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Crofton to decide on town hall access Major changes needed to fulfill disabilities law


Crofton Town Hall is a scofflaw, and tonight residents will decide if they want to spend $70,000 to make their building accessible to the handicapped.

The split-foyer house that has served as the community center for two decades is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which required public entities to accommodate the disabled by January 1995.

"There is no building I know that is less accessible," Crofton architect Jon Grant said of Town Hall. "You never get into a situation where you're in a split-level -- even if you were in a colonial home."

Because Crofton is a special tax district, it must pay for the JTC Town Hall curb cuts, ramps and accessible bathrooms. But there's no money for the modifications. As a compromise, Crofton leaders have offered to move any meeting to an accessible site, such as a library or a school, even to a person's home. Such a move would put Town Hall in compliance with the act.

But members don't like moving around.

So they have proposed building an addition that would have a bigger meeting room, more storage space and accessible bathrooms. A less expensive alternative, installing an elevator for about $40,000, has been studied but isn't favored because it would eat up two of fice rooms, including that of the chief of police.

At one point during the board's discussions, Crofton Town Manager Barbara K. Swann suggested building a new town hall at Hardy Field, figuring the baseball diamond wouldn't be used much after the eight-field Crofton athletic complex opens in a couple of years. Members estimated a new building would cost $1.5 million.

A likely sticking point in tonight's meeting will be how Crofton leaders can even consider spending tens of thousands of dollars when residents voted in January that the budget could not be increased without community approval.

"The problem is Crofton [officials] want to spend money like crazy," said William J. Flynn, who led the charge to change

district bylaws on budget increases. Previously, the board did not need the community's approval for a budget that remained within 5 percent of the previous year's.

Each of Crofton's 3,000 households pays a property tax of 26 cents on each $100 assessed value. Ms. Swann estimated that a 15-year loan to pay for a $70,000 addition would cost each homeowner about $5 a year.

"My philosophy is let's take it easy," said Mr. Flynn, who said he believes the entire building does not have to be accessible. In his view, an entrance to the basement conference room would suffice. "The law should be looked at again."

Richard Trunnell, a board member and lawyer, agrees and is asking the community to hold off on spending any money. Federal law could change next year, with a new administration or Congress, and exempt small towns and certain businesses, he said.

"We just want to make sure the dust settles on ADA," said Mr. Trunnell. "Everyone wants something, but before you say something you have to say, 'What is it going to cost?' "

William E. Anderson, the county's ADA coordinator, said he is not aware of changes to ADA.

"There is no waiver to the federal law," he said. "There are ways to comply where it is not as expensive -- meeting in accessible locations."

For Vicki Schmidt, a Crofton resident who uses crutches and a wheelchair, the time to build is now.

"It was unconscionable that the ADA was passed in 1990 and that in January 1995 I couldn't attend a budget meeting," said Ms. Schmidt, 48.

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