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Student loan program reaps tax benefits for Republic County

By Deb Hadachek Telescope editor
www.thebellevilletelescope.com

It’s the gift that keeps giving back. Republic County’s investment in the Rural Opportunity Zone scholarship program has attracted the interest of some 45 applicants, Republic County Economic Development Director Luke Mahin told Republic County Commissioners Monday.

A snapshot of Republic County ROZ applicants
  • Average age: 26
  • Average Annual Income $38,475
  • Average college debt: $39,547
  • 76% own homes
  • Average Rep. Co. property tax paid: $1,296
  • 24% own their own business

A survey returned by 21 of those applicants–the average age is 26–shows there are 23 children associated with the applicants; and their households pay an average of $1,250 in property taxes in Republic County.

“That’s nearly double what I thought our baseline would be when we proposed participating in the ROZ,” Mahin says.

“It’s almost paying for itself in property tax. And that doesn’t include what they spend on sales tax, or the children they add to the schools,” added Commission Ed Splichal. “I like the average age is 26. We need young people.”

Most of the people who responded to the survey owe between $20,000 and $40,000 in student loans, Mahin said. Mahin said that 13 people who responded said the money they saved on student loans they put into housing or improvements on a house, “which increases the value of this program.”

Through the ROZ program, new residents of Republic County can qualify for up to $3,000 a year in student loan repayment for a total of $15,000 over five years if they establish their own household. Whatever the county contributes to the program up to $1,500 per student is matched by the State of Kansas.

Last year, Republic County budgeted to fund 11 loans, and commissioners indicated Monday they are willing to sponsor everyone who qualifies for the program.

Mahin estimated that could be as many as 20 students in 2017. Three of those are original ROZ applicants sponsored by RCED and two were sponsored by Republic County Hospital, leaving Republic County 15 potential applicants to fund. Cost for 15 scholarships for 2017 would be $22,500.

Applicants to date reside in Belleville, Courtland, Scandia, Agenda and rural Byron NE. Nearly one-fourth of the applicants own their own business, and another 15 percent of the respondents said they would someday like to own a business.

“I was against this program when it came out,” said Commissioner Linda Holl. “Now I see the benefits, and I hope it continues.” Splichal agreed. “This is a positive program and we have obviously seen the benefits already,” he said. “The more we can encourage young people to come back and live and be productive in our community, the better off we are.”

Commissioner Marvin Bergstrom questioned whether the state will continue to match the ROZ scholarships in light of its current financial difficulties. Originally 50 counties, including Republic, that had lost more than 10 percent of their population since the 2000 Census were eligible to participate. The state has since allowed 77 counties to be designated for the ROZ program.

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Mahin noted that most of the children of Republic County ROZ applicants are ages birth to five years, which means they have not yet entered school.

Under the previous state aide formula, those students would have generated nearly $90,000 in additional state aid for local schools. For more information on the ROZ program and to apply go to www. kansascommerce.com/rural or contact Mahin at RCED 785-374-3047 or email rced@nckcn.com.