Sandoval County held its second public meeting concerning a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal to feed free-roaming horses without a permit on Wednesday in advance of a vote by the county commission on May 24.
Deputy County Manager John Garcia led what he said was intended to be a “public discussion” on what has been a hotly contested issue in Placitas. One of the goals of the discussion at the Placitas Senior Center, he said, was to keep the conversation going and ultimately form a “working group” to address a longstanding issue in Placitas.
The ultimate goal is to create an ideal situation where humans and horses coexist cooperatively, “but we need to manage it,” Garcia said.
That would include designated feeding areas and continuation of a contraceptive program.
While the proposed ordinance would apply to the entire county, it is particularly pertinent to Placitas where horses wandering onto roads has become a safety hazard. There have been three collisions involving horses and vehicles traveling on NM 165 since 2022, each resulting in the death of a horse and totaled vehicles.
The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department, which introduced the ordinance, say that horses are being lured to busy roads in search of handouts. The proposed ordinance, which would make violators subject to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine under a misdemeanor offense, is intended to help keep the horse population in open spaces and off roads.
But Garcia said the county has no intention of making criminals out of people. “It’s trying to mitigate a safety problem,” he said.
There are other reasons why the county is looking to pass an ordinance, the possibility of future lawsuits being one of them.
“Government entities get sued all the time,” he said.
Garcia said if the county is aware of a safety issue, it has a duty to the public, and a legal duty, to address it. The county would be susceptible to a lawsuit if it knew, or should have known, of a safety risk and failed to address it.
Garcia explained that the ordinance would serve as the law addressing the safety risk. An accompanying resolution, which will also be voted on May 24, establishes a permit process that would allow feeding.
However, as written, only 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that have demonstrated horse management experience are eligible to apply. Garcia said the requirement for being a 501(c)(3) could be removed from the proposal by the time the commission votes on it.
The proposal originally allowed for providing water for horses, but that was taken out. Providing water would fall under the restriction for providing horses with food and other “nutrients,” Garcia said.
One woman in the audience thought that inhumane, calling it “unconscionable.”
Others in the audience of about 35 people objected to various aspects of the ordinance, complaining the county hasn’t provided supporting data to its claim that expanding patrols and speed enforcement “will not be effective.”
Garcia had to manage decorum throughout the meeting and did ask one woman to leave the meeting, which she did without incident.
A Sheriff’s deputy was also present if things got out of hand.
Another man, who early in the meeting had complained that a vote on the ordinance at the next meeting would be in violation of the Open Meetings Act, created the meeting’s only outburst. He said the way the county was going about addressing the issue was the “most BS thing” he’d ever seen.
He voluntarily left the meeting, but before he did advocated for the idea of posting “inherent risk” signs on the road into Placitas.
Similar to signs at ballparks that warn fans they take on an inherent risk of being struck by a foul ball, the sign could slow traffic and provide the county with a legal defense.
Garcia thought that was a great idea and thanked him for the suggestion.
He said that such signs, and installing cattle guards at some locations to keep horses off the busiest roads, were “on the table” for consideration.
The county commission will be voting on a proposed ordinance to restrict the feeding of wild horses for the second time this year.
The proposal was defeated on a 3-2 vote in March in what was the latest attempt to address an issue raised a decade ago. Previous efforts have dissolved over divisions between various factions.
The May 24 county commission meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the County Administrative Building, 1500 Idalia Road in Bernalillo. It can also be viewed on the county’s website: www.sandovalcountynm.gov.
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