Essex County Board of Supervisors
Taking care of 26 horses can be an expensive proposition, one that members of the Essex County Board of Supervisors debated during its Oct. 7 regular board meeting.
“Are we responsible to get into this cruelty business?” Willsboro Supervisor Ed Hatch asked. “Is this something that is just going to add on and add on?”
Hatch asked the question as board members moved a pair of resolutions, one allowing the county to set up a bank account for monies donated to help care for horses that were taken last month from the farm of Shelley Wing in Essex, and the other contracting for professional services to lead in the care of the animals. Wing and her daughter, Emily Wing, have been charged with not properly caring for the horses in Essex Town Court.
Hatch said he felt the policies in place regarding animal cruelty were vague and could leave the door open for more costs to the county.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava agreed.
“I had a case where the DA was prosecuting dog cruelty, and we ended up picking up the entire bill for the vet care of the dog,” Scozzafava said. “I’ve never seen where the county has been the responsible party in a situation like this. It is a gray area, and this could set a precedent. I recommend that we get someone up here from Ag and Markets to go through this with us.”
“In reality, these horses have become evidence for the District Attorneys’ office and they become partially our responsibility,” County Manager Daniel Palmer said.
“In the case at hand, we have to recognize that the county has a sheriff’s department and there is a requirement that they uphold the laws,” Lewis Supervisor and animal cruelty task force co-chair David Blades said. “Because this was an Essex County case and the department was the lead, there is a requirement now that the county takes care of the horses for evidence purposes and care for them until the case is resolved.”
Scozzafava said he felt the county should not be solely responsible for the bill.
“We have dealt with everything from goats to gerbils in my town,” he said. “We need to clearly identify what is the towns’ responsibility and what is the county responsibility. When you look at that county budget, there are a lot of things that we are doing for the towns, including mine, which really should be something that the towns are doing for themselves.”
Palmer said the county is working civilly to get compensation from Wing to care for the horses. He said if she cannot pay for their care, the horses could become property of the county.
“Once the judge makes a determination this person cannot come up with the funds to take care of the horses, then we can begin the process of adoption and that cannot be appealed,” he said.
Douglas said the county is working through several agencies, including ASPCA, to secure grant monies.
“There is a very good possibility because of the grant funding that is available, we should be able to secure enough that would make it so it would not cost this county one dime in the end,” Douglas said.
There was also debate over hiring a person to care for the horses and lead volunteer efforts.
“I agree these horses need to be cared for,” Scozzafava said, “but how many years have I been trying to get help through social services for these apartments where children are living in pig styes and they will not agree to do it. Then look at everything that we are doing for these horses. It’s frustrating.”
“What we are looking for is someone to organize the volunteers,” Palmer said. “We are looking for someone experienced enough to make sure that everything is being done right. We felt like we had reached the point where we need to stop asking for volunteers and start getting someone in with experience.”
Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow had a problem with the contracted rate of $25 an hour.
“That is a lot more than we pay some of our employees who are taking care of people,” Morrow said.
Douglas said the hiring pertained to making sure the horses received the best care possible.
“It is about the specialty of care that is needed in this situation,” Douglas said. “I can go down there and volunteer to clean the poop out of the stalls, but I do not know what the right thing is to feed them or what care they need.”
Michael Marnell said he felt the matter was one of two choices.
“I do not like having to take care of these horses that are there because someone else did not take care of them, but we have two choices, take care of them or go out and dig a big hole and put them all in the ground,” Marnell said. “If we decided not to take care of them, we will have this town lined with protesters.”
“We have been talking about the legal issues here, but there is also the moral issue,” Newcomb Supervisor George Canon said.
“At this point, we do have a moral obligation,” Scozzafava agreed. “But don’t kid yourselves to think that this can be resolved by Dec. 15. This case can drag on and on and on.”
Connell also expressed concerns that with a paid supervisor for the horses, volunteers may no longer want to help for free.
“Once the volunteers stop coming, then we will have to look at hiring someone else and we keep getting deeper,” Connell said.
Both resolutions passed, the one to create an account for donations unanimously while Connell voted against the paid supervisor. Crown Point Supervisor Charles Harrington voted, “reluctantly, yes.”