Colorado Springs officials are asking for an additional $300,000 this year for new hires needed to bring the city into compliance with the 28-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act.
Those standards have bedeviled the city for decades. Six months ago, a Colorado Springs veteran and his wife sued the city, a local homeowners association and a property management firm claiming systemic noncompliance with federally required accessibility standards.
Colorado Springs’ Chief Financial Officer, Charae McDaniel, briefed the City Council on Monday on an upcoming request for $300,000 from the general fund so the city can hire five ADA inspectors, an administrator and an additional position within the city’s Human Resources Department. In all, an additional $500,000 is needed this year for the hires, but anticipated savings within the city’s general fund can cover the difference, she said.
“To me it means that they are taking ADA much more seriously and realizing that they can’t count on the average person, business manager or builder to do what they’re supposed to be doing and they’re going to have to start checking,” said Patricia Yeager, CEO of The Independence Center, an advocate for people with disabilities in El Paso, Teller and other regional counties.
The request for additional funding is likely tied to the lawsuit as well as the April hire of the city’s ADA manager, Rob Hernandez, the first hire for the program in years, Yeager said.
“We are doing the supplemental (request) now because we want to increase our ramp program compliance and the ADA accessibility of our facilities,” McDaniel said in an email.
The lawsuit, filed Feb. 15 by Stetson Hills residents Chris and Nikole Sweeney, was not mentioned when McDaniel addressed the council. The Sweeneys’ Denver attorney, Julian G.G. Wolfson, declined to comment for this article. Similarly, McDaniel declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Enacted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires governments to provide equal access to facets of public life for the disabled. Access requirements cover schools, workplaces and transportation.
Those requirements extend to residential neighborhoods, and Chris Sweeney, who has been in a wheelchair since being struck twice by lightning, once while on duty in the Air Force, has lacked ramps and sidewalks necessary to reach public accommodations for years, Wolfson has said.
Defendants in the Sweeneys’ lawsuit have denied wrongdoing, and city officials have said Colorado Springs has done all it can and no longer bears responsibility for accessibility concerns.
Council President Richard Skorman suggested placing McDaniel’s on the consent agenda for a regular council meeting next month, signifying that it’s likely to pass unanimously and without controversy.
The new hires would join Mike Killebrew, the city’s first ADA coordinator who was hired in 2014, and Hernandez. McDaniel said the positions likely will be filled in about a month.
Since he was hired, Killebrew has been developing a transition plan for the city. That document is meant to identify obstacles that might limit accessibility to city programs, buildings or activities and it must outline steps to rectify those obstacles.
The city’s first transition plan was developed in the early 1990s and was last updated in 1995.
By 2015, Colorado Springs and El Paso County had fallen well short of the spirit and letter of the ADA, The Gazette reported. Buildings and pathways were inaccessible to the then-estimated 66,000 people with disabilities in the county. An unquantified backlog of instances of noncompliance seems to have expanded since then.
Yeager said The Independence Center recently reviewed 108 parking lots in the region, the bulk of which are in Colorado Springs.
“Only two of them complied with the (ADA) standards,” she said.
If approved, the new investment in the city’s ADA program would not pay for construction, McDaniel told the council. The extra money would only pay for new staff and several vehicles required for the positions.
“Veterans with disabilities, seniors, adults and children with disabilities are all going to benefit from this great investment,” Yeager said.