Public comment during Tuesday’s meeting of the Buena Vista Board of Trustees (BOT) focused on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and a need for the town to plan for greater accessibility. Locals Chris Martin and Lois Walton spoke during public comment about how difficult it can be to navigate town when using mobility aids.
This discussion of improved access tied into the Public hearing on the 2024 budget as the Trustees considered what may be accomplished in the short term to show Buena Vista is serious about accessibility. Due to budget concerns, the BOT considered what tradeoffs could be made to make room for an accessibility project, such as installing automatic door openers at the Community Center.
Public Comment Focuses on ADA Needs in Buena Vista
“I’m trying to figure out where ADA fits into the county,” began local Chris Martin.” … and where it fits into the Trustees, and I honestly don’t have that answer.”
He explained that he had been approached by the press for comments about accessibility and that his answer would be “probably not so good” as things stand, but that he didn’t have any definitive comments because he had not sat down to have a discussion with town staff yet.
With the earlier conversation on code adoption from the work session fresh in mind, Martin suggested the town look at what they are doing for ADA commercial and residential requirements.
“I would love at some meeting that one of the Trustees would say something like, ‘Could the Town staff please give us an update . . . on where we are with ADA issues,'” continued Martin. He explained that he didn’t have a specific objection or solution but hoped that the BOT would understand the topic of accessibility would be coming up in the future.
Local Lois Walton spoke next to follow up on Martin’s comments.
“I find myself now using a walker and sometimes a wheelchair and find it very difficult to enter any part of the Community Center, the front door or the Aspen Room,” said Walton. This would be one issue the installation of automatic door openers would address, which Martin had suggested at a previous meeting.
Walton suggested the Town look to ADA resources within the community and mentioned the Department of Justice (DOJ) tool kit for local governments as a potential resource.
An archived version of this toolkit is available online, though it does note it “may not fully reflect the current ADA regulations.”
“This may be something we’ll have to give a lot more thought to,” concluded Walton.
Trustees Consider Accessibility Improvements in Light of Accessibility Concerns
The 2024 Town Budget Public Hearing occurred later in the meeting, but Trustees kept in mind the issues brought up during public comment.
Walton, who has been a member of the Trails Advisory Board since its inception, spoke again during the hearing for the budget. Her primary concern was the degradation of part of the Walton Loop trail, which was installed in 2019 but appears to have received little upkeep.
She explained that she went down there this summer in a wheelchair and discovered the path was not navigable in a wheelchair by herself.
“My biggest concern is we do not have anything available for ADA accessibility,” said Walton. She encouraged the BOT to consider establishing a steady revenue stream to fund more trail construction and maintenance to make this possible.
This year Walton is stepping down from her role on the Trails Advisory Board. “My last request is to see that we can complete something that looks nice, a paved, really substantial trail,” said Walton. “It’s been a wonderful experience and I just hope that we will continue doing great things.”
During the hearing, Town Treasurer Phillip Puckett explained Buena Vista’s sales tax revenue is down for the second month in a row, further restricting projecting funds for the upcoming year. Between August and September, sales tax is down about 4.2 percent according to Puckett.
The packet for the meeting was created before those numbers were available, but any adjustments to the budget for that downturn will be seen in the November 28 meeting packet.
Budget requests from the Trails Advisory Board and Beautification Advisory Board were incorporated into the draft budget.
Martin’s previously requested items for the Legacy Stage were also addressed, with multiple items being removed or addressed in more manageable ways, such as incorporating two ADA parking spaces into the existing lot rather than placing them on Sterling Street and building a sidewalk to the restrooms.
The remaining $5,000 ADA ramp project for the stage is in the Town’s draft budget to improve accessibility to the stage and make it easier for musicians to move their equipment. However, it currently is included among projects that exceed available funds.
The budget does not quite meet the amount required by existing capital requests. Puckett encouraged the Trustees to seriously consider prioritization of projects throughout the budget to determine what should receive available funds.
Trustee Cindie Swisher suggested that the town could forego new carpet for the Community Center in favor of installing automatic door openers. Trustees Gina Lucrezi and Devin Rowe expressed they would support that tradeoff if it were feasible.
Mayor Libby Fay also spoke up in support of a project focused on accessibility needs. “At some point, I’d like to see a whole project focused on ADA,” said Fay, who went on to suggest the town was not ADA-compliant.
Town Attorney Jeff Parker jumped in to clarify that he was not aware of the town being not in compliance with the ADA but rather the focus should be on how to make things more accessible over time. Parker did state the process was expensive and would require a review (some might refer to an inventory of need) to create a list of all areas where improvements could be made. Then the town would have to prioritize needs on that list to determine where to begin.
The Trustees circled back around to the topic of accessibility and the budget during Trustee Staff Interaction at the end of the meeting. Trustee Sue Cobb emphasized the importance of ADA and said she was grateful the topic had been raised.
Trustee Peter Hylton-Hinga expressed a need for a holistic approach to ADA needs by possibly incorporating it into the comprehensive plan.
Hylton-Hinga mentioned the aging population of the county but agreed with an earlier comment from Trustee Andrew Rice that it isn’t only the aging population that would benefit. “What does not only an aging population, but aging with a recreation tourist destination and how do those two things clash and work together.”
Trustees Rice and Hylton-Hinga mentioned that greater accessibility, such as automatic door openers would be useful for not only those who use walkers but also for members of the public using crutches or other mobility aids due to recreation injuries, which are common in the area.
Rice suggested they should try to complete one accessibility project to show they are hearing residents’ concerns and intend to do better when it comes to accessibility in the future. “Try to keep that in the forefront, how can we do better. We can’t do it all, but we might do better,” explained Rice.
When concerns about the closing budget were raised, Rice acknowledged the limitations but still should consider doing something. “Not the whole nine yards,” responded Rice, “just something substantive that says, ‘We heard you and it’s something we’re going to be doing in the long run.”
The 2024 Town Budget Public Hearing series will continue at the next regular BOT meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28. Members of the public can attend the meeting in person or on Zoom and contribute to the discussion during public comment.
Tuesday, November 14’s meeting packet including the draft budget is available online at the Town of Buena Vista’s website.