UNION COUNTY — Local livestock owners were somewhat relieved on Thursday after a meeting to address the county animal control ordinance.
Don Sawyer, president of the Union County Livestock Association, welcomed livestock owners to a meeting held Thursday evening at the Clemson Extension office to address the livestock section of the Union County animal control ordinance. Sawyer said he knew from phone calls that emotions were running high, and he asked that those in attendance keep the meeting calm and productive.
Jake Black, who is vice president of the Union County Livestock Association as well as a county employee, also asked everyone to remain civil, and he mentioned the history of the ordinance. Black said local livestock issues needed to be addressed in 2011, and Union County Animal Control Officer Heather Sealy was approached to create an ordinance. Sealy came to a livestock association meeting in 2012 with a form, asking members to fill out the form (voluntarily), giving information such as contact information and livestock locations. She also said an ordinance was being put together. Black said he later took the ordinance to another meeting, and issues were found with it. He then brought concerns to county council. County council members formed a committee to look at possible changes. Meetings included Sealy, Black, county investigator Roxie Belue, the Union County Sheriff’s Office, 911, a representative from Fowken Farm, council member and livestock owner Tommy Ford, and others.
County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair then explained the intent of the ordinance, discussing an incident in which a large percentage of county employees had to round up loose cows on U.S. 176 several years ago.
“The intent was never anything but managing loose livestock on the road,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair also said that the section of the ordinance involving livestock (Section 15.5) would be removed because the county was informed by attorneys that it could not be enforced as written because counties cannot pass enforcement that supersedes the state right-to-farm laws.
Sinclair said the recommendation would be made to county council to remove Section 15.5 from the ordinance, and the process would begin in August. Sinclair also pointed out that there was a public hearing about the ordinance, and when concerns were expressed, the decision was made not to enforce the livestock section until concerns could be resolved.
Belue also spoke about the livestock section of the ordinance.
“I think we all realized some things that were not supposed to be there shouldn’t have been there and needed to be taken out,” she said.
She also said there have been 28 animal-in-the-roadway calls since February, and those cases are at the officer’s discretion in the case of an accident such as a fallen tree on a fence. She said the intent was for repeat offenders by whom negligence has been proven.
“We’re not after people who generally keep up their livestock,” she said. “Our intent was never to hurt the majority of the livestock owners. It was to try to get a balance and save money in the long run.”
Livestock owners were urged to fill out paperwork, listing animals owned, address, and contact information to help the county handle loose livestock. Belue said the owner of the loose livestock could be contacted, or in some cases, neighbors could be contacted to help with the situation or contact the owners. Any farmers who would like to voluntarily fill out the paperwork may do so by calling 864-429-2808 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Livestock owner Evans Crocker said he wanted to clarify why so many people attended the meeting and why they were upset. He said the punitive aspect of the law, with fines of $25 per day per animal, is what upset everyone.
Patrick Kelly said livestock owners received letters stating they would be heavily penalized if animals were not registered.
“Shouldn’t it have been finalized and corrected before it was sent out to everybody,” Kelly asked.
County officials agreed that it should have been corrected before it was sent out.
The Union County Livestock Association typically meets four times per year to discuss farming-related subjects, and members receive meals at meetings as well as a monthly newsletter and membership to the state cattleman’s association. The next meeting will take place Sept. 11 at the Clemson Extension office.