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County signs on for student loan repayment program

Staff writer

Marion County Commission took action Monday to set aside $3,000 each of the next five years to entice people to move to the county by repaying portions of their student loans. The state will match that amount.

The student loan repayment program is part of Kansas’ Rural Opportunity Zone program. The first two qualifying applicants who move to the county will be eligible to have student loans up to $15,000 paid over a five-year period, provided they continue to live in the county the entire time.

It doesn’t matter whether the person’s degree is from a two- or four-year college, postgraduate, or from a trade or technical school, as long as the school is an accredited post-secondary school.

Although he voted to approve funding it, Commission Chairman Roger Fleming said he was concerned about the possibility of somebody who would have moved to the county anyway benefiting from the program.

There is another aspect of the Rural Opportunity Zone program that applies only to people moving from out of state. Anyone moving from out of state to certain rural counties, including Marion County, is eligible for a complete refund of Kansas income tax for five years. Unlike the student loan repayment program, there is no limit to how many people can benefit.

During previous meetings, the commission discussed targeting certain professions with the Rural Opportunity Zone program. Although the county cannot place any additional restrictions on who applies, it could market the program to specific targets, by advertising it in a publication for doctors, for example.

Commission opposes telecom rule changes

A resolution opposing proposed changes in funding for rural Internet service was approved.

Currently there are both federal and state programs that allow rural telephone companies to recover some of the cost of installing high-speed Internet service without passing all of that cost to customers.

Those programs are paid for with fees included on telephone bills, but the Federal Communications Commission is proposing reallocating those funds. Meanwhile, the Kansas Communications Commission is considering phasing out the state program completely, Angie Schwerdtfeger of Tri-County Telephone Association Inc. said.

She said those programs are what allowed Tri-County to install a fiber-optic Internet network that provides high-speed service comparable to what urban customers can receive. By contrast, FCC standards for rural Internet speeds are a mere 4 percent of its urban standards.

Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman said such programs are vital to small businesses in rural areas. Additionally, the proposed changes could significantly hurt online initiatives by Centre USD 397, which is within Tri-County’s service area.

Commissioner Dan Holub said people in big cities and urban counties hadn’t been clamoring to eliminate the fees, but that legislators probably got the idea from lobbyists for big telecommunications companies.

Later in the meeting, Holub proposed that Marion County start contributing to the political campaigns of local legislators, legislative leaders and committee chairmen, and statewide officials such as the attorney general. He cited the Internet issue as another example of the state legislature’s backward attitude regarding rural Kansas.

“Nothing else is working,” Holub said. “Maybe we can buy some of their time.”

In other business:

  • Huffman met with the commission in closed session for 15 minutes to discuss personnel job performance. No action was taken on return to open session.
  • A business loan was recently paid off. Now those funds can be loaned to another start-up business, Huffman said. She said she has one in mind in the Hillsboro area.
  • The 2010 audit by Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk, & Loyd was approved.
  • A family medical leave request for 12 weeks from Sept. 9 to Dec. 2 was approved.
  • Fleming will be the county’s voting delegate at the Kansas Association of Counties meeting Nov. 13 through 15 in Topeka.
  • County employees and their family members can receive flu vaccines Oct. 17.
  • A tractor leased from Straub International for $1 that the county plans to buy has been used 105 of the 240 hours it is leased for.
  • By the end of 2013, crane operators will have to be certified, Road and Bridge Superintendent Randy Crawford said.
  • Chip sealing on Nighthawk Road between U.S. 50 and U.S. 56 should be completed today, Crawford said.
  • Blade patching will be done this week on 190th Road between Marion and Hillsboro.
  • Crawford said the county may be able to save a substantial amount of money by working with McPherson County on the project to overlay 330th Road with asphalt between Tampa and K-15.
  • Crawford met with the commission in closed session for 10 minutes to discuss personnel health. No action was taken on return to open session.
  • A 13-passenger van needed tires replaced earlier than anticipated, Department on Aging Coordinator Gayla Ratzlaff said. Also, a smaller van is having rust issues.
  • Peabody Senior Center continues to make meals for AGAPE Senior Center in Goessel, Ratzlaff said. There is a chance a new cook may be hired for the center in Goessel.
  • The county recycling program is growing every week as more people learn where and when they can recycle, Transfer Station Director Rollin Schmidt said. Waste Connections is even emptying bins every week instead of every two weeks because of how quickly they are filling, he said.
  • Schmidt said he has had no luck finding used trailers to replace trailers used to transport waste to Butler County Landfill. Two are in very bad condition and need to be replaced, he said. The county could afford the $60,000 estimated price to replace each, but he said one could be replaced now and the other replaced next year. The commission instructed Schmidt to get more precise price quotes.
  • Markley Service of Marion will provide 25 gallons of Pathway and Crossbow herbicides for use by Road and Bridge Department at a price of $1,675. Ag Service of Hillsboro bid $1,774, and Cooperative Grain & Supply of Hillsboro bid $1,825.
  • The transfer station sent 697.22 tons of waste to Butler County Landfill in August, including 516.5 tons of municipal solid waste, 178.96 tons of construction and demolition debris, 1.18 tons of special waste, and 0.58 tons of tires.
  • Health Department Administrator Diedre Serene met with the commission in closed session for 10 minutes to discuss personnel retirement. No action was taken on return to open session.

The next commission meeting will be 9 a.m. Friday.

Last modified Sept. 29, 2011

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