TIM GANNON PHOTO
Southampton Supervisor Anna Thone-Holst addresses the media Tuesday outside the county’s new trailer for homeless sex offenders in Westhampton. Southampton got a court injunction to prevent the county from using the new trailer.
Southampton Town officials are charging that Suffolk County unhitched an improved, less cramped trailer with showers and six toilets under the cover of darkness Monday to provide housing in Westhampton Beach for up to eight homeless sex offenders who have been living in a smaller trailer with no plumbing system.
Town officials, who had hoped the county was backing away from its housing project for sex offenders, now fear the county’s move means an even bigger facility may be on the way.
“To replace the existing trailers with larger, upgraded trailers complete with running water, toilets and showers certainly suggests a more permanent arrangement, which completely disregards the pleas of this community,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said at a press conference in Westhampton Tuesday morning.
Town attorneys on Tuesday obtained a temporary restraining order that prevents the county from doing any more work to install the new trailer, or put it to use, until the town and county appear in State Supreme Court on May 20.
The new trailer is on county-owned land off Old Country Road. The smaller trailer, whose occupants use a portable toilet, will be removed when and if the courts clear the way for the county to use the new one.
The Southampton Town building department is issuing a stop-work order against the county, claiming the facility is being installed without proper permits.
The Department of Social Services also operates a 20-person trailer in Riverside, which also is in the Town of Southampton. Like the smaller eight-person trailer that has now been replaced in Westhampton, it is outfitted with cots but no plumbing. The Riverside trailer, which sits in a parking lot outside the county jail, has not been replaced.
“You have to ask yourself, what does the county have against the Town of Southampton that they would round up all the homeless pedophiles and sexual predators and bring them out to one community for the night?” said county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose district covers the South Fork.
Mr. Schneiderman said the county had wanted to install a new trailer equipped with running water in Riverside, too, but that Riverhead Town would not allow a hookup to its sewer district. The county reportedly plans to connect the new trailer in Westhampton Beach to a septic tank. The new trailer has no cooking facilities, town officials said.
County Executive Steve Levy had said the county would open other shelters in western Suffolk to take the stress off the East End, but he abandoned the idea in January when western Suffolk residents and lawmakers rallied against it.
A subsequent county plan to deactivate the two trailers in favor of a $90 daily voucher system for food and lodging was stalled in the county Legislature by western lawmakers.
The county spends about $1 million a year shuttling offenders to the East End in taxis, and often none or just a few of the two dozen or so living in the trailers at any give time hail from the area.
The appearance of a new trailer came as a blow to those who have called on the county to “spread the burden,” which has become the mantra of East Enders who feel the region is being taken advantage of through the program.
Suffolk County Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass released a statement on the situation, emphasizing that the new, larger trailer would not house more offenders than the old one.
“It is providing for showers and hot water as mandated by a New York State Administrative Judge,” Mr. Blass said.
The county was sued by a civil rights group over inadequate facilities for the Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders who spend their nights at the trailers, claiming the county was in violation of state shelter guidelines.
“We understand the town’s concern,” Mr. Blass said. “It has been our intention for months to phase out the use of the trailers, but the Legislature has blocked our efforts to fully utilize a voucher system, forcing us to keep the trailers open.”
He added that the county wasn’t subject to town zoning “while carrying out governmental functions on county-owned land.”
A current bill in the county Legislature, introduced by presiding officer Bill Lindsay, also has Southampton lawmakers on edge.
The bill would set a limit of one sex offender trailer per town “or legislative district,” leading to speculation that the trailer in Riverside would be phased out in favor of a much larger one in the legislative district, in Westhampton; or that the county would send offenders from Riverside to the new trailer regularly for showers. Offenders currently shower at an undisclosed facility in Hauppauge on weekends, county officials have said.
As for the cover of darkness charge, Mr. Blass said the county had informed Mr. Schniederman of its plans to install a new trailer. Ms. Throne-Holst criticized county officials for not contacting her directly.