City debates backyard chickens referendum


Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

DeKalb City Council member, Bill Finucane reviews the agenda for the meeting on July 27th.

Kierra Frazier, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — The April ballot could include a referendum to allow DeKalb residents to have backyard chickens after council members had a back-and-forth debate at Monday night’s meeting. 

A vote to include a resolution involving the use of backyard chickens to be a part of the April ballot for the next council meeting passed 7-1; Second Ward Alderperson Bill Finucane voted against it. 

Most of Monday night’s meeting was spent on a consideration to regulate backyard chickens in DeKalb. A total of 12 letters from residents were sent and read during the meeting in support of the consideration. 

“These letters that we received are obviously the most robust arguments that I’ve ever seen on one issue come to the council at once,” First Ward Alderperson Caroyln Morris said. 

The measure comes after an online petition, which has over 500 signatures, of those in support of citizen-owned backyard chickens.

DeKalb resident Brittany Schaefer spearheaded the petition and said that backyard chickens are a win financially and environmentally. 

“Please don’t continue to tell us we can’t responsibly own chickens,” Schaefer said. “I have been disappointed with the lack of responsiveness from some of our alderpeople on this issue. My fellow residents and I have heard everything from silence to ‘you should move to the country if you want chickens.’” 

City Manager Bill Nicklas recommended that the council shouldn’t take up any further consideration regarding the measure, due to health risks like salmonella and not enough city funding to enforce the practice.

“There is no money for it,” Nicklas said. “If you want me to find the money for it, tell me what you don’t want me to spend money on. I think Alderman Perkins hit it right on the nose, it has to be revenue-neutral, and I can’t right now tell you where we’re going to pull that money.” 

Schaefer said she spoke to other city leaders from different towns who have said there is no cost to allow backyard chickens, or it could be covered by a permit fee. 

Morris and Fifth Ward Alderperson Scott McAdams initially brought the consideration to the agenda. The two alderpersons argued that other cities such as Chicago, Naperville, St. Charles, Sugar Grove and more allow backyard chickens with few complaints. 

“We have numerous cities that are doing this with no real significant issues,” Morris said. “I don’t think it’s our role to be the paternalistic body who tells people how they can responsibly use their private property.” 

Finucane said he couldn’t support the measure due to the health risks backyard chickens pose, such as salmonella. 

“With COVID-19, why would we want to introduce another source of disease into the city, we already have enough problems,” Finucane said. 

Clare Kron, chair of the DeKalb Citizens’ Environmental Commission, said that allowing backyard chickens is a service to humanity, not a threat that can’t be underestimated.

“The usual complaint regarding disease is the spread of salmonella,” Kron said. “I want to stress that salmonella is not a communicable disease. It’s a contact infection that can be eliminated for any individual using proper hygiene.” 

This isn’t the first time the City of DeKalb has considered allowing backyard chickens. In 2011, a conversation to lift the ban on urban chickens began but was rejected by the council in 2012, according to the Aug. 24 city council agenda. In late 2018, the topic was brought back up again, but the Environmental Commission tabled the discussion in spring 2019.

Fourth Ward Alderperson Greg Perkins said he grew up on a farm with chickens and can understand why residents are advocating for the issue. 

“There’s a reason it’s come up two, three or four times, people are interested in it,” Perkins said. “I like the advisory referendum thought, I’d be curious about what next steps would be for something like that to really give people a voice in it.”