Participation in Kansas rural program grows
TOPEKA (AP) — Interest is growing in a state program aimed at boosting populations in Kansas' rural counties by offering income tax credits and student loan repayments to new residents, a state economic development official said Thursday.
Nearly two dozen counties recently joined the Rural Opportunity Zone, which includes a five-year income tax credit for new residents moving to participating counties that have lost at least 10 percent of their population over the past decade. Grant and Gray counties in southwest Kansas also voted to take part in a special element of the program that allows recent college graduates up to $15,000 in assistance in paying off student loans.
The initiative, which now includes 73 of the state's 105 counties, was created by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback when he took office in 2011. Counties must vote to participate in the student loan program, agreeing to contribute a portion of the payment. There is no local cost share for the income tax credit.
Chris Harris, director of the program in the Kansas Department of Commerce, said Kansas averages one new application for the student loan program each day. He said the Legislature's approval of adding the 23 counties to the program this spring was an indication of interest in the program.
"Expansion is a validation of the results. The agency didn't ask for the expansion, but was driven by the counties themselves," Harris said. "They saw promise and interest that was being demonstrated."
Bob Dale, Grant County's economic development director, said his office had already received an inquiry about the rural program that may lead to a new restaurant opening in the area.
Norton County has led the state with 46 applications for the student loan program and 33 approved. Phillips County comes in second with 36 applications and 26 approved.
Harris said new educators and health care professionals were the most frequent participants in the program's student loan element. He noted that applications came from residents in 39 states.
Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue, said 83 residents applied for and received the income-tax credit for the 2012 tax year.
The total amount of the credit claimed was $234,480. The average income for the new residents ranged between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, Harris said.
Rural counties in the program indicate that they are seeing some improvement in their population totals, but exact numbers won't be known for some time, he said.
The Kansas Department of Commerce plans to do more analysis of the program to measure results and make any necessary policy changes, he said.