As an incentive to help reel professionals return to Barton County, the County Commission passed a resolution Wednesday morning authorizing participation in the Rural Opportunity Area’s student loan repayment program for the 2023 calendar year.
The program provides up to $15,000 per applicant as a workforce recruitment tool for eligible individuals establishing homes in Barton County, said director of operations Matt Patzner. The Kansas Department of Commerce requires counties to pass a resolution requiring them to participate in this ROZ program for at least five years.
“So essentially, this resolution would allow for this program to take place within Barton County,” he said, adding that the county has no financial commitment. The firm hiring the applicant covers half of the benefit while the state covers the other.
“This is a good program to bring some professionals back to the county,” he said. “The state can give some money for this.”
Commission chairman Shawn Hutchinson questioned why the county hasn’t participated in this while most other counties are already involved. “I just couldn’t understand why we weren’t doing it, especially when there’s no financial commitment on our part, just to join, basically. So I am absolutely in favor of joining.”
To be eligible, you must have a newly established permanent address in a participating county, provided that address was established after the county began participating in the program. Applicants must have a student loan balance in their name, as well as an associate, bachelor’s or postgraduate degree before moving to the participating county.
To apply, you must provide proof of residence in ROZ County, proof of previous permanent residence (prior to graduation), transcripts with graduation dates, and student loan balance with distribution dates.
District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld said she attended a Kansas Legislative Policy Group meeting in Topeka on Tuesday and it was a topic of discussion. “They’re trying to change that.”
As it is now, if a student leaves Barton County to attend college and returns, they are eligible. But if they stay and attend Barton Community College, they cannot attend.
They want to change it.
Applications close on 30 September. For questions regarding ROZ applications and eligibility, please email [email protected] for the fastest response.
What is a ROZ?
The Kansas ROZ program is a Department of Commerce rural restocking initiative established in 2012 to slow or reverse outmigration in rural counties. ROZ provides income tax exemptions and student loan repayment assistance to eligible residents of targeted rural counties.
It includes two individual financial incentives, student loan repayment assistance, and a five-year state income tax exemption. While both components of the program are funded through a single $5 million grant, they maintain separate eligibility requirements.
The program was initially targeted at 50 counties, although it has been expanded to include 77 counties in recent years.