State Rep. Bob Brookens sees the Rural Opportunity Zone as “a stroke of genius as an idea” and “a real opportunity for Marion County.”
“We have always said, ‘If we can get them to move here, we can keep them here’,” Brookens said Monday after Gov. Brownback signed the bill.
Senate Bill 198 designates 50 counties in Kansas as Rural Opportunity Zones, ROZs, which will provide a state income tax exemption for individuals who relocate to those counties from out of state and authorizes counties to participate in a state matching program to repay up to $15,000 of students loans to those who qualify and move into a ROZ county.
One catch is that the new law requires the person moving from out of state to have earned less than $10,000 in Kansas before moving into a ROZ county. There are no income guidelines for the student loan repayment portion of the program.
The majority of the 50 counties are in the north and western part of the state. Selection was based on population loss.
Brookens used the real estate adage of “location, location, location” to explain why Marion County in particular is in position to benefit from the new legislation. He believes Marion County’s “location” in the Golden Triangle is a benefit.
“Marion County is peculiarly situated close to larger cities (Emporia, Salina, McPherson, Newton, and Wichita),” he said.
- The county commission will determine if it wants to participate in the school loan repayment program. The county could pay 50 percent of the maximum amount allowed in the bill, $1,500 per person per year, for a maximum of $15,000 in five years.
- The Department of Revenue will administer the tax credit portion of the program. The Department of Commerce will oversee the student loan repayment.
- There is no penalty for individuals who participate in the program and then move out of the ROZ county. They will forfeit their eligibility to receive benefits.
- The Department of Commerce will coordinate promoting the program along with regional and local economic development organizations.
- The law will go into effect July 1.
Brookens sees this as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to come to rural counties and start businesses. He also sees it as another attraction for teachers and a benefit for Tabor College to attract instructors.
“I am incredibly hopeful this will stop the skid,” Brookens said.
He added the bill could be tweaked in the future if needed.