By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers argued Monday about who should pay for the care and feeding of 40 horses seized from Wing and a Prayer Farm in the Town of Essex.
There had been 41 equines taken in mid September by the County Sheriff’s Department from farm owner Shelley Wing, but one died recently, County Manager Daniel Palmer said.
Wing and her daughter, Emily Wing, 20, face 41 misdemeanor counts of failing to provide sustenance in violation of State Agriculture and Markets Law.
At a civil hearing today, the farm owner must post a $43,890 bond to avoid forfeiture of the horses to the county.
WILL HIRE TRAINER
The horse that died was among those housed in the horse barns at the Essex County Fairgrounds in Westport, and the rest are on private farms.
Volunteers have been feeding and grooming the horses at the fairgrounds, but on Monday, the County Board of Supervisors voted 17 to 1 to contract with a certified and insured horse trainer at $25 an hour for their care.
Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) voted no because he thought the volunteers were doing a good job and that a paid worker wasn’t needed.
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said he could not find anything in state law that makes the county responsible for the horses.
“We’ve dealt with everything from goats to gerbils in Moriah,” he said. “We need to clarify what’s the town’s responsibility and what’s the county’s responsibility.”
Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) said the Sheriff’s Department was upholding the laws of the state when the seizures were made.
“Because the Sheriff’s Department was the lead on this case, there’s a requirement the county follow through on maintaining the horses for evidentiary purposes and to make sure the horses are properly cared for until there’s a resolution of the case,” he said.
Palmer said the volunteers will still be needed but will get professional supervision now.
“We’re looking for someone who is experienced to make sure people aren’t putting themselves in jeopardy.”
Supervisor Margaret Bartley (D-Elizabethtown) said the county should seek compensation from Wing and a Prayer Farm if Wing is found guilty.
“The safety of the volunteers is first and foremost, which is why we can’t have that liability,” Supervisor Sharon Boisen (I-Essex) said.
The county also set up a separate bank account for donated funds for the care of the horses.
“This obviously is going to be very expensive for the taxpayers of Essex County,” Scozzafava said. “I agree these horses need to be cared for.”
Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said the county is trying to get a grant from the National SPCA for the horses.
“I don’t want to mislead the public,” he said. “Grant funding is available. We’re working on ensuring that money. It might not cost this county one dime.”
‘THERE IS A PROCESS’
Palmer said that after today’s civil hearing they will know whether the county owns the horses.
“If she (Wing) comes up with the bond money, it (the case) will continue. We don’t have anybody working for the county who has the expertise to care for these horses.”
Palmer reminded the supervisors there are two separate proceedings: civil on the requested horse forfeiture and criminal on the neglect allegations.
“There been numerous people looking to adopt these horses,” Douglas said. “There is a process.”
If the court gives the county ownership of the equines, finding new homes for them can begin immediately, Palmer said.
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