Chickens poke around on a snowy Friday in this file photo.

The legality of keeping chickens in Belgrade is now entirely up to citizens, after the city council voted Monday not to consider the matter for the fifth time in 10 years.

During the public comment portion of this week’s meeting, two people asked the council to reconsider an ordinance that would permit residents to keep as many as six hens in their back yards. The council voted down the same proposal in December 2018, in keeping with former council decisions to deny chickens in 2014, 2010 and 2009.

Prior to Monday’s vote, Mayor Russ Nelson suggested it would be better to let the community at large make the decision than for the council to take it up yet again.

“If citizens bring enough signatures, we could put it on the ballot,” he said. “It will allow both sides to go out and campaign.”

In order to place the referendum on the ballot, proponents need to gather signatures from 15 percent of Belgrade’s registered voters, explained City Manager Ted Barkley. There likely isn’t time to complete the process and paperwork in time for the November 2020 election, but it could be done sometime next year. The cost to the city would be about $5,000, though the election cost would be shared if a chicken referendum appears on the same ballot as another city measure.

Nelson cast the deciding vote against reconsidering a chicken ordinance, after council members split on the question of whether to add it to their docket in August.

Chicken advocates will be on the sidewalk in front of the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce on Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. gathering signatures to place the issue on the ballot.