Levy looks to budget to restore homeless sex offender voucher program

05/28/2010 12:00 AM |

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy might include full funding for a program that provides homeless sex offenders with daily stipends for food and lodging in the 2011 county budget.
The voucher system would replace the county’s current policy of placing homeless sex offenders at two construction trailers at the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside and on county-owned property in Westhampton.
Full implementation of the voucher system, which the county executive originally proposed in January, has been stalled for months as the county Legislature repeatedly voted against increasing the amount of petty cash in the Department of Social Services budget needed to get the program running.
“If the Legislature continues to refuse to fund the voucher system, the County Executive will explore funding it in his 2011 budget,” said Mark Smith, a spokesperson for Mr. Levy.
In the meantime, homeless sex offenders are still sleeping in the trailers, though a few have been moved over to the voucher program, county officials have said.
Last week Mr. Levy described the voucher system, which is used in Nassau and other counties throughout New York State, as being on “life support” after the Legislature voted 14-4 to bar the program.
Mr. Levy on Wednesday vetoed that bill, which also would require the socials services officials to find suitable locations for private shelters elsewhere across the county.
It now requires a 12-vote override and since it passed by 14 votes, it appears to have enough support in the Legislature to survive. Legislators will vote on whether or not to override Mr. Levy’s veto on June 8.
It is not clear how the bill will effect Mr. Levy’ plan to include the voucher program in next year’s budget.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, whose town encompasses both trailers, said under the voucher plan, homeless sex offenders “will now be more likely to go back to their homes or hometowns” rather than be taxied to the East End.
Ms. Throne-Holst, who said the trailer program burdens local fire departments and police, said that implementing the voucher program would be a preferable option to directing social services to devise a plan to house the offenders at smaller sites throughout the county.
“I just have no confidence that that would in fact be achieved by this bill,” she said.
Still, the Legislature is free to delete items from Mr. Levy’s proposed budget.
“They propose, we dispose,” said county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches).
Mr. Romaine, whose district encompasses the North Fork though not the two trailers, could not say whether he would be for or against the budget line come November when the Legislature votes on adopting the budget. He said the voucher plan is not, in his opinion, an ideal solution.
Meanwhile, the county faces pressure to provide running water at the two trailers. A state judge has ruled that they are inadequate due to their lack of running water. That ruling came after some of the 20 or so sex offenders filed a complaint about tight quarters and a lack of showers or toilets.
County officials have said the Riverside trailer must be moved to obtain access to a water system because Riverhead Town would not let the county run sewer lines to a larger trailer it had intended to place there.
In Westhampton, the county earlier this month tried to place a newer trailer that would have hooked into an existing septic tank, but Southampton officials acquired a temporary restraining order to block that move.
vchinese@timesreview.com