The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.
Our County Commissioners have decided they want the county to use the “local option” fencing law in lieu of the new law passed by the legislature this past session. There are three significant differences between the new and old law (and the new law and the “local option”). One is the definition of a legal fence. The old law allowed 15 feet between posts; the new allows 12. Some older fences would no longer be legal under the new law.
The major difference is who pays for the fence. Under the “local option,” landowners must pay half the cost of the fence, whether or not they have livestock. Under the new law landowners who don’t own livestock don’t have to pay. The new law also codifies responsibilities for maintaining a fence.
This issue is valid for consideration as it affects every rural property in the county. As the nature of rural areas changes from strictly agricultural to a mix of rural residential and agriculture, there are more people who don’t have livestock and who are unfamiliar with country traditions on fence constructions and maintenance.
Our County Commission decided to hold a hearing on this important issue on Christmas Eve, a time when few property owners would be able to attend. Naturally, the meeting was dominated by livestock interests who would much prefer that neighbors pay half the cost of their fences right off the bat, instead of getting a lien against any future livestock added by the neighbor.
The question is one of fairness. Should the row crop farmer or small landowner have to subsidize the fences of the livestock operator? Should the small landowner bear any responsibility for the fences that protect his property against trespass by others’ livestock? Should the County Commission have held a hearing with minimal legal notice during a holiday period? Should the County Commission have the right to decide who pays without a vote of the people, as advocated by one commissioner? It looks like we’ll have a chance to decide in 2004. I know what I think.
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