Government

Americans with Disabilities Act settlement requires Cedar Rapids to spend millions on accessibility

Deal requires city to spend up to $15 million on accessibility improvements

Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett speaks at the groundbreaking for the Greene Square renovations in downtown Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Corbett commented during the council meeting that the million of dollars the city was required to spend on curbs and other accessibility improvements was an “unfunded mandate.” (KC McGinnis/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett speaks at the groundbreaking for the Greene Square renovations in downtown Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Corbett commented during the council meeting that the million of dollars the city was required to spend on curbs and other accessibility improvements was an “unfunded mandate.” (KC McGinnis/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Two days after the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed into law, the City Council approved a settlement agreement with the Unites States Department of Justice that could cost $15 million over four years to comply with the law.

Assistant City Manager Sandi Fowler told the council Tuesday that the “big-ticket” cost will come to install, repair or replace between 4,000 and 8,000 curb cuts and sidewalk ramps to allow better access from sidewalks to streets.

In the city’s current budget year, the council has approved selling $5 million in bond debt to start the process, and Fowler said she expected similar bond indebtedness to come in each of the next two years.

Softening the slopes of some city parking lots, improving pathways from parking lots in city parks to park pavilions and other park amenities and upgrading park restrooms also will cost money, Fowler said.

Mayor Ron Corbett said the settlement amounted to an “unfunded mandate” that may be “all for good reasons, but there are no financial resources given to us” to help with compliance.

“I think people in the city drive around sometimes and see all the money we’re spending on curb cuts and wonder why we don’t fix more potholes,” he said. “That’s just a whole issue we have to deal with.”

The city has been in negotiations with the Justice Department for about a year after the department presented the city with the findings of a federal audit in June 2011 of some city properties, programs and services.

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Fowler said the department initially “invited” the city to participate in its Project Civic Access in February 2011, a request that preceded the audit four months later.

Des Moines had gone through the audit process, so it wasn’t a surprise when the Justice Department contacted Cedar Rapids, Fowler said.

She said the city has been doing much correctly to comply with the ADA, and she said the city’s ADA Advisory Committee has helped in the negotiations.

Another requirement of the settlement is that the city hire an independent licensed architect to conduct a compliance inventory of buildings that the Justice Department representatives did not survey in the 2011 audit. The architect also will report on how the city is performing on compliance requirements.

In answer to a question from council member Scott Olson, Fowler said the city didn’t know how many curb cuts and sidewalk ramps may need to be installed or repaired, but she said she hoped the number was closer to 4,000 than 8,000. Many installed since the city began the practice in 1992 need to be replaced because they don’t meet current specifications.

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