YARMOUTH — Voters on Nov. 8 overwhelmingly approved an ordinance that restricts where sex offenders can live.
Residents passed the ordinance 4,110 to 1,430, by just less than a 3-1 margin, with approximately 80 percent of the town’s 7,300 registered voters turning out for elections.
The state doesn’t have laws that govern where sex offenders can live, but allows municipalities to create their own.
Yarmouth’s new ordinance prohibits registered sex offenders convicted of Class A, B, or C offenses against children under the age of 14 from living within a 750-foot radius of the town’s public schools. Any sex offender who lived within the area before the local law passed will be exempt, but a convicted sex offender can’t move into a restricted area.
Yarmouth has three registered sex offenders. One, Stefan Shaft, lives in a restricted area.
Shaft, 24, was arrested at his home in 2015 by the Computer Crimes Unit of the Maine State Police for possession of child pornography. He lives on Glen Road, between the high school and the middle and elementary schools, but under the new ordinance, can remain in the neighborhood.
The other registered sex offenders are also exempt because they don’t live within the area covered by the ordinance.
The residency restriction was proposed to the council late last year by resident Alison Hinson. Councilors discussed the proposal in February, but decided not to move forward because they were split on the issue.
Hinson then wrote and circulated a petition to send the ordinance to referendum. Five hundred signatures were required; petitioners gathered more than 750.
The councilors’ only other option was to approve the ordinance; they couldn’t vote it down because the issue was submitted via a citizen’s petition.
Councilor David Craig, who had opposed the ordinance, was part of a group of citizens who were against the residency restriction. He said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the outcome of the vote.
“I think the natural inclination of the voter when they see an ordinance restricting sex offender residences is to assume it’s a common sense answer to a problem,” Craig said. “This is a complex issue without easy answers. We knew opposing the ordinance would be an uphill battle.”
Councilor Pat Thompson, who supported the ordinance since it was first before the council, simply said, “The residents of Yarmouth continue to place the safety of our children first.”