Harvey County now qualifies as 'Rural Opportunity Zone'

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Thanks to an expansion of the Rural Opportunity Zone Program by the Kansas Legislature this year, if authorized by the Harvey County Commission, college graduates who live in the county could qualify for loan reimbursements.

SB47 was signed on May 17 — and within that bill the Rural Opportunity Zone program was extended  for two additional years —— through 2023. In addition, SB47 now includes counties with a population under 40,000. 

That means Harvey County is eligible for the program.

"This is an opportunity for communities experiencing depopulation to incentivize new citizens to move to the region," said Anthony Swartzendruber, county administrator for Harvey County.

There are two incentives that go with the opportunity zones — a five year personal income tax credit and a student loan forgiveness program. 

Harvey County will be automatically enrolled in the tax credit program — meaning someone moving from outside of the state to Harvey County can be eligible for a state income tax credit for five years. 

The student loan repayment program is a bit murkier. 

"My understanding is that the state legislature sets aside a certain amount of money every year for this program, but there is also opportunity for a local sponsoring entity," Swartzendruber said.

For most counties participating in the program, funding comes from private sources.  

"This sponsoring entities could be a county, a city, it could be ab employer or it could be a foundation," Swartzendruber said. "For there to be any type of student loan reimbursement program in Harvey County, the county commission would need to adopt a resolution opting into the program.

The county does have the option to contribute  funds tot he program — however county commissioners were skeptical of such a move. At this time only six counties are listed at   kansascommerce.gov with  city/employer sponsorships, while 17 support the program. One county contributes financially to the program. 

"The vast majority of counties do not support the student loan program for 2021," Swartzendruber said. 

"My concern with contributing to it is, who is going to police it," said commissioner Randy Hauge.  "I assume there are restrictions that they have to live in the county for so many years, or whatever, to be eligible for this. What happens if they skip out? I think there needs to be some details worked out. ... I do support it. Anything to get people to locate in our county is beneficial to the people here."

Commissioner Don Schroeder suggested contacting the two colleges — Hesston and Bethel — in the county about the program to gauge their level of interest and support. 

For the program to be a reality in Harvey County, the commission would need to pass a resolution to support it .

"It does not mean the county needs to provide funding for the program. It just means they need to authorize the program so other entities within the program could potentially participate," Swartzendruber said. 

The county can opt in, or out, in any given year. There is a July deadline for participation in 2021.

According to kansascommerce.gov, student loan eligibility requirements include: 

Applicants must have a newly established permanent address in a participating county, so long as that address was established after the county began participating in the program. 

Applicants must have an active student loan balance in their name, as well as an associate’s, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree prior to moving to the participating county.

To apply, applicants  will need to provide proof of domicile in the ROZ County, proof of previous permanent residency (prior to earning your degree), transcripts with degree dates and student loan balance with distribution dates.

When the program was created in 2011, 50 Kansas counties were on the list, it was later expanded to 77 counties — the expansion of SB47 ups that count to 95 of Kansas' 105 counties. 

This year 18 counties are being added.