As an incentive to help reel professionals back into Barton County, the County Commission Wednesday morning approved a resolution authorizing participation in the Rural Opportunity Zone Student Loan Repayment Program for calendar year 2023.
The program provides up to a $15,000 benefit per applicant as a workforce recruitment tool for eligible persons establishing a home in Barton County, said Operations Director Matt Patzner. The Kansas Department of Commerce requires counties to pass a resolution obligating them to participate in this ROZ program for at least five years.
“So essentially, this resolution would be allowing for this program to take place within Barton County,” he said, adding the county has no financial commitment. The business hiring the applicant covers half the benefit with the state covering the other.
“This is a good program to get some professionals back into the county,” he said. “The state can kick in some money for it.”
Commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson has wondered why the county had not been participating in this while most other counties are already involved. “I just couldn’t figure out why we weren’t doing it, especially when there’s no financial commitment on our part, just to opt in, basically. So I’m all in favor of opting in.”
To be eligible, one must have a newly established permanent address in a participating county, so long as that address was established after the county began participating in the program. Applicants must have an active student loan balance in their name, as well as an associate’s, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree prior to moving to the participating county.
To apply, one must provide proof of residence in the ROZ county, proof of previous permanent residency (prior to earning your degree), transcripts with degree dates and student loan balance with distribution dates.
District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld said she attended a Kansas Legislative Policy Group meeting in Topeka Tuesday and this was a topic of discussion. “They’re looking at making a change to it.”
As it is now, if a student leaves Barton County to attend college and returns, they are eligible. But, if they stay and attend Barton Community College, they can’t take part.
They want to change that.
Applications close Sept. 30. For questions regarding ROZ applications and eligibility, email KDC_ROZ@ks.gov for the quickest response.
What is a ROZ?
The Kansas ROZ program is a Commerce Department rural re-population initiative established in 2012 to slow or reverse out-migration in rural counties. ROZ provides income tax waivers and student-loan repayment assistance to eligible residents of targeted rural counties.
It includes two individual financial incentives, the student loan repayment assistance and a five-year state income tax exemption. While both components of the program are funded through a single appropriation of $5 million, they maintain separate eligibility requirements.
The program was initially targeted to 50 counties, although it has been expanded in recent years to include 77 counties.