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Riverhead board passes sex-offender bill

Escalating its two-year battle with Suffolk County over the county housing most of Suffolk's homeless sex offenders in a trailer at the county jail, the Riverhead town board passed strict legislation putting most of the town's residential properties off-limits to those offenders.

After a public hearing at a sparsely attended town board meeting Wednesday, Supervisor Sean Walter said the resolution would be voted on immediately - rather than waiting the customary two weeks for written comment - because it had to be on the books before the county took any further action to place homeless sex offenders in Riverhead.

Under the new town law, sex offenders are not permitted to live within a quarter-mile of any school, day care center, library, day camp, park, beach or playground.

It does not apply to registered sex offenders who moved to Riverhead before October 2005, or those who met less stringent residency limits - living beyond 1,000 feet of a school or 500 feet of a park, beach or playground - before the law was passed.

A landlord who illegally rents space to a registered sex offender can be fined $2,500, and faces an additional fine of $2,500 and six months imprisonment for a second offense.

If a registered sex offender stays in a Riverhead hotel or motel, the management must notify every guest in writing, each day, that a sex offender is staying there.

Riverhead has been feuding with the county over housing homeless sex offenders for two years, ever since Suffolk - saying it had no other options - moved about 20 of them to a trailer on the grounds of the county jail, a trailer that had beds but no shower or any cooking facilities.

Because the men had served their sentences, there was no legal way for the county to keep them confined on the jail property.

County officials say Riverhead's new law is invalid, because the town cannot restrict the actions of a higher level of government and because some of the banned areas are outside the town line.

For several months, Suffolk has been looking for alternate housing for the 20 to 30 homeless registered sex offenders who seek emergency housing each night. By law, they cannot be turned away.

"This kind of law, like others proceeding it, creates homeless sex offenders," Suffolk County director of Probation John Desmond said in a prepared statement. "It has the obvious effect of preventing sex offenders from living anywhere in town unless they buy a house."

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