Levy warns supervisors that trailers may remain

05/27/2010 12:00 AM |

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy warned the supervisors of Riverhead and Southampton towns last week that the county’s two homeless sex offender trailers on the East End might have to stay open.

The trailers could remain in place near downtown Riverhead and in Westhampton Beach if the county Legislature implements a bill that it passed May 11 in a 14-4 vote. The bill bars the county from giving offenders vouchers to pay for their own housing.

Mr. Levy, who vetoed the bill Wednesday, told the supervisors in a May 20 letter that the bill, which also would require the county Department of Social Services to find suitable locations for private shelters elsewhere across the county, was “ill advised.” He argued that voucher systems, which provide daily stipends for food and lodging, are used successfully in neighboring Nassau County and throughout the state to house homeless sex offenders.

“Now, this proven and successful approach is on life support and would be terminated as part of the recent bill,” he wrote. “Such action would seemingly leave the county with no option but to keep the Riverside and Westhampton trailers open, even in light of a court order that limits our ability with respect to use of trailers.”

Having been vetoed, the bill now requires a 12-vote override. But since it passed by 14 votes, it appears to have enough support in the Legislature to survive.

“I urge you to join me in rejecting this bill that would prohibit us from using vouchers,” Mr. Levy wrote the supervisors, “even as the Legislature scrambles to find acceptable sites across the county — a task the Legislature may find takes a very long time, if it can be done at all.”

Bill Lindsay, the Legislature’s presiding officer who introduced the bill, said he was confident finding suitable locations could be done in a timely matter.

“Before the bill was introduced, I had meetings with the department with shelter providers,” he said. “If they want to do this, they could do it quickly.”

“I don’t really have an opinion” on Mr. Levy’s letter, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter commented. “We want the sex offenders moved. Riverhead doesn’t mind being responsible for its own offenders but we don’t want to be the dumping ground for all of Suffolk County.”

Meanwhile, the county faces pressure to provide running water at the two trailers, both of which are in Southampton Town. 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, who take taxis each night to the cot-lined trailers on the East End to sleep, 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 Beach, 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.

Southampton Town on Friday got a judge to extend that restraining order indefinitely as the two sides hash it out in court, something Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said “spoke volumes” to the strength of Southampton’s argument that the town should not bear the full brunt of the county’s state mandate to house the homeless. The town has issued a stop-work order on the county, claiming social services never got proper building permits for the trailer.

As for Mr. Lindsay’s bill, Mr. Levy insisted it would be near impossible to find suitable locations and coordinate with private shelter providers and present a plan within 30 days of its passage, as the bill demands.

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PTA to host offender forum

The Remsenburg school PTA is hosting a community forum to discuss the sex offender trailers in Riverside and Westhampton at the Remsenburg School June 1. Southampton Town, Westhampton Beach Village and Suffolk County officials are expected to present a plan to “alleviate the burden” of the trailers, according to a press release announcing the event, which is being hosted in cooperation with the Citizen Advisory Committee-West. The one-hour meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.