Archive for Monday, July 25, 2011

Rural efforts

Officials in some rural Kansas counties are leery of new state programs intended to stop the rural population drain.

July 25, 2011


A couple of initiatives championed by Gov. Sam Brownback are getting mixed reviews in the rural counties they were intended to benefit.

Only about half of the eligible counties have signed on to a program to help people who move to their counties pay their student loans, and a number of local officials are questioning whether an income tax break for new residents will do much to raise their populations or boost their local economies.

The state approved a plan earlier this year that would allow counties to partner with the state to repay 20 percent or up to $3,000 of students loans for college graduates who move to one of 50 rural Kansas counties designated as “rural opportunity zones.” Counties must contribute half the money to pay for the loan program and, according to recent news reports, only 23 counties have agreed to participate.

Some county officials simply think that if the college graduates are working, they should pay off their own loans, while other are hesitant to commit to an untested program. Their concern seems justified. The program might be a good incentive to help counties attract someone to fill an essential job, such as a teacher. However, because college graduates don’t have to move from out of state to get the benefit, it seems likely that it would attract students who simply move back in with their parents and perhaps work at a low-paying job while they search for better employment after graduation.

State officials point out that counties wouldn’t get caught “holding the bag,” as one commissioner put it, if the scholarship payment program is discontinued in the state. That lack of commitment may be good news for counties, but it’s not such good news for college grads considering moving to one of the rural communities at least in part to take advantage of the loan repayment program.

Concerning the income tax program, only people who move to Kansas from other states would be eligible for the five-year break. Kansans pay an average of $1,800 a year in income taxes, so it could be an attractive benefit. However, the costs of moving would be a factor, along with the availability of jobs that would allow new residents to earn a reasonable income on which they would pay taxes.

In both incentives, jobs are the key. Without the jobs, it’s unlikely that either the income tax or student loan programs will have a significant impact on declining population in rural Kansas counties. In at least one Kansas county, the incentives don’t address the most urgent problem. An official in Washington County said jobs are available, but the county doesn’t have affordable housing for the people who would fill those jobs. More incentives for people to build middle-income housing might be more to the point in that county.

Time will tell how beneficial the new programs will be. The income-tax program doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, and perhaps more rural counties will be convinced of the benefits of the loan-repayment program. The state deserves credit for recognizing the problems associated with declining population in rural parts of the state, but these initial efforts may miss the mark for addressing those problems.


tolawdjk 2 years, 8 months ago

I remember growing up in West Central Kansas (sorry, Great Bend will never be SW KS in my mind) and knowing that the county road crews were laid off during the summer because 1) they had to take time off to harvest and 2) there wasn't any money to pay them anyway.

County road between home and school was "paved". (and no, home and school stopped being in the same town after 2nd grade) For a good 1/10 of a mile the potholes on one side of teh road were small enough that you could consider yourself driving on a paved road and then for the next 1/10 of a mile you crossed lanes to drive on some more "paved" road. The potholes might get filled with crushed limestone or maybe asphalt and that would last until the next rain came and washed/blew it out.


Scott Morgan 2 years, 8 months ago

In responding to the concern regarding Western Kansas do you folks who think the world ends somewhere between here and Topeka realize almost all states including CA have vast areas of low population.

There are highways in New Mexico without power lines, meaning there are no people actually living in the area.


autie 2 years, 8 months ago

Rural Opportunity Zones in the great western desert known as Brownbackistan. (sounds of the wind cutting across the empty prarie)

I don't think this was thought out very well. And Mr. notleft/notright, do you know anything of the economics or the dignity of our elder population? Do you know how much it cost to "serve" a person in his own home as opposed to that person living in a nursing home or like facility? that's what I thought.


Cait McKnelly 2 years, 8 months ago

My very first thought when this hit the ground from Brownback's desk was that it wasn't going to do much good if there aren't jobs to move to. I fully believe BB knew this and did it solely as a grandstand move he could point to come election season. Wasn't going to cost the state a dime (because no one would take him up on it) and yet he could get crazy mileage from it.


notleft_notright 2 years, 8 months ago

Western Kansas could be a great place for assisted living centers. Open up elderly warehouses and advertise nationally to send us your family members over 65. Old people are a gold mine waiting to be serviced.


FarneyMac 2 years, 8 months ago

Resistance to new ideas/change is what got those backwards-ass people out in the sticks into that situation in the first place. Why would this be any different?


Peter Macfarlane 2 years, 8 months ago

If the continued loss of population in western Kansas is cause for worry in state government now, just wait until western Kansas agriculture runs out of water. Out migration will accelerate.


Gandalf 2 years, 8 months ago

Let's see if this program gets 200 people to move to western kansas. it will cost the state more than it costs to keep our SRS open for several thousand people?


riverdrifter 2 years, 8 months ago

Should have thrown in "no daily limit on cock pheasants" and "gets to harvest four antlered bucks, three whitetail and one mule deer". There, fixed that for ya, Uncle Sam.

"Uncle Sam"?! Hell, I'll claim thet one!


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