As the city of Durango begins planning on how to avert a budget shortfall in 2020, members of the disability community questioned political leaders on what’s being done to meet their needs for greater accessibility, transportation and affordable housing.
City of Durango, La Plata County government and Durango Chamber of Commerce officials fielded questions in front of about 50 people Tuesday during a forum focused on disability issues. The crowd packed a room near the Southwest Center for Independence on north Main Avenue. The event was the first in a series planned to help engage people with disabilities in the local political process.
While upcoming cuts to city transit will affect many, residents at the forum were particularly concerned that buses will no longer serve most of the Three Springs neighborhood and social service offices in the Tech Center.
Deanna Korthank was worried about getting from her home in Three Springs to catch a Road Runner bus that will be stopping at Mercy Regional Medical Center six times a day starting in April.
“Catching that bus is the most difficult thing,” she said.
Transit cuts are necessary because the Colorado Department of Transportation drastically cut the city’s funding for the services, Assistant City Manager Amber Blake said. The city reached an agreement with Southern Ute Community Action Programs to provide Road Runner bus service to Mercy in April after the cuts take effect. Door-to-door bus service for those with disabilities will also be preserved.
Expanding city bus service in the future could require voters to approve a dedicated sales tax or new revenue of some kind to help fund it, City Councilor Dean Brookie said. Another priority for attendees – improving accessibility across the city – will also require more funding.
Tyler Coombs, who uses a wheelchair, asked why there is not greater accountability for not meeting accessibility requirements put in place by federal law in 1990. The law requires buildings and infrastructure to be accessible.
“We have waited 20-some years in order to get ramps,” he said.
Blake said she is open to hearing about small changes that can make city buildings more accessible.
“There’s low-hanging fruit that we can pick off right away,” she said.
Larger improvements to public buildings and other infrastructure will require millions of dollars. For example, upgrading city transit stops that are not fully accessible would require $20 million, said Sarah Dodson, assistant transportation director.
Joe Motsch, who works in social services, suggested the city consider re-evaluating some of its priorities. He pointed out that a lot of city money is dedicated to parks and recreation by law, but more effort and funding could be put into other areas.
“I don’t know if the folks in City Council know what it’s like not to be able to get to the grocery store,” he said.
City officials encouraged attendees to be involved in upcoming meetings focused on spending and possibly asking voters to raise or reallocate taxes ahead of the budget shortfall in 2020.
“We all have needs, and right now they are not all being met,” Blake said.
In addition to the forum, The Southwest Center for Independence plans to hold classes on political advocacy and learning to tell personal stories in a powerful way, said Jason Ragsdell, an independent living program manager for the nonprofit.