the county to have matching money in hand.
Anderson explained that matching funds have to come through the county, from county coffers or another source, before state money would be forthcoming. The program can mean as much as $15,000 in loan payments for students who agree to move to a sponsoring county and stay at least five years. Annual maximum benefit is $3,000, half local and half state money.
Woodson County has enrolled, Anderson said, to the tune of $6,000, and has four students benefiting.
Qualification is a diploma from an accredited post-secondary institution and the student’s willingness to put down roots in a participating ROZ county. A student may have grown up in the county, but has to live elsewhere — usually where he or she attended school — when applying for the loan payment program.
Commission Chairman Dick Works suggested looking to the Allen County Community Foundation or elsewhere for local funding. Commissioner Tom Williams agreed.
County Counselor Alan Weber was pessimistic, saying he doubted the foundation would have funds available to make a five-year commitment, noting the foundation’s immediate concern was raising money for equipment for the new hospital.
An alternative, Anderson said, would be for a business to chip in, which would give it the right to designate a student for the program. Attraction for a business is it could use the program to recruit a college gradaute to meet specific requirements.
With the student loan program having been in place about a year, Anderson said more than 900 students had applied for assistance in 47 of 73 counties that have taken on the ROZ program.

A SECOND phase of the Rural Opportunity Zone program — meant to encourage people to move to less populous counties — is income tax credits.
To qualify for a five-year income tax exemption in any of the 73 ROZ-designated counties — including Allen and 10 others in southeast Kansas — an individual must move from out of state and not have had income from a Kansas source of $10,000 in any of the previous five years.
“This is all about getting people to live in less-populated counties,” Anderson said.

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