Yelm, Rainier, Tenino and Bucoda have been accepted into the Thurston County Regional Health and Human Services Council.
Becoming members of the council allows the four communities to partner with Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, the United Way of Thurston County and the county itself as voting members that decide where dues and grant funds are allocated in the county.
Tom Stuebner, the county director of Public Health and Social Services, said each jurisdiction pays 0.5 percent of its general sales and use tax into the council. The money is then used on projects. The United Way contributes about $400,000 annually.
“It’s a communitywide assessment, and then putting out these opportunities for the various jurisdictions to actually apply for these funds,” Stuebner said.
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Before they were members, the four cities were allowed to apply for funding, but due to their small size, they received money on a rotating basis.
The council also partners with the United Way of Thurston County to provide additional funding for services through the Community Investment Partnership.
United Way has four seats on the now-12-seat CIP.
Gary Aden, housing and renewal manager, said funding from the council and the partnership with the United Way goes toward food, housing support, and family and senior services, among other social services.
Those services are important in south Thurston County communities such as Tenino and Rainier, where state data shows about half of students enrolled in public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a major indicator of poverty.
“It was just really good timing that the opportunities exist to get everybody together,” Aden said. “Everyone needs a voice at that table.”
Bucoda Mayor Alan Carr said inclusion into the council is important for the city. Since Thurston County became an entitlement county a few years ago, small towns like his can no longer apply for Community Development Block Grants directly, but must apply through the county.
“Down in south county, we kind of felt like the redheaded stepchild for awhile,” he said.
With a vote on the council now, Carr said he’s optimistic that more assistance will come to Bucoda and rural Thurston County communities.
“I think it’s opening up more to realize that south county is part of the county and we need assistance too,” he said.
Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier said he is glad to become a voting member of the CIP. In particular, Tenino will be focusing on finding low- and moderate-income houses to repair.
Stuebner said he was not in his position in 2012 when the council was formed, and said he didn’t know why Yelm, Rainier, Tenino and Bucoda weren’t originally included.
He said the basic idea behind the organization encourages municipalities to band together to provide services and funding.
“We’re stronger by working together than working separately on our own,” Stuebner said.