County extends relocation incentive for new graduates
Marion County is extending for five years its participation in a program that can repay up to $15,000 in student loans for non-resident college graduates willing to relocate here.
The Rural Opportunity Zone program costs the county considerably less than the $15,000 total might suggest.
The county sponsors only two students at a time, pays only half of the loan forgiveness, and spreads those payments over five years, making the county’s total contribution $6,000 annually.
The rest of the money comes from the state, which also forgives state income taxes for relocated graduates in the program.
The county already has a lengthy waiting list of relocated new graduates wanting to participate.
The real impact comes from a relatively recent change that allows employers, instead of the county, to contribute the half that the state does not.
This lets Marion County recruiters boast to potential job candidates that coming here could save them state income taxes and repay $15,000 of their student loans over five years if the employer arranges to deduct from salary or contribute $3,000 a year toward student loan repayment.
The program is open to new workers with associate’s, bachelor’s, or postgraduate degrees obtained before establishing residence in any of 77 participating Kansas counties.
Some counties participate in only part of the program. Marion County participates in all phases.
At Friday’s county commission meeting, commissioner Randy Dallke said that the program, begun statewide in 2011, had not achieved everything the county had hoped but still was worth renewing for five more years.
Chairman Dianne Novak agreed, and the renewal passed unanimously, with commissioner Kent Becker absent.
In other business, commissioners took no action after hearing a pitch for expanded funding of Marion County Conservation District.
Director Betty Richmond said Marion County was “basically the flagship for the state of Kansas” regarding conservation because its conservation district oversees multiple watershed protection programs.
The Cottonwood River and Marion Reservoir have separate programs, to which Marion County Lake recently was added.
The district oversees applications for federal grants to help finance such things as livestock watering systems — typically solar-powered wells, applications for which have risen amid a recent drought.
Approved grants require wells to be located away from areas where cattle already congregate so as to encourage more even grazing, and fences are required to keep cattle out of waterways, conservation board member Bruce Schroeder said.
Such projects can cost as much as $10,000 apiece, fellow board member Greg Bowers said
Other programs seek to encourage the growth of more sturdy trees along riverbanks to guard against erosion that may occur when less sturdy tree species do not survive, Schroeder said.
The district asked the county to increase by 14.6 percent the $28,790 it has been contributing annually to the district’s $130,085 total budget.
“We’re asking for an increase for the first time in 10 years,” Richmond said, “after having spent down our surplus.”
Commissioners will not take action until they are further along in their budget preparation.
Also appearing before the commissioners to seek continued funding was Lisa Hatt, executive director of the 8th Judicial District Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Her program, funded in part through the court’s portion of the county budget, arranges for volunteer advocates to represent the interests of children in foster care.
CASA volunteers meet at least monthly with children involved in the court system to serve as their advocates in court — helping them articulate opinions about custody and monitoring whether their foster care is adequate.
“Unfortunately, now we’re working with human trafficking cases, too,” she said, although none of them involve Marion County children.
The group has three volunteer advocates whose current case load includes seven Marion County children.
Chief judge Mike Powers, a strong advocate of the CASA program, attended Hatt’s presentation.
Hatt told commissioners she was particularly impressed with how Powers and other judges in the district encouraged children to continue their education despite whatever situation had led them into the court system.
“We see more neglect than abuse,” Hatt said.
In other business, commissioners:
Approved fuel purchases of $27,150.64 from Epp’s Service of Elbing and $4,576.65 from Cooperative Grain and Supply of Hillsboro. Both were low bidders. Agri Trails Co-op of Navarre also bid, but somewhat to the surprise of road and bridge superintendent Jesse Hamm, MFA Oil, which recently purchased Cardie Oil’s interests in such matters, did not.
- Approved using county road and bridges equipment to prepare the county fair horse arena for a demolition derby later this month.
- Approved a two percent pay raise for deputy sheriff David Harper-Head, who has completed six months on the job and now will earn $17.36 an hour, and moved Mason Hinz from part-time to full-time corrections officer with a 9 percent raise to $13.08 an hour.