Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 29 January 2013 13:32
Two individuals from Marion County are taking advantage of the state’s Rural Opportunity Zone program, which provides a 100 percent state tax waiver up to five years and help in repaying outstanding student loans.
The two ROZ applicants accepted in Marion County include Lee Waldron, director of admissions at Tabor College, and Autumn Reece, school psychologist in Hillsboro and Goessel school districts.
Waldron said he graduated from Tabor College and his wife, Sara Jo, attended the college her freshman and sophomore years.
“God opened the door for us to return to Marion County based on a job offer at Tabor,” he said.
For Reece, a Kansas native and Ottawa University graduate, she said her focus was on rural school districts that would allow her more student contact time.
“I love my job and the families I work with,” she said.
The ROZ program, which is designed to revitalize rural Kansas, was also a good fit for Reece and Waldron.
For Reece, the program’s student loan reimbursement component was attractive to her.
“I think the ROZ program is a great opportunity for people,” she said.
“The program has encouraged me to continue to live and spend my money in Marion County,” she said, “whether it is at the local grocery store, restaurants or utilities.”
Waldron said he believes in the ROZ program and how it can help other young graduates.
“The program offers good incentives for graduates to move to ROZ counties, plus it is a huge financial blessing to help pay off student-loan debt,” he said.
When the program was first introduced in 2011, Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George said 400 applications from 31 states were received, adding that how people found out about the program varied.
Reece said she heard about the ROZ program on Facebook and was surprised to learn the program’s manager was from her high school.
“I was informed (about the program) through a mutual friend,” she said. “Facebook is good for some things.”
As for the application process, Reece said it was “super easy.”
Chris Harris, the program’s manager, she said, helped her through.
“It was quick and convenient—not a lot of paperwork—it had a speedy turnaround time,” she said. “It process took about three months, which is pretty good for a government program.”
Waldron said he heard about the program from his in-laws.
“Someone e-mailed us an article from the newspaper,” he said. “At that point, Marion County had not opted in, but the program caused us to start looking for jobs that were in counties with the ROZ program.”
Waldron said his wife checked the website regularly to see if Marion County joined the zone.
“We were ecstatic when (the county) did. God really blessed us in that we barely made the cut-off time,” he said.
Recommending to others
As for recommending the program to others, Reece said she helped one of her close friends through the process.
Waldron said he’s been recruiting others to apply for the program.
“We have friends that have already applied and friends that have recently moved from out-of-state to Hillsboro who are going through the application process,” he said.
What makes the program appealing to many young people, Reece said, is the authenticity and wholesomeness of a rural community.
“I have the freedom to do what I am interested in,” she said. “In a big district, I would be stuck behind a desk completing paperwork all day.”
Waldron said his wife is from Chapman and living in Marion County has brought them closer to her family.
“We love our Tabor community, neighbors and church family,” he said about the quality of life in rural Kansas.
Reece said she has always been active in sports.
“I have coached volleyball at the club, high school and college level,” she said. “I was the head (Hillsboro) middle school volleyball coach this year and I had a great time and a great group of girls for my first year.”
Waldron said his wife is a youth pastor at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church and they have a daughter, Lydia, 2.
“We enjoy being involved in our community and church and love hanging out with our good friends at Tabor and Hillsboro High School events,” he said.
Thanks to life in a rural setting, Waldron said he and his wife met at Tabor College in the fall of 2004 when they were both in the homecoming play “You Can’t Take It With You.”
“We didn’t start dating until 2008 and were married shortly after in May 2009,” he said.
To be eligible for Kansas income tax waivers, individuals must have established residency in a ROZ county on or after July 1, 2011; lived outside Kansas for five or more years prior to establishing residency in a ROZ county and earned less than $10,000 in Kansas Source Income.
Those eligible for student loan repayments need to have lived in a ROZ county since July 1, 2011, and on or after the date the county opted in the student loan program. The individual must hold an associate, bachelor or post-graduate degree, plus have an outstanding student loan balance.
Rural Opportunity Zones are 50 counties that have been authorized to offer one or both financial incentives to new full-time residents and include a state income tax waivers for up to five years and student loan repayments up to $15,000.
“There’s something special about life in rural Kansas,” a state spokesperson said. “Something that makes it an ideal place to live, work and raise a family.”
For more information about the ROZ program, call 785-296-6815 or e-mail: email@example.com.