City mulls relief option

CLINTON — Local officials are exploring the feasibility of an incentive program that would help potential Clinton County residents pay off their student loan debts.

The Clinton City Council on Tuesday night heard a presentation from Andy Sokolovich, of the Clinton Regional Development Corp., highlighting the work of Chicago-based company “Peanut Butter.” The company teams up with county governments, city governments, private businesses, and other entities to offer incoming residents and employees monetary incentives to lure new faces to the area.

Peanut Butter’s operating model takes one dollar per day off a new (or returning) resident’s student debt total for each entity involved. For example, if the City of Clinton, Clinton County, and the resident’s employer are all participants, that resident would see a $3 per day deduction in student debt for every day he or she calls Clinton County ‘home.’

A unique way to bring people back to the area is worth looking into, Sokolovich believes.

“We want talented folks that are driven to see our community succeed, and I think this is a step in the right direction – it’s definitely thinking outside the box,” Sokolovich told council members.

Clinton County Auditor Eric Van Lancker was one of the first people Sokolovich informed about the program. Van Lancker has witnessed the population decline in the area over the last several years, and, according to the auditor, was all ears when it came to discussing ways to combat the issue.

“What we’ve seen over the last decade or so is a stagnant tax base,” Van Lancker said. “‘Out of the box’ is what we need right now. It’s going to take a lot of small things to bring the population back, but this is one of the most exciting things I can think of to not only bring new faces, but to bring back former residents and encourage them to stay here. It’s planting a seed is what it’s doing.”

Sokolovich said several entities, not just the city and county, are exploring the idea. The council on Tuesday shared Sokolovich’s optimism in the program’s potential implementation, seeing the initiative as a way to bring population growth to an area currently in the midst of a decline.

The program would come with a cost, Sokolovich stated. A $5 fee for each enrolled resident would be paid, along with an annual lump sum payment to Peanut Butter. However, local officials are viewing the fees as more than necessary for a program that could bring far higher economic benefits.

Clinton City Councilman Cody Seeley has been involved in recent discussions regarding the program, seeing the initiative as a good way for various local entities to work together and to bring the city and county’s population back up.

“(It brings) the discussion of ‘teaming up,’” Seeley said. “The city, the county, the schools, whoever wants to be involved, because it can be a lot less expensive for us to go about that way versus everybody going about it on their own.”

Though no formal action was taken Tuesday night, Clinton City Administrator Matt Brooke was directed to gauge interest and draft a 28E agreement with any interested entities in the county. The program then will be considered at a future Committee of the Whole meeting.