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Public will have input on horse proposal

GATESVILLE – Apparently, Gates County citizens are just as passionate about the welfare of animals as those making the rules regarding the same.

Those citizens will have an opportunity to “speak their minds” about the future of animal control within Gates County during a public meeting set for a 7 p.m. start on Monday, July 21 in the courtroom of the county courthouse.

This widely debated issue has been ongoing for at least one year with the majority of the focus on horses. Public input over the past several months during meetings of the Gates County Board of Commissioners has centered on horse owners who are allegedly not properly caring for their horses. There have been claims of animal cruelty, including overcrowding of horses on limited pasture land.

The Gates County Planning Board, at its June 17 meeting, addressed the overcrowding issue. By a 5-2 vote, the board suggested changing the county’s Zoning Ordinance that would require individuals keeping horses on their property have two acres of cleared pasture per horse. This acreage excludes the acre of land on which the home is situated.

The proposal is two acres per horse, meaning if a property owner has two horses, they must have five total acres of land (one for the residence and four acres of cleared pasture).

This recommendation was forwarded to the Gates County Board of Commissioners who held a discussion on the issue at their meeting last week.

Prior to that discussion, Gates County Planning and Development Services Director Randy Cahoon interjected his personal thoughts, saying he thought the Planning Board’s suggestion was “a bit too much.”

“I feel that this action amounts to a rush to judgment (by the Planning Board) based on pressure from a citizens group that appeared before your board in August 2007,” Cahoon stated. “I feel that animal control is not a planning issue, but a law enforcement issue.”

Cahoon said after speaking to the state Institute of Government about the issue, he agreed with their opinion of dropping the proposal.

However, the Commissioners had other ideas.

“I would like to see the public have some input on this,” Commissioner Carlton Nickens said.

“I’ve had several calls on this, some for and some against,” Commissioner Kenneth Jernigan added. “I think we need to gauge public opinion.”

“This is not an issue where it appears we want our citizens to get rid of their horses, it’s an issue where we encourage them to take proper care of their horses,” Commission Chairman J.S. Pierce stated.

With that, Pierce polled his fellow board members on whether or not to hold a public meeting. The answer was a collective “yes.”

Commissioner Graham Twine motioned for the public meeting to be held at 7 p.m. in the courtroom (in order to accommodate more people) on July 21. The motion passed without objection.