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Council ponders accessibility updates

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GREENFIELD — With more than 100 shortcomings that need to be fixed to make county government facilities fully accessible to people with disabilities, Hancock County officials are now wondering how to pay for the upgrades.

The Hancock County Council was given a 10-page report Wednesday on problems on county sidewalks, streets and public buildings. The Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan is a federal requirement, and local officials must show that they are working to address problems or else be at risk to lose federal grant funding.

From a $100 repair to a sidewalk leading up to the Hancock County Highway Department to a $28,500 wheelchair ramp to be added to the jail, the items total nearly $1 million, and officials may spread out the cost over 30 years.

While some council members balked at the cost of the items and the federal mandate, others were more pragmatic.

“If there’s stuff we need to do to comply with ADA and to do things for our taxpayers that really need to be done to make things accessible, then I think we need to get them under way and get them done,” Councilman Jim Shelby said.

But Council President Bill Bolander said that while he’s not against helping someone who has disabilities, he also doesn’t like the federal crackdown on local government.

“They come up with rules and regulations and then they say, ‘You guys do it, but we’re not going to give you any funding for it,’” Bolander said. “It’s just total passing the buck around. We don’t have a choice.”

Some of the items, Bolander pointed out, seem to be minor. A toilet paper dispenser in a courthouse restroom, for example, must be adjusted in height at an estimated cost of $300.

The plan was put together over the course of a year by both county employees and contractor American StructurePoint. Joe Hollis, ADA coordinator for the county and also a highway department employee, said the costs are estimates from American StructurePoint.

The plan was reviewed by the Hancock County Commissioners last month. While the executive board approved the plan, the commissioners said it would be a work in progress.

The target completion dates to address the items, for example, need to be reviewed. Commissioners told Hollis to make the presentation to the county council, because the county’s fiscal branch would have to approve of expenses.

The council, however, said Hollis should go back to commissioners to make more concrete plans on when to fix the problems.

Councilman Tom Roney said it may be ideal to address problems one building at a time. Others said perhaps high-priority items should be addressed first, and the rest handled over time.

“A lot of thought needs to go into this and look at the most efficient way, money-wise, to get this done,” Shelby said.

The ADA was enacted more than 20 years ago, and the Hancock County Courthouse has been renovated since then. Hollis said while renovations were in compliance with ADA standards at the time, additional federal rules came out afterward making several items in the courthouse out of date.

A step to the witness stand in Superior Court 2, for example, needs to be removed at a cost of $1,500. The height of sinks and paper towel dispensers need to be adjusted, and handrails on steep portions of sidewalks must be added.

Roney wondered whether even more changes might come if the county fixes some problems now. Hollis said the county needs to be making a good-faith effort toward improvements, and if a grievance is filed against the county, the U.S. Department of Justice could step in and mandate a specific timeline for addressing problems.

Hollis said he will work with Rusty Burgess, county building inspector and the other ADA coordinator, to solidify priorities in the plan. One definite high priority, Hollis said, will be trip hazards; the county needs to make sure its buildings and sidewalks are safe, he said.

Ultimately, Bolander said the items could begin to be addressed in the county’s 2014 budget.

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