Island towns are busy preparing for an annual town meeting season unlike any other, putting up massive tents, planning for outdoor seating, paring down warrants, hoping to lower quorums and looking to pass historically austere budgets as the coronavirus pandemic reshapes the centuries-old tradition of the New England town meeting.

Long held in April and early May, annual town meetings were all delayed until June this year due to the pandemic.

Every town has relocated its meeting to an outdoor venue, and one (West Tisbury) has relocated it meeting out of town (to Oak Bluffs). All have cut back warrants to include only the essential spending items and slashed operating budgets. Town budgets must be certified by June 30, the last day of the fiscal year.

“This is the bare essentials,” Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty told the Gazette.

Quorum requirements remain unsettled, as a bill that would allow towns to lower their quorums to 10 per cent the normal required attendance has ricocheted between the house and senate on Beacon Hill.

Both Edgartown and West Tisbury, which have the two largest quorum requirements on the Island at 200 and 130 respectively, are counting on the bill to pass, concerned that a low turnout could put budgets in jeopardy. If the bill fails to pass in time, Edgartown is prepared to seek relief in Superior Court to lower the quorum. But West Tisbury is counting on the bill to pass, town administrator Jennifer Rand said.

“Our instinct is that it will pass,” Ms. Rand said. “They are just fiddling with the details.”

Other towns will keep their quorums the same, confident that enough voters will arrive if social-distancing protocols are in place. Face coverings will be required along with a six-foot distance among voters. Towns have prepared to set up sound systems and portable bathrooms outside for the occasion.

The much-altered 2020 schedule kicks off on Monday with the Chilmark annual town meeting. The meeting is set to take begin at 5:30 p.m. on the basketball court outside the Chilmark Community Center. The warrant has been trimmed down to 18 articles.

The Edgartown and Tisbury annual town meetings will be held on Saturday, June 13.

The Edgartown meeting, normally held at night at the Old Whaling Church, will begin at 1:30 p.m. and take place under a large tent on the back lawn of the Edgartown School. The town has slimmed a 90-article warrant to 53 articles, removing nearly $2 million in expenditures, including vehicle purchases, cost of living increases for town employees and other measures. Moderator Sean Murphy will preside.

“We have a tent. We have a sound system. We have portapotties,” Mr. Hagerty said.

A capital expenditure article for a land purchase involving the Edgartown Boys and Girls Club will remain on the warrant.

Tisbury convenes its meeting on Saturday, June 13 at 1:30 p.m., on the Tisbury School playground. Longtime moderator Deborah Medders will preside.

The town finance committee is recommending no action on more than 20 articles on the annual and special town meeting warrants, including a proposal that would eliminate polystyrene in town and a proposed plastic bottle bylaw. Cost of living increases for town employees, software for the cemetery and the purchase of pickup trucks are all on hold.

A proposed bylaw amendment that would allow alcohol service without a meal will remain on the warrant.

Oak Bluffs will convene its annual town meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 16 at the Tabernacle. Just under half the original warrant articles have been put off to a special town meeting in the fall. Voters attending the meeting are asked to enter through Trinity Park Road in order to maintain proper social distance.

Moderator Jack Law 3rd will preside.

West Tisbury and Aquinnah will convene their meetings on Tuesday, June 23.

The West Tisbury meeting will take place at the Oak Bluffs Tabernacle at 4 p.m. Moderator Dan Waters will preside. The town is currently working with the VTA to organize transportation.

The original 60-article warrant has been halved, with the town cutting measures to increase town employee salaries and zoning bylaw changes. 

“Anything that could wait, is waiting,” Ms. Rand said.

The Aquinnah annual town meeting will begin at 1 p.m. and will be staged in the fire department parking lot next to the town hall. Chairs will be arranged for seating, but town administrator Jeffrey Madison did not know if tents would be available. The warrant has been cut from about 30 articles to 16, with measures on planning and design for new bathrooms and an addition to the town offices postponed.

Longtime moderator Mike Hebert will preside.