WHITEHALL -- There are few places to stay on the long stretch of Route 4 between Fort Ann and the Vermont border, a heavily traveled highway that is a main thoroughfare to and from Vermont.
If you choose to stay at the lone motel in Whitehall, the Budget Inn next to McDonald’s and across the road from a mobile home park, there’s a good chance you will have a registered sex offender as a neighbor.
The 27-room motel was home to at least five registered sex offenders as of Monday, according to two websites that track registered sex offenders. One of the websites is Offender Watch, which can be reached through the Washington County Sheriff’s Office website.
The sheriff’s officer who maintains the county’s sex offender registry, Lt. Aron Bassett, said 12 registered sex offenders were staying in the motel at one point last year.
Whitehall Police Chief Matt Dickinson called the situation a “nightmare” and said he believed motels that house sex offenders should post public notices for prospective visitors.
“They’re putting children at risk,” he said. “If I was to walk in there with my family and saw that I would leave.”
The motel is located just south of the village of Whitehall and just outside the Whitehall Police Department’s jurisdiction, but Dickinson said sex offenders placed at the Budget Inn often walk into the village. Most of them aren’t from the Whitehall area originally.
The situation is the latest consequence of changing laws and policies regarding counties’ placement of registered sex offenders who seek emergency housing assistance.
In 2010, the Warren County Department of Social Services changed its policies about placing sex offenders in motels where it also placed families with children after a series of Post-Star articles about the situation.
A number of Warren County towns, including Queensbury, Lake George and Lake Luzerne, then passed laws that required motels to get a permit, pay a fee of up to $3,000 and post signs if housing registered sex offenders.
Bassett said those changes seem to have pushed some Warren County sex offenders to Washington County motels.
The Offender Watch website lists Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders, whose information and addresses can be made public. Level 1 sex offenders’ addresses are not public.
Four of the five offenders listed at Budget Inn in Whitehall were Level 3 sex offenders, deemed the highest risk of re-offending.
Washington County Undersheriff John Winchell said most of the sex offenders who wind up in the motel seem to be placed there through public assistance programs that provide housing, many of them from counties other than Washington County. The Sheriff’s Office sends out notices to residents in the area where offenders move.
A review of the five offenders who listed the motel as their address found that three of them had sex crime convictions in Warren County. The other two were from Washington County.
None of the five were originally from the Whitehall area, according to media reports from the time of their arrests.
Dickinson said some of the sex offenders who stay at the motel have become an issue for Whitehall Police with “minor incidents” but no big problems. He said most stay in the Budget Inn temporarily until they find permanent housing.
Winchell said there is a benefit to having a number of sex offenders in one spot. They are easier to track, he said.
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said the Department of Social Services is limited in Washington County because of a lack of hotels and motels. There are a half-dozen or so in the county.
“That motel (Budget Inn) is just a place they gravitate to,” he said.
A man who identified himself Tuesday as the manager at the motel but who would not give his name said he did not know how many sex offenders were staying at the motel.
He said the staff does not ask guests whether they are registered sex offenders, and has not asked the Department of Social Services whether the people it places there are sex offenders and has not asked the agency to stop placing sex offenders there.
“It’s a hotel. We can’t ask questions,” he said.
An online check through the state Division of Criminal Justice Services or Offender Watch, which can be searched by name, will turn up any Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenders, however.