By Isabella Alves

The residents of Sandoval County may not be able to feed their four-legged neeeeeigh-bors any longer.

At its Jan. 25 meeting, the Sandoval County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to publish notice of a proposed ordinance that would restrict the feeding of certain wildlife – particularly wild horses near Placitas that the Sheriff’s Office said have been wandering near homes causing safety hazards on roadways. 

At the request of Commission Chair David Heil, the public will have at least 30 days after publication to provide public input on the proposal, instead of the usual 14 days.

That means that the ordinance could be adopted as soon as the commission’s March 8 meeting. A public hearing may or may not be prior to the commission voting on the proposed ordinance, County Attorney Michael Eshleman told the Signpost after the meeting.

The proposed ordinance, which was still being drafted, would exclude restrictions on feeding birds and is mostly aimed at keeping people from feeding free roaming horses in the Placitas area.

The proposed ordinance was presented by Allen Mills, chief deputy of the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. He said the horses have become a hazard for motorists, particularly on NM 165 near mile marker 4.

“We just had one in the last seven days where a horse was hit,” he said. “That is an area where people have been feeding them.

“I’m not a horse expert, (but) it is my belief that they go to that area because they are being fed by residents in that area.”

Mills emphasized the ordinance wouldn’t affect people with bird feeders, only the specific wildlife listed in the ordinance. The animals affected include bison, goats, sheep, aoudad, kudu, oryx, pronghorn, elk, deer, horses and bears, according to the proposed ordinance. 

If approved, the ordinance would make feeding wildlife, including leaving salt blocks out for horses, a crime punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $300 fine. 

Residents who wanted to feed livestock would have to apply for a $10 permit from the Sandoval County’s Planning and Zoning Department. The permit would allow residents to feed wildlife for up to 30 days, according to the draft of the proposed ordinance. 

This is not a new matter. The commission previously discussed the topic, but no formal action was taken to address the matter in the past.

Mills said the strategy has been to try and reason with residents, mainly in Placitas, about feeding the horses.

“Some of these horses literally go in people’s garages to eat hay, and it’s causing issues,” he said. “It’s come to a point where we just need some kind of action.”

Commissioner Jay Block said the meetings they’ve had in the past over feeding wildlife were a complete failure because no one could agree on anything. He asked Mills if the ordinance was modeled off any similar country ordinances. 

Attorney Eshleman said it was not and was basically being drafted from scratch.

Block said he’d like to see what other counties are doing before the commission takes a vote on the proposed ordinance. He said he’d like to have more information and not “reinvent the wheel.”

District 1 Commissioner Katherine Bruch, who represents Placitas, recommended pushing notice of the ordinance to be published in the next week or so. 

“We will certainly have feedback from the community as this is published,” Bruch said. “I do think this is an ongoing issue, and I applaud the efforts of the Sheriff’s Office … on how to help our problem, which in my opinion, is a people problem not an animal problem, because some of the choices that certain individuals are making that are putting others, animals and humans at risk.”

Mills said he felt action was needed because the problem is causing “horses to get killed, it’s causing people’s cars to get crashed and it’s causing property to be damaged. Some things are like, just common sense.”

In other business, the commission voted to hire John Garcia as the new deputy county manager, at the recommendation of County Manager Wayne Johnson. Garcia previously worked as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s General Services Department Secretary. 

Garcia served as secretary since late 2021, according to a news release, and helped create the Buy New Mexico initiative, as well as working on the first daycare center in a state facility for employees. He previously worked as tourism secretary under Gov. Gary Johnson and he was executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico. 

When he left state government, Garcia listed personal reasons for his resignation.

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