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Farmers oppose fence ordinance

A proposed fence ordinance that would have allowed a judge to fine up to $250 in civil penalties for livestock owners in the event their animal strays upon a highway, public property or private premises of someone else’s property is set to be amended with the help of county farmers following a split 5-3 vote during Tuesday’s packed Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The motion that saw majority favor was presented as a substitute motion by Farmville 101 District Supervisor Howard Simpson in response to a motion presented by Buffalo District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons Jr. to approve the ordinance as proposed.

Timmons, Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride and Farmville 801 District Supervisor and Vice-Chairman Pattie Cooper-Jones voted against Simpson’s proposed motion.

Howard Simpson

According to Prince Edward County Attorney Jim Ennis, the existing ordinance — which allows punishment in those in violation as a class four misdemeanor — has been ruled unenforceable by a judge in Prince Edward Circuit Court.

The vote followed a public hearing where the ordinance was opposed by each farmer who spoke.

“I think the majority of people who are here tonight are opposed to at least the ordinance that we had already, and I think they are here to show support that they are concerned to the ordinance that’s going to take place,” said David Emert, president of Prince Edward County Farm Bureau. “… On behalf of the people in my area and behalf of the Prince Edward County Farm Bureau, we are definitely against it.”

County resident Jeanette Tarlton said she understood the reason for the law, countering animals don’t obey human laws.

“There’s just nothing to it,” Tarlton said. “You know, if I’m going to be fined $250 for raising two turkeys, I’m going to really oppose this.”

Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett said while fowl and poultry were listed in the ordinance in question, a separate ordinance that spoke in greater detail regarding fowl and poultry would have held precedence over it.

“If you have fencing, and you’re trying to obey the law, how much fencing do you have to have?” Tarlton questioned. “We own 14 acres of property. Do I have to fence my whole 14 acres to raise four calves or a half dozen goats or whatever?”

Bartlett said it was up to the property owner what portion of their property they’d want to fence but said animal owners would have to fence the area of their property that they wanted their animals to roam.

“A responsible farmer is going to be responsible no matter what we do and if you have animals for income producing purposes, you’re going to take care of them,” Tarlton said. “… I just think that these ordinances sometimes are too hard, to hard on the public in general.”

She said when the board restricts people, they harm themselves and their community.

The proposed ordinance cited the “boundary line of each lot or tract of land or any stream in the county shall be a lawful fence as to any livestock,” noting that a boundary may be defined as a stream — such as a creek, river or other body of water —  that would keep animals from leaving their property.

David Emert

“It shall be unlawful for any person to allow or permit any livestock, as defined herinabove or poultry or fowl of any description owned by him or her or under his or her control, to stray upon any highway or public property,” the proposed ordinance cited. The ordinance also cited livestock, poultry or other fowl shall be sufficiently confined or fenced by the owner or person exercising control over the same so as to prevent them from trespassing or straying.

The ordinance stipulated a maximum $250 penalty that a judge could render if someone is found in violation of the law.

Lockett District Supervisor and Board Chairman Robert M. “Bobby” Jones said prior to the vote that the ordinance may need a few areas of tweaking.

“I rent a fair amount of pasture from some people; we need to make sure that… the owner of the cattle is the one to be fined, not the property owner,” Jones said.

“I have neighbors that I help put the cows back in when things happen and that’s not a problem, I don’t mind doing that,” Timmons said. “I do have a little problem with when they don’t fix the fences and the cows back out … Then it becomes my responsibility, under the way I hear (the speakers) talking, my responsibility … if I don’t want (livestock) on my property then I have to fence my property to keep your property off my property, and I don’t go with that.”

The approved motion stipulates that Ennis will meet with four farmers from the Prince Edward County Farm Bureau to revise the proposed ordinance and put on paper the policy that county animal control officers will use in enforcing the ordinance.

According to Ennis, the proposed ordinance would have allowed a warning to animal owners who have had an animal escape their permitted boundary prior to issuing the owner the $250 civil penalty.