chickens

Belgrade chicken lovers are getting closer to their goal of gathering 793 signatures to place owning backyard chickens on the ballot.

While the current political focus is mostly trained on the issues and candidates to be decided on Nov. 3, a handful of Belgrade residents is working hard to secure a spot on the ballot for a measure to be considered a year from now.

Ashley Fiske is among those who favors asking Belgrade voters next November to legalize the keeping of backyard chickens inside the city limits. She said proponents have gathered more than 500 of the 793 signatures required to put the decision in voters’ hands next fall.

“We’ll definitely make our goal, but we’re not quite there yet,” Fiske told the Belgrade News this week.

The chicken proponents have until mid-November to collect nearly 800 valid signatures, and they are pecking away at it a little at a time.

“We’re going door-to-door on weeknights after work, collecting about 20 a day,” Fiske said, adding that she has so far turned in around 400 signatures to the Gallatin County Elections department. Because the office is so busy managing the 2020 election, officials haven’t had time to verify the signatures and provide an accurate count of how many of them are valid. For that reason, Fiske said the group has set a goal to collect 1,000 signatures to ensure that it meets the 793 valid signature threshold.

This past summer, chicken proponents asked the City Council to reconsider passing a proposed 2018 ordinance that would allow residents to keep chickens inside the city limits. In 2018, the council voted down that ordinance as it had done with similar proposals in 2014, 2010 and 2009.

Mayor Russ Nelson suggested it would be better for the citizens of Belgrade to decide the matter for themselves, rather than for the council to conduct another series of lengthy public hearings before voting on the question again. The council agreed to turn the process over to the citizens, and city staff and county elections officials helped the chicken proponents start an official petition.

Assuming that the required signatures are obtained in time, voters will be asked to consider the previously defeated 2018 ordinance. If passed, it would permit residents of single-family homes on lots larger than 7,000 square feet to keep as many as six hens or six mixed-sex domestic chickens under the age of 3 months, or any combination thereof not to exceed six total chickens per permit holder. Roosters would not be permitted. The complete ordinance is posted on the city’s website.

Fiske encourages anyone who would like to help circulate the petition to contact her at (406) 459-9059 or e-mail CoopTroopBelgrade@gmail.com.

“We really need all the help we can get in the next few weeks,” she said.