Editor – The Belleville Telescope
Recent stories in the Telescope underscore how little
Last week, Cynthia Scheer wrote about Dustin and Karla Rippe, new residents to Belleville involved in the cattle business. And though Rippe is a Nebraska native, the couple chose to locate their residence and business in Belleville—because of the Rural Opportunity Zone program, that offers tax breaks to new residents. This week, Shawna and Kyle Bowers talked about their decision to pursue their careers in laboratory technology and physical therapy at Republic County Hospital—in part, because the hospital participates in the Rural Opportunity Zone student loan repayment program.
Republic County is one of 73 rural Kansas counties that lost population between the 2000 and 2010 Censuses eligible to participate in ROZ. The income tax waivers are available to any new resident who has not lived in Kansas at least five years before establishing residency here, and earned less than $10,000 in taxable income in Kansas
those five years.
Some ROZ scholarships are available to students on a first come, fi rst serve basis, regardless of their career, who establish a residency here. Republic County currently has two of those scholarship recipients, and several more on a waiting list as funds become available. Those scholarships are funded by local donations matched by the state. For each $1,500 the local community provides, the state will match an additional $1,500, for up to $15,000 of loan repayment over a five year period.
Some counties fund these scholarships with tax dollars, but Republic County has opted to raise donations. $10,750 a year would be needed to fully fund the seven other applicants now on the waiting list. In the Bowers’ case, Republic County Hospital is taking advantage of a new aspect of the program: employer sponsorships. Businesses (or people who are self-employed) can partner with the state for scholarships to specifi c new employees. State income tax generally is a smaller portion of any individual’s tax bill than local or federal taxes. And $1,500 a year is a drop in the bucket anymore towards a student’s education bill (upwards towards $60,000 now for tuition and housing for a bachelor’s degree at a four year state college.)
But the ROZ program does put out the welcome mat—both for young families to pursue careers in Republic County, and for retired residents to consider moving home. It’s important to note in the Bowers’ case there is another little thing that we take for granted that helped lure them home: friendliness, and the chance to raise their child in a small community. We often underestimate how much it means to people to be recognized, to be greeted with a smile and a wave, to be made to feel welcome.
Both these cases are proof that small things really do matter.