YARMOUTH — Voters on Nov. 8 will decide whether to restrict where sex offenders can live.
The referendum question will be the only municipal ballot item in the general election. The Town Council on July 21 unanimously approved sending the proposal to referendum.
A group called Vote Against Yarmouth 1, which includes a majority of town councilors, opposes the proposed ordinance. The group plans to meet Sunday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m. for a community information night at the First Universalist Church on Main Street.
The group includes four of the seven councilors – Randall Bates, David Craig, Tamson Bickford Hamrock and Rob Waeldner – but Craig said the group was not started by councilors.
The state doesn’t have laws that govern where sex offenders can live, but allows municipalities to create their own.
The ordinance would prohibit 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.
If the ordinance is adopted, a sex offender who lived within the area before the local law passed would be exempt, but a convicted sex offender could not move into a restricted area.
Yarmouth has three registered sex offenders. One, Stefan Shaft, lives in what would be 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, and could remain there if the ordinance is approved.
The other registered sex offenders would also be exempt because they don’t live within the area covered by the proposed 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 proposed 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.
Despite the unanimous decision to send the proposed ordinance to voters, councilors remained divided on the issue.
Craig said he opposes the referendum question because he doesn’t like restricting where people can live. He also said the proposed ordinance may not have the outcome people are hoping for.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an effective solution,” he said. “I think it has unintended consequences that could make the situation worse.”
Craig said he fears the ordinance would push sex offenders to more remote areas of town where they aren’t as visible, which could make children in those areas more vulnerable. He added that sex offenders should be able to live near family and that this ordinance could force them away from their support systems.
On the other side of the issue is Councilor Pat Thompson, who said she is very much in favor of the proposed ordinance.
“It announces that Yarmouth is not open for business,” she said. “If you want to move to Yarmouth, we will protect our children.”
Keeping children safe should be everyone’s No. 1 priority, Thompson said.
“If there’s an available remedy to sexual predators living near our schools, I wouldn’t understand why someone would oppose it,” she said.
Voting on Election Day will take place from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at the AMVETS Hall on North Road.