Sex offenders are still packing a trailer located in parking lot of the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside – and could remain in place indefinitely.
The arrest of Donald Brown, a convicted sex offender who was living at the Budget Host Inn, not in a sex offender trailer, in Riverhead last week has reignited concerns amongst parents and residents about the proximity of convicted pedophiles to their children.
According to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, plans to move forward with vacating the homeless sex offender trailers – a second is located on county land in Westhampton – are stalled again, after years of controversy and an outpouring of vehement public opposition.
But while there is hope that the Westhampton trailer could be shuttered within three months, there is no support among the county legislature to close the Riverside trailer, Schneiderman said.
Schneiderman says he has received no support from his colleagues, save North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine, to close the Riverside trailer, because they believe it is in a secure location near the jail.
“We’re trying to revitalize Riverhead, with the aquarium, libraries and other children’s events – and here’s the county bringing their sex offenders,” Schneiderman said.
Despite a series of setbacks under former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, plans were discussed to commence with a new mini shelter program, under which a series of smaller shelters would house only six sex offenders each, rather than the 20 that currently fill the two trailers each night, with some overflow being sent to a hotel in western Suffolk County. Each shelter would have 24-hour supervision.
But that plan has not gained traction because Levy, Schneidrman said, refused to indemnify the contractor chosen for the project, who asked that his legal fees be covered by the county, should lawsuits emerge over the construction of the new shelter sites.
Should the initiative go forward under new County Executive Steve Bellone, plans could include least four mini shelters, none of which are sited on the East End – for now, said Schneiderman.
“There will probably be a fifth and a sixth shelter, and one of those last two will probably be on the East End,” Schneiderman said, adding that he does not yet know where that shelter would be situated but that it would not be located in a residential area.
Currently, the Westhampton site is located only feet away from Westhampton Pines, a 55 and over community where many grandchildren visit.
For years, lawmakers in Riverhead and Southampton Towns have railed against the county for siting the in their municipalities and placing an unfair burden on outraged residents.
"I find it unconscionable that they would close the Westhampton trailer and potentially put the rest of the sex offenders in Riverside, right across our border," Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said. "The East End is hosting all the sex offenders in the county that can't be placed. The Suffolk County legislature needs to step up."
The problem, Walter added, is, with only two out of 18 county legislators representing the East End, "We don't have enough horsepower." He suggested a public referendum to decide whether or not the county legislature should be abolished completely, with a board of town supervisors given authority, as is the practice in much of New York State. "The county legislature just can't get the job done. It's outlived its usefulness."
Schneiderman said he has a resolution on the agenda for a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead on April 24 to close the Westhampton trailer. If the measure is approved, that trailer could be closed in 60 days.
“These people have suffered enough,” said Schneiderman. “The trailers were never supposed to be in these communities for more than two weeks and here we are, five years later. They shouldn’t be placed so close to any residence. People should be able to sleep at night.”
During the next few weeks, Schneiderman hopes to rally parents in both Riverhead and Westhampton. “I want the community to play an active role to make sure we’re heard by the administration,” he said. "I want both those trailers closed."
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