Census numbers leave county out of guv?s growth plan

Marion County has lost fewer residents than expected over the past 10 years, but it hasn?t lost enough residents to qualify for the governor?s plan to lure more people to move here.

That odd mix of good news and bad news emerged last week following the release of 2010 U.S. Census information for Kansas.

The 2010 figures show Marion County?s current population to be 12,660, a drop of 5.25 percent from the 2000 count of 13,361.

That puts Marion County among the 77 of the state?s 105 counties that had fewer residents in 2010 than in 2000, but not among the 23 counties that saw their populations drop by 10 percent or more.

It turns out that only counties losing 10 percent or more of their population would qualify to be designated as a ?rural opportunity zone? as proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The governor?s plan would use tax incentives to lure people from other states to move to struggling counties.

The Kansas Senate passed an expanded version of the rural opportunity zone bill Feb. 25, which entitles counties that qualify to offer two new tax benefits.

The first benefit would allow out-of-state residents who permanently move to qualified counties to receive a five-year state income tax holiday.

The second benefit allows qualified counties to participate in a 50-50 state and local match that would pay up to $3,000 per year for five years on the student loans of new residents.

At the time the bill was passed, Marion County was included among the 40 counties thought to qualify as a rural opportunity zone.

Even though the Senate bill lowered the percentage of population loss from 10 percent to around 8 percent, Marion County now is on the outside looking in?unless the qualification criteria is subtantially modified.

?I?d doubt that will happen,? said Brookens, who described the county?s less-than-expected population loss with the immortal words of Charles Dickens: ?It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.?

?I am elated our population loss was about half what was originally thought,? he said. ?Yet, I wish we were eligible for the ROZ status. It could be a real boon.

?Time will tell how the system pans out, but we?re not likely to qualify under anyone?s current proposals.?

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