Commissioners to consider putting urban chickens on November ballot

During discussion of the updated animal code at the last City Commission meeting, several speakers asked commissioners to consider legalizing urban chickens in the city limits once again.

Under the current ordinance, chickens are included in the definition of livestock and prohibited within the city limits, except in the R-1 residential rural zoning districts.

About 20 letters in support of urban chickens were sent to commissioners in addition to comments at the June 20 public hearing and Mayor Bob Kelly directed city staff to look into putting chickens on the November ballot to put the matter to bed.

Commissioner Bill Bronson, Fred Burow and Tracy Houck supported exploring the options for putting chickens on the ballot. Commissioner Bob Jones remains opposed to revisiting the issue of urban chickens.

Chickens are back on the agenda for the July 5 commission meeting and commissioners will consider a resolution to add chickens to the November ballot for $1,000 to $2,000.

Commission approves animal code revision, chickens remain prohibited

The proposed ballot language is “Do you support allowing property owners to maintain domestic chicken hens, within the incorporated Great Falls City limits, subject to regulation established by the Official Code of the City of Great Falls?”

The ballot measure will be a simple yes or no question and if more than 50 percent of voters say yes, the city will adopt an ordinance to regulate hens in the city limits.

Staff is recommending that if commissioner are serious about putting chickens on the ballot they should do it for the November ballot since a special election would cost significantly more.

To get chickens on the ballot, commissioners will first have to approve the proposed resolution during the July 5 meeting.

The resolution reads, “whereas, the City Commission has received support from members of the community requesting the city allow property owners to maintain domestic chicken hens within the incorporated city limits; and whereas, the City Commission has also received opposition from members of the community requesting that the city continue to prohibit property owners to maintain domestic chicken hens within the incorporated city limits, as set forth by the Official Code of the City of Great Falls; and whereas, the City Commission has determined that this significant policy change should decided by the city electorate.”

The issue will also be discussed during the work session prior to the regular commission meeting.

Citizens who want to provide input on the proposed ordinance regarding urban chickens are encouraged to attend the work session, public hearing or call the City Attorney’s office at 455-8578.

The proposed poultry ordinance would allow for people in Great Falls to keep up to four hens so long as they obtain a Domestic Hen Permit from the Great Falls Animal Shelter. The permit will have an annual fee that will be established by another commission resolution.

The ordinance would require anyone wanting to keep hens to first get a permit from the city and only one permit will be issued per premise. The ordinance would require inspections of the property and will prohibit keeping roosters over the age of three months in the city. Anyone with a chicken permit must place and keep leg or wing bands on all chickens displaying the permit holder’s permit number.

To keep hens in the city, the proposed ordinance would require a covered, secure, predator-proof outdoor chicken enclosure, that is of sufficient size to admit free movement of the chickens and a covered, predator-proof outdoor chicken house that is thoroughly ventilated, of sufficient size to admit free movement of the chickens, and designed and built to be easily accessed, cleaned and maintained.

Coops must be located no less than 30 feet from any dwelling occupied by a person or persons as measured from the exterior wall of the chicken coop to the closest exterior wall of the adjacent dwelling and in no case can the coop be located closer than 15 feet to any property line as measured from the nearest exterior wall of the chicken coop to such property line.

The ordinance would prohibit chickens at large and all chickens shall be kept in shelters from sunset to sunrise.

A conviction of any violation of the proposed ordinance would be a misdemeanor punishable by a term of no more than six months in jail, a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars or both. Under the proposed ordinance, the court could also order any, or all, of the following conditions:

  • Relinquishment of any maintained domestic hens;
  • Relinquishment of any rooster(s) over the age of three months;
  • Revocation of the Domestic Hen Permit; or
  • Destruction of and/or removal of any shelter maintained under the code.