Walworth County is not required by law to notify residents if they live outside 1,500-foot exclusion zones for sex offenders or if a sexually violent person will be housed nearby, a county official said.
“The immediate next-door neighbor wouldn’t have a statutory right to block it (the placement),” said Michael Cotter, deputy director of Walworth County’s Land Use and Resource Management Department.
Walworth County does not plan to make public a map identifying places where sexually violent people may live in the county, partly because it could be used for “competitive” reasons, officials said.
That stands in contrast to Rock County, which made public a map of Janesville’s exclusion zones when The Gazette requested it in January.
People convicted of sexually violent crimes must be released from treatment into their counties of residence. Under state statutes, they are prohibited from living within 1,500 feet of schools, churches, child care centers, parks, places of worship and youth centers.
Each county is required to form a committee and identify landlords willing to house people found by courts to be sexually violent, meaning they have a mental disorder and likely will reoffend.
Complicating matters in Walworth County are local ordinances governing which areas in communities are off-limits for sexual predators, and those ordinances can vary greatly.
Cotter said the county is assembling a countywide map identifying the 1,500-foot exclusion zones required by state statutes.
He said the map will be a “starting point” to help county officials locate housing options. However, officials do not believe the map is a public record because it is not fully assembled and could change as definitions about which places are off-limits are fleshed out, he said.
If the map were released, landlords outside the exclusion zones could see it and potentially drive up rents to house sexual predators, Cotter said.
Walworth County is not financially responsible for housing sexually violent people. The state Department of Health Services ultimately is responsible for their care and treatment, a department spokeswoman said.
The Gazette filed an open records request for Walworth County’s map last week. Rock County has already made public a map of Janesville’s exclusion zones.
Different Walworth County communities have different requirements for housing sexual predators.
In 2014, Elkhorn declared sexual predators must live at least 2,000 feet from parks, swimming pools, playgrounds and other places.
In general, state statutes supersede municipal ordinances. A state Department of Health Services spokeswoman said state statutes could supersede municipal ordinances depending on when a sexually violent offender was released from treatment.
Elkhorn City Administrator Sam Tapson said most city residents live within the 2,000-foot exclusion zones defined in city ordinances. He said the city’s ordinances perhaps should be “looked at.”
Tapson said council members who in 2014 championed extending the distance are no longer in office.
Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen could not be reached for comment.
Lake Geneva also prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of certain places. But the city attorney recently said that distance could be too restrictive and suggested a 750-foot restriction, according to the Lake Geneva Regional News.
In Delavan, sex offenders must live at least 1,000 feet from certain places. But Delavan’s list of prohibited places includes libraries, recreational trails, movie theaters, ski or sledding hills, public and private golf courses and aquatic facilities, in addition to others, City Administrator Denise Pieroni said.
Whitewater does not have ordinances limiting where sex offenders can live. Kristin Michelson, city public relations and communications manager, said the city essentially follows the 1,500-foot state requirement.
“We haven’t had any issues or considerations for that to be changed at this time,” Michelson said.