WATERVILLE — The city has moved a step closer to enacting tighter restrictions on where sex offenders may live in the city after the City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to approve a proposed sex offender residency ordinance.

Approval requires two votes and the council is expected to consider taking a final vote on the ordinance later this month.

The proposal restricts sex offenders whose victims were under 14 from living within 750 feet from all locations where children can be found, such as parks and playgrounds. The offenders would be prohibited from living within 750 feet of the property line of any nonprofit, public or private elementary, middle or high school and any public owned property where children are the primary users, according to the proposed ordinance.

Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, proposed the ordinance after being asked to do so by Andrew Ayers, a teacher who lives near Albert S. Hall elementary school and has children.

White said at Tuesday’s council meeting that he worked with officials including police Chief Joseph Massey in developing the ordinance, which is modeled after ordinances used by some other municipalities. Sex offenders who committed crimes against children under 14 and now live within 750 feet of places children use would be grandfathered, according to White.

“This does not affect the offenders that are living there currently,” White said at Tuesday’s meeting. “If they are established there, we can’t kick them out.”

Only new registered sex offenders coming into the city whose victims were under 14 at the time of their crimes would be subject to the 750-foot rule.

Resident Patricia Vashon said she was astounded that the state does not allow stricter rules for where sex offenders may live and asked why the rule is only for those who committed crimes against children under 14.

“What about 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds?” she asked.

“That is a question for the state,” White replied, to which Vashon, a retired teacher, said, “Our children are the victims and they are not getting as much help as the sex offender is.”

Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said he understood what Vashon was saying but enacting an ordinance is a good first step. If one looks at the map for where new sex offenders who committed crimes against anyone under 14 may live, the city is not going to be a very inviting place for them to live, Soule said.

City Solicitor Bill Lee reviewed White’s proposed ordinance and a small committee whose members included White and councilors Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, Lee and Massey also worked on it and made some changes, according to White. Then, at White’s request, City Assessor Paul Castonguay created a map outlining the 750-foot line from properties selected in the ordinance.

“I commend the work that this committee has done to get this ordinance on the agenda, “White said earlier this week in an email. “Sydney and Jackie have been extremely helpful with this process. Chief Massey has also been a vital member of the committee giving us great information. Bill Lee has worked very hard on determining the law and how we can word this ordinance. Paul Castonguay and his department have been very accommodating with creating maps for us and making changes when we requested them. This is what a community is all about. We all worked as a team to achieve a common goal, and no matter our differences we all came together to make Waterville a safer place to live.”

White said that, with city revitalization efforts underway, the ordinance shows that the city wants families to move to Waterville and feel safe.

“When most people look to buy a new residence, they look at how the local school systems are ranked, they look at the amenities the city has to offer, and most importantly, they look at the safety of the neighborhood.”

The ordinance, he said, is good for Waterville, helps keep children safe and makes a statement that people don’t want offenders around children. Ayers is frightened for his daughter when he looks out his window and sees a registered sex offender walking past the Hall School against his probation restrictions, White said.

State law authorizes municipalities to adopt ordinances that restrict certain groups of sex offenders from living within 750 feet of places such as schools, parks and municipal pools, if they have been convicted of a Class A, B, or C sex offense against someone who has not obtained the age of 14 at the time of the offense.

Not everyone views an ordinance as necessarily the best course.

Rachel Healy, director of communications and public education for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, based in Portland, said recently that the organization is not familiar with Waterville’s efforts to consider enacting an ordinance but she spoke about such ordinances in general.

“Generally speaking, while well-intentioned, restrictions on where former offenders can live aren’t based on data and don’t make anyone safer,” she said. “Instead, they drive former offenders into the shadows and further away from their support systems. They also ignore the fact that most offenses are committed by family members or acquaintances of the victims, not strangers. A better way to keep our kids safe is to focus on getting former offenders the rehabilitative services they need.”

There are 46 registered sex offenders in Waterville and they live in various parts of the city. Some are on probation and may have specific restrictions because of that. In the city of 15,700 residents, living within 13 square miles, there is one sex offender for every 341 people, or about 3.5 sex offenders in each square mile, according to Massey.

When a sex offender moves into a neighborhood, police go door-to-door in that neighborhood to distribute fliers that notify residents of the sex offender, his address, and his crime. Massey said recently that if Waterville were to enact an ordinance, police would advise newly registered sex offenders who committed crimes against people 14 and younger about areas they are prohibited from living in. Asked if sex offenders tend to re-offend, Massey said some have done so in Waterville over the years, but most violations are either that they do not register when they move to a new address, as required, or do not abide by probation restrictions, such as to not have contact with a child under the age of 15 or 16.

“We’re pretty familiar with many sex offenders, and I think we do a pretty good job recognizing them and knowing where they live and doing what we can to do additional oversight, given all the other challenges we face,” Massey said.

He noted that many sex offenders live in areas where resources are available, including courts, probation offices, mental health counseling and alcohol and drug counseling.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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