The financially strapped City of Milton will have to spend more than $350,000 to build a restroom that’s accessible to disabled people in the city’s main park.
Replacing the bathroom is one of the conditions imposed by the U.S. Department of Justice to settle a complaint a Pierce County resident filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act seven years ago.
The concrete block restroom building was constructed in Milton’s Triangle Park under a state grant in the 1960s. Signs say it is closed due to city budget cuts “until further notice.”
It is the only public restroom building in the city of 6,535 people, which straddles Pierce and King counties.
An attorney for Milton pleaded with the Department of Justice in March to allow the city to tear down the shuttered restroom building and not replace it.
Attorney Scott Snyder contended the city should not be forced to replace the men’s and women’s restrooms because of Milton’s “dire” economic situation. The restroom cost could reach 10 percent of Milton’s total annual budget, Snyder said.
Milton has laid off workers, cut its budget and outsourced some city services in the past year to cope with declining revenues. The city projects a deficit of nearly $5 million by 2015.
But the Department of Justice said the ADA requires that the city’s programs, services and activities must be accessible to people with disabilities.
“The city installed restrooms in its parks in recognition of the fact that many people with and without disabilities will be unable to use parks without restrooms,” two Department of Justice officials replied to the city.
The federal agency said it is authorized “to seek damages for persons harmed by discrimination.”
“It has not done so here but has merely sought the minimum remedy of obtaining accessible toilet facilities,” investigator Lyn Sowdon and attorney Jennifer McDannell responded to Snyder in May. “Civil rights must be consistently enforced, not just in good economic times.”
John Larson filed the complaint in June 2003 about the lack of accessibility for the disabled at Triangle Park, West Milton Park and during the city’s annual parade.
“I was very happy,” Larson, 57, said of the agreement.
“This is something I’ve worked on for a long time,” said Larson, who uses a walker and lives near the park in unincorporated Pierce County. “One person can make a difference.”
Building a new restroom was the last issue to be resolved between the city and the Justice Department in settling Larson’s complaint. The City Council voted unanimously June 7 to authorize Mayor Katrina Asay to sign the settlement, which is expected to be put in final form in a few weeks.
In addition to building the new restroom, the city must also:
Submit a plan within three months so that people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs, are able to approach and watch the annual Milton Days parade in August and take part in post-parade festivities in Triangle Park.
Add at least one disabled-accessible picnic table at Triangle Park.
Provide a disabled-accessible route within Triangle Park connecting the baseball field, the tennis court, the basketball court and picnic tables. Existing walkways are not stable, firm or slip-resistant.
Build a disabled-accessible route within West Milton Park connecting a portable toilet, visitors’ bleachers, and home and visitor dugout areas.
Improve signs for disabled parking at both parks. That includes designating which spaces are van-accessible.
In November, the City Council authorized paying a consultant $22,800 to prepare a plan for improving accessibility. Its work won’t be completed until the Department of Justice issues the final agreement. Once the agreement is final, the city will have nine months to make most of the changes, and up to three years to replace the restroom building in Triangle Park.
“I think most of it is needed repairs,” Asay said of the settlement. “The bathroom facility is way beyond our means. It’s going to take some grant funding to get it done.”
Larson said the city is long overdue to abide by the law and solve the access problem.
“This is something you do for the people that are disabled,” he said.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647