The Olympia City Council was briefed on the proposal to dissolve the agency, the Human Services Review Council, on Tuesday night but it didn’t take any action. A formal plan is expected in August.
“What we’re really trying to do in this whole process is to put more dollars in the hands of providers who meet the needs of our community, whether it’s homeless issues or prevention issues or social service issues of any kind,” City Manager Steve Hall said.
The council, better known as HSRC, was formed in 1982 as a partnership of Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and Thurston County to be a regional clearing house for social service funding. Rather than apply to all those governments, nonprofits could apply just to HSRC.
For 2012, the governments budgeted a combined $220,000 to give to local social service agencies.
For years, the agreement held. But last year, the governments agreed to extend the agreement just for 2012, then dissolve HSRC while starting a new regional agency with the same governments to distribute social service dollars.
There have been calls to reform the agency in the past several years.
At issue is the funding: each jurisdiction gets to decide how much to fund the agency, and some have said Olympia was providing a disproportionate amount of the money.
Take 2009, for example. Thurston County, facing budget cuts, eliminated HSRC funding; it had contributed $112,000 a year earlier.
Olympia contributed $170,000 in 2009, 52 percent of the total. Lacey contributed $85,000 and Tumwater gave $25,000.
That number has evened out in recent years. In 2012, Olympia contributed $76,000, or 35 percent of the whole, while Lacey gave $44,000, Tumwater gave $25,000 and Thurston County gave $75,000.
The governments have discussed changing the funding to a more proportionate method, such as using one-half of 1 percent of sales-tax revenue from each city. Each government agreed to give at least one-half of a percent of 2010 sales-tax revenues for 2012.
Other options for funding the successor agency to HSRC include a portion of county Treatment Sales Tax dollars and 15 percent of Olympia’s Community Development Block Grant dollars, said Councilman Jim Cooper.
Other recommendations are to make the awarding of dollars less subjective and more data-driven and to make the system more efficient, Cooper said. Now, the system requires separate contracts with each of the governments.
Olympia also is considering pooling its federal Community Development Block grant funding with those of other Thurston County governments.
The city stands to gain $305,000 in block grant dollars for the 2012 program year if it stands alone, according to a staff report.
But Thurston County is working with Lacey and Tumwater for a potential application to start its own block grants that could bring in $950,000 in 2013. Olympia could join that effort, which would generate up to $1.2 million for everybody. But that would mean giving up local control of its federal grant for a regional effort.
Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said the process, involving millions of dollars, has the potential to make big changes to how social services are delivered, to be “much more impactful.”