An eventful Sandoval County Commission meeting Wednesday saw the resurrection of a proposed ban on feeding wild horses in Placitas, an issue that has caused fiery debates, feuds between neighbors and was seemingly over after being voted down at the last meeting on March 22.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Deputy County Manager John Garcia and Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Allen Mills presented a “motion to approve the publication of an ordinance to ban the general public from feeding certain wildlife within the Sandoval County Area.”
“Free-roaming horses are unique and special to the community of Placitas and unincorporated Sandoval County,” Garcia said. “The Sandoval County Commission has responsibility for the safety, health and welfare of the community. Public safety and long-term welfare of the horses must be managed to ensure the public, the horses and the community itself can live together allowing for balance and stability. The approach for Sandoval County will be to develop both the short- and long-term plan for managing the situation. In the short term, a ban on feeding horses will be established to mitigate safety issues for public, especially near roadways and common traffic areas.”
The revised ordinance would establish a permitting process for third parties to feed the horses safely, with only nonprofit organizations eligible for the permit.
District 1 Commissioner Katherine Bruch, who represents Placitas, continued her support for the ban.
“I do think we’ve gathered quite a bit of additional information over the previous period when we posted the last ordinance,” Bruch said. “And I do think that I have done quite a bit of outreach to individuals and community members, and so we do have some additional meetings scheduled.”
After some spirited debate between Garcia and District 2 Commissioner Jay Block, the motion was approved by a vote of 4-1. The ordinance will be be published 14 days prior to final action in a newspaper of general circulation as is required by state law.
In 2014, the county commissioned a task force administered by the nonpartisan policy organization New Mexico First to share information and suggest solutions for the humane treatment of the horses, sustainability of the environment, and potential actions for residents, neighborhoods and government agencies. The report offered a sound mix of potential next steps.
In the fall of 2018, Sandoval County asked for Placitas residents to take a simple feedback survey in order to determine community desire as prospective legal and humane solutions continue to be contemplated. The county also created a Free Roaming Horses Advisory Council to formulate ideas and plans to address the issue.
Block had several issues with the ban being reintroduced, one of which was he considered the March 22 vote against the ban to be the final action on an issue the county has been dealing with for years.
“I kind of thought no meant no when we as the governing board voted this down because the people didn’t want it,” Block said. “And now it’s kind of getting shoved down our throats again. And I’m just curious, if we publish this and then it comes back and we talked about it and vote it down again, when is it coming back for the third time? This is a really stupid thing to do to come back to us and ask us to do this when we said no already. Apparently that didn’t mean anything.”
Block also raised concerns that the actual ordinance was not attached to the motion, which was also an issue on March 22 when the ban was voted down.
“This is the second meeting in a row — the second in a row,” Block said. “Commissioner Bruch tried to talk about a permitting process that none of us saw, and I said this is bad government and here we are again. ‘Hey Commissioner Block we really want your support on this, pass this.’ What do you want me to support when I haven’t read it? This is the first time I’ve ever heard of it. I don’t know how many times in the past six-plus years I have been up here saying don’t put us in this position. Don’t do it. You know, it drives me crazy. It triggers me. It just triggers me.”
Block was the only commissioner to vote against publication of the ordinance.
“The county has been dealing with this for about 10 years, (Block) respectfully, he’s bringing up a procedural issue which is fine, but a gentleman in the audience said earlier, were’s the leadership,” Garcia responded. “The leadership is here right now today. If we don’t do anything, the situation becomes worse. Horses aren’t being fed the correct thing they need to eat. They’re getting hurt. The cattle guards aren’t working. We’ve tried sterilization. So we’ve tried a lot of things, if we tripped up on a procedural thing. Today is that publication is the only thing that we’re asking you to do. To let you and the community digest it for two weeks, then you take action.”