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Hearing set on amendment to fence ordinance

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors has set a public hearing regarding amending the county’s fence ordinance.

The action came during supervisors’ June 13 meeting.

Wade Bartlett

The amended ordinance, suggested by county staff in response to a determination by Prince Edward Circuit Court Judge Leslie Osborn, would not require a warning for the offenses. The existing ordinance does.

The county animal control ordinance addresses animals and livestock that escape fencing. Violation of the existing ordinance could result in a Class 4 misdemeanor, according to county documents.

The ordinance came to the board’s attention following litigation between two private entities in Prince Edward Circuit Court in the past month, County Administrator Wade Bartlett said.

The county was not party to the case, Bartlett said, but a ticket was written by a county employee to one of the parties whose cows had escaped from a property.

Osborne, after reviewing the county’s current fence ordinance, determined it was “unenforceable,” Bartlett said, due to the existing ordinance’s required warning.

The unclear phrasing regarding the warning could be misconstrued to mean the warning would apply to the individual animals, Bartlett said.

“Use of the term ‘animal’ in addition (creates) ambiguity where the judge said could apply to each animal individually and require warning for each animal

C.R. “Bob” Timmons Jr.

individually,” Bartlett said. “(The) judge declined to enforce the fence law.”

The updated ordinance, Bartlett said, does not contain a required warning. A determination to serve a warning or a penalty, listed as $250 in the proposed amendment, would be under the discretion of animal control officers.

Bartlett said the officers would determine whether the offense would need a warning. Offering an example, Bartlett said results might differ if a fence was damaged due to a storm and livestock escaped as a result, versus if repeated offenses were due to neglect or disrepair of the fences.

“Actual enforcement would be dependent on certain exact discretion of animal control officers,” Bartlett said, “not unlike how traffic law enforcement is under discretion of police officers to consider violations severe enough to warrant a ticket warning.”

Buffalo District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons said the amended ordinance may allow incidents with less clear-cut factors to be examined without bringing parties to court. He cited an incident of a homeowner whose fence was damaged after a tree fell on it — the tree belonging to the homeowner’s neighbor. He said it would be up to officers to decide whether the homeowner or neighbor would be held responsible.

“These kind of things need to be looked at,” Timmons said, “(to) prevent that from escalating.”

Bartlett said animal control officers would also be able to determine how quickly livestock owners would respond to a warning or repair a damaged fence.

Bartlett said the amended ordinance reflects similar laws in about 25 other counties.

The hearing will take place in August, while the proposed ordinance will be advertised through July.