The city of Tucson may have to find an estimated $17 million to bring many of its facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Under a 2005 settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, the city spent the past two years completing a self-audit of 150 of its facilities to identify any shortcomings under the law, passed in 1992.
The city found more than 2,800 problems, with the bulk centered in parks facilities, said Liana Perez, director of the city's equal opportunity office.
The new findings come as the city is wrapping up making corrections to 48 facilities the Justice Department determined were out of compliance when an audit was done in 2005. Those fixes so far have cost $3.4 million.
Three facilities remain undone from the old audit, and the city is in negotiations now about how and when to fix them. There are architectural challenges with two of them, a police substation and a fire station. The third, the Tucson Convention Center, is in flux. Some of the fixes were made, but others weren't because the city didn't want to make the changes and then waste the money if a new arena came on line - a prospect that is looking increasingly doubtful.
The price tag on those three outstanding projects alone is $1.3 million, but "we've run out of money," Perez said.
The original batch was completed using general fund money. There's no general fund money to spread around now, leaving the City Council to figure out how to pay for the repairs.
The most positive take, Perez said, is that the 48 facilities in the original audit, combined with the recent 150, would bring the city 100 percent into compliance with the act.
If there's any other good news, it's that there isn't a deadline specified to get everything done. The city just has to have a plan showing how it will make the fixes, identifying the priorities and the funding sources.
There's also a wrinkle. The federal standards were changed in the past year, which means the city will have to go back through and see if any of those on the list might have changed in the interim.
The city rarely gets complaints about the accessibility of its facilities, Perez said, estimating the complaints at about five a year.
But that's not the point, she said.
"It's the law," Perez said, adding that the federal government can withhold funding until the city comes into compliance. About 13 percent of the city's $1.3 billion in revenue comes from federal grants.
Lawrence Carter-Long, a public affairs specialist with the National Council on Disability, a federal agency, agreed that taxpayers should get past the sticker shock.
"Disability, to my mind, is the only minority anyone can join in an instant," Carter-Long said, noting 80 percent of the disabled population was not born with the condition. Over time, faculties such as knees, vision and hearing all become vulnerable, he said.
"If we don't make our cities and municipal buildings accessible, then we're missing out on the experience, on the insight, on the value, that people with disabilities can bring to the table," he said.
Carter-Long said just because there aren't complaints, it doesn't mean there isn't a problem. "Inaccessibility becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people learn they aren't going to get the accommodation, then they don't go."
While City Councilwoman Shirley Scott suggested the department look for grants or other funding sources to offset the costs, Perez said the department hasn't been able to find money other than small, short-term grants for employee training.
Councilwoman Regina Romero said she would like the city to consider piggybacking on any upcoming bond election Pima County may pursue.
"It really is very scary to have potential federal funding at risk moving forward," she said.
City Manager Richard Miranda said he will begin the process of triaging the items to find funding for the highest priorities.
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