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Sep 26, 2012 10:03 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Loses Fight To Remove Trailers; Bellone Renews Promise To Close Both Facilities

Sep 26, 2012 11:12 AM

Southampton Town last week lost a second round of legal jousting in its ongoing battle with Suffolk County to have two mobile trailers used to house homeless registered sex offenders moved out of the town.

Local officials, however, say that in the wake of the legal defeat they received a renewed promise from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone that the trailers, located in Westhampton and Riverside, would be vacated by the end of the year.

But as town officials wait for the county executive’s pledge to bear fruit, they say the county actually may have increased the number of sex offenders living in a trailer parked on county property off Old Country Road in Westhampton, next to the police shooting range.

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said this week that he has been told that as many as 14 registered sex offenders have been staying at the Westhampton trailer, which has never housed more than eight offenders at once in the past. The increase was made possible by another appeals court decision, handed down last November, that lifted a court injunction barring the county from using a new trailer on the Westhampton site, a larger one with showers.

At the time the injunction was lifted, county officials said they did not intend to use the new trailer. But it was put into use this summer as part of a temporary arrangement intended to address some concerns with the Westhampton housing location following Mr. Bellone’s promise to ultimately close the trailer down completely by the end of the year. Mr. Schneiderman said an increase in the occupancy was never part of the agreement.

In May, speaking at Southampton Town Hall and surrounded by town officials, Mr. Bellone announced that he intended to shutter both Southampton Town trailers—the second one is located in the shadow of the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside—for good by the end of the year, in favor of other housing options for registered sex offenders who are unable to find housing as a result of county residency restrictions. In a nod to officials’ concerns about the location of the Westhampton trailer, which at the time sat just yards from a senior housing complex, the trailer was moved behind the fences of the Suffolk County Police training facilities, and a guard was posted at the facility. But as part of the move the county also began using the new, larger trailer, and Mr. Schneiderman said he has now been told by Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner Greg Blass that the trailer can hold up to 18 people at one time.

“When they hooked up the trailer with the showers, we had an agreement that the capacity wouldn’t increase beyond the eight individuals ...” Mr. Schneiderman said. “But somewhere along the line I believe they’ve been putting more than eight in that trailer. I’m told they had as many as 14.”

Last week a state appeals court tossed out a lawsuit filed by the town in 2010 challenging the county’s ability to place the two trailers in the municipality. The court said the lawsuit was filed too long after the trailers were installed and that the statute of limitations for such a legal challenge had expired. Town attorneys argued that since the trailers were initially placed on the two sites on what was supposed to be a temporary basis—and supposedly were going to be moved to different parts of the county at regular intervals—the town could not have challenged the positioning until many months into the program, when the county’s intentions to make the trailers permanent became clear.

A statement by the Town Board this week said that they would instruct Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato’s office to continue fighting the lawsuit.

“The county executive came to Southampton in May of this year and pronounced that the county was moving to implement a new plan that included dispersing the population of homeless sex offenders to more fairly distribute the burden,” Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said in the statement. “As no action has been taken, with the exception of the trailer being moved a few hundred yards in Westhampton, the town has no choice but to continue to compel the county to finally take the action promised.”

In a prepared statement issued on Wednesday morning, Mr. Bellone is quoted as saying: “I remain committed to removing the trailers by year end.”

Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she spoke with county executive’s office this week and was assured that the plan to close the trailers for good this winter was still in place. Mr. Schneiderman added that he spoke with Mr. Bellone and that the county executive personally promised him that once he completes the gargantuan task of drafting his first county budget he will direct his attention to solving the issue of homeless sex offender housing.

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