YARMOUTH — The Town Council decided a proposed sex offender residency restriction needs more work.
Councilors at a Feb. 4 workshop also discussed the design, cost, and schedule for rebuilding the Route 1 bridge over Main Street, and received an update on reinstatement of the police canine program.
The proposed sex offender residency ordinance was drafted at the request of a resident who was uncomfortable about a sex offender living near town schools.
Yarmouth has two registered sex offenders, including Stefan Shaft, of Glen Road, which is between the high school and the middle and elementary schools. Shaft, 24, was arrested at his home Feb. 5, 2015, by the Computer Crimes Unit of the Maine State Police on a charge of possession of child pornography.
Dozens of images of child pornography were found on Shaft’s computer, and he was convicted of possessing sexually explicit material of someone under the age of 12.
The other registered sex offender doesn’t live within the area covered by the proposed ordinance.
The ordinance would prohibit registered sex offenders convicted of Class A, B, or C offenses committed against children under the age of 14 from living within a 750-foot radius of schools and public areas, like playgrounds, that are designated for children.
A sex offender who lives within the buffer area prior to the adoption of the ordinance would be exempt, but a convicted sex offender could not move into a buffer area if one is established.
The state doesn’t have laws that govern where sex offenders can live, but allows municipalities to create their own.
A few members of the public spoke on the issue last Thursday, with some for the ordinance and some opposed. The Town Council was split, too.
Councilor Rob Waeldner said he is opposed because “the solution may not have the intended effect.” He said the town should focus on educating children and parents about protecting themselves and avoiding risky situations.
Waeldner said if the ordinance moves forward he’d like to see it modified.
Councilor Andy Kittredge said he’d like more information about the proposal and its potential consequences.
“It’s not that I don’t support it,” he said, “but I feel like I don’t have all the facts.”
Kittredge said he wondered if there are other options and if this is the right kind of ordinance for Yarmouth. Councilor Tamson Bickford-Hamrock agreed.
“This seems in some ways to be a fear-based response to a terrible incident,” she said.
Chairman Randy Bates agreed that reacting to fear may be a bad idea.
“I wonder if we’re in danger of creating a false sense of security if we enact something like this,” he said.
Bates went on to say the ordinance isn’t necessary.
“Just because we don’t have (a sex offender residency restriction) doesn’t mean it’s necessary to implement one,” Bates said. “As it stands right now, I’m not in favor of this.”
Councilor David Craig agreed.
“It’s a bad solution to a problem we don’t have,” he said.
Other councilors, however, expressed support for the proposal.
Councilor Pat Thompson said if something happens to a child because the ordinance isn’t enacted, councilors would be “devastated.”
Councilor Jim MacLeod echoed her opinion.
“If the enactment of this were to prevent one incident from happening in the future, is it worth it?” he said. “I’m not wishy washy on this at all. It’s definitely worth it.”
Rather than moving the proposal to the Feb. 18 Town Council meeting, councilors moved it to the Feb. 25 operations committee meeting. They said they’d like to do more research and talk with police, school officials, and representatives of interested organizations.
The Route 1 Bridge Advisory Committee presented an option developed by the Maine Department of Transportation for a three-span, cast-in-place flat-arch superstructure bridge.
The bridge will be narrowed to two lanes to slow traffic, and on the side facing the Log Cabin on Main Street, there will be a five-foot wide sidewalk and a 10-foot wide multi-use path.
The total cost is estimated at nearly $4.1 million. Between funds from MDOT and grants the town has received, the town will be responsible for just under $242,000.
Councilors said they think they can pay for this without raising taxes, and are expected to approve the project on Feb. 18.
Town Manager Nat Tupper will then execute an agreement with the state, and the project will go to bid in the fall.
Construction is expected to begin in March or April of 2017 and be completed by July 2018. Work will pause during the town’s annual Clam Festival. Traffic delays will be kept to a minimum by only closing one lane of the bridge at a time during construction.
The council voted in December 2014 to keep the bridge after MDOT asked the town to consider what course of action to take for updating the aging structure.
Police Chief Michael Morrill informed councilors that the Police Department has raised enough funds to reinstate a canine program.
Morrill said the department has received just over $18,000 in funds to restore the program. The goal was $15,000.
Several organizations and individuals offered money to buy and train a new dog after the February 2015 death of retired police dog Sultan. The Town Council last May decided Yarmouth can accept the donations.
Councilors will officially accept the funds on Feb. 18.
The department will have to select an officer to work with a dog, choose a dog and buy the equipment necessary to make a police vehicle suitable for carrying a canine. The dog and officer will then go through a training program.
Morrill said the dog is expected to be put into service in March 2017.