State of the City

Mayor JW Foster speaks at the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon and forum in the Yelm Community Center. He gave his state of the city address Tuesday, May 14.

A good report on the city of Yelm’s finances and a bevy of improvements for the police department personnel and programs topped the list of Mayor JW Foster’s state of the city address, given Tuesday, May 14, at the Yelm Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon and forum in the Yelm Community Center.

Foster said that while the national economy may be in flux, Yelm’s is on the uptick.

“You know what, we’ve had our national ups and downs in the economy,” he said. “Anybody watching their stocks in the last couple of days are a little nervous about that … But here’s the good news — Yelm presently does not have any trade contracts with China.”

All jokes aside, Yelm’s last two budget cycles have shown a positive trajectory, a sustained revenue increase of about 5 percent in each cycle.

As for the business and occupation tax, that’s set at half of 1 percent of a business’s profits if it goes over $5,000 in a quarter.

“It’s a small amount of money but it adds up,” Foster said, making it clear earlier in the speech that supporting the local economy means buying local, which the city does as much as it can.

He said that on a personal level, he eats locally, a bit too much, if his middle shirt button has anything to say about it.

Olympia used to be the go-to spot for local eating, but now Yelm is becoming a dating destination for people in Olympia — at least, that’s the plan, Foster said.

“What can we do locally?” he said. “Well, we can choose to buy more American products. We can choose to make more American products right here in the USA. We can choose to be local shoppers. We can choose to be local entrepreneurs.”

While the private sector may be on the upswing, the city still has to manage its monetary growth against its expenditures. 

Sure, its investment income has increased by 5 percent a year, but its expenditures have increased by about the same amount.

“So the line that we walk is very very tight,” Foster said. “We are always looking for efficiencies in our finances. We’re always looking for ways to reduce our expenditures, so we can keep those lines separate as we go into the future, and it looks good.”

One way the city has reduced expenditures is by conducting an investment grade audit of all the buildings that showed the little things the city could do to save money, such as replacing the light bulbs with more efficient ones.

In the realm of the police department, the city of Yelm has hired three more officers in the last two years.

“We have more police officers in our department now than we’ve ever had in the city of Yelm, and we have eight new police cars,” Foster said.

To manage those new vehicles, the city has set up an equipment replacement and repair fund.

In addition, the officers have had the opportunity to become trained in how to work with the mentally ill and victims of domestic violence.

But that’s not the feather in Foster’s cap. 

“The one program that I’m most proud of is we established the Narcan program for our police officers,” he said. “Within one week of it’s deployment, we actually saved a person’s life by deploying the Narcan spray up their nose. And no matter how you feel about that — and I feel very strongly about that from my career — you save the life and then you treat the addiction.” 

Other projects the city has been active in is breaking ground on the new splash park that will be housed at Yelm City Park; establishing a plan for a Boys and Girls Club and Veterans Resource Center in Yelm; creating a downtown corridor improvement plan; inventorying and fixing the city’s sidewalks; securing the next steps for future water rights; and starting Yelm’s first Habitat Conservation Plan to relocate native pocket gophers.

Furthermore, the mayor spoke about ensuring that the local wastewater treatment facility is up to federal regulations.

“We work on on wastewater treatment facility, and that has been deferred for many years,” Foster said. “We are wrapping that up into a very affordable plan going forward … All of our wastewater treatment stuff gets sent over to our wastewater treatment facility, and then it gets purified and filtered and bio-digested, and the … treated water gets sent by purple pipe over to Cochrane Park, the number one wedding venue in Yelm. I love that.”

The city has also secured “legislative funding to plan a branch campus for South Puget Sound Community College and business incubator space in partnership with Thurston Economic Development Council on the vacant land recently purchased behind the City Hall,” according to a recent Facebook post by the city of Yelm.

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