Meeting for the first time ever outside town borders, West Tisbury town meeting voters who made their way to the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs wrapped up their business in under two hours Tuesday, approving a $19.8 million budget and backing spending to restore bus service and repair the dump.

“Needless to say, today’s meeting is historic,” said moderator Dan Waters, in calling the meeting to order at 4 p.m.

Voters sat six feet apart, wearing masks. — Ray Ewing

Concerned about light turnout, the selectmen voted late last week to reduce the quorum requirement from 130 voters to 30. Their unprecedented action turned out to be necessary, as only 115 voters took their seats, spaced six feet apart on the Tabernacle’s wooden benches.

Originally scheduled for April, the annual town meeting was postponed three times due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, selectmen cut the number of warrant articles by more than half, from 61 to 29, many of were requests for shared funding for Islandwide services.

All were approved Tuesday, but not without some debate.

A request for $92,496 to pay the town’s share of restore full service to the Vineyard Transit Authority saw both pushback and support from voters.

Joe Gervais, who said he he is often the only person on the bus when he takes it a few times a year. He said that the bus routes need to be more efficient, and recommended that voters deny the funding request.

“Twenty miles for one passenger is not a good use of our money,” he said. “Let’s not waste the money . . . let’s use the money wisely.” 

But Susanna Sturgis, who was recently appointed to the VTA advisory board, and selectman Skipper Manter defended the article. Mr. Manter said public transportation is vital to those who depend on it and to the town’s mission of reducing its carbon footprint.

Town Accountant Bruce Stone credited town personnel for forgoing a wage increase. — Ray Ewing

“As we try to become completely green, buses being replaced by electric buses, this is all part of the process . . . at this time I would support this,” he said to hearty applause. The article passed by a majority vote.

Presenting the town budget, town accountant Bruce Stone summarized work that had gone into trimming spending across the board. 

Mr. Stone told voters the budget had been decreased by $255,000 from what had been proposed before the pandemic. And the total increase in all spending, between the budget and warrant articles, was about $110,000  over last year. He credited town personnel, who opted to forgo a 2.7 per cent increase in salary this year.

The education assessment of $11.2 million, which accounts for 55 per cent of the budget, increased by about $600,000 or 5.6 per cent.  But he noted that school districts had decreased their assessment by $47,000 from the previously certified assessment. 

The budget was approved with one minor amendment. Voters agreed to reduce funding for legal services for the board of assessors by half — or $15,000 –- at the recommendation of the finance committee.  

Voters rapidly and unanimously approved $80,000 for safety improvements at the local transfer station and more than $440,000 in a series of funding requests related to affordable housing and homelessness prevention. 

The funds include $100,000 for Island Housing Trust’s acquisition and development of seven new affordable apartments in the Perlman House in Vineyard Haven, $80,000 to Harbor Homes to fund future housing for homeless residents and $145,000 to be transferred to the West Tisbury Affordable Housing Trust, among others. 

Voters came to the defense to two requests for funding related to the school. 

Finance committee member Doug Ruskin, sitting among selectmen at the front of the Tabernacle, urged voters not to approve a request for $14,009 to cover the town’s share of replacing the dust collection system at the regional high school. He said there is already $25,000 in the school budget for an engineering survey, and described the total price tag of $200,000 among all towns as “overkill.”

“The high school has many, many other urgent maintenance issues,” he said. “I don’t think a no vote would in any way hinder the safety of students.” 

 Bill Seabourne, program director for building trades at the high school, said he pieced together the current dust collection system 15 years ago. He said it was inadequate then, and continues to pose a risk to students inhaling potentially harmful particles. 

“It has run its course 15 years at full capacity,” he said. “It’s time to just do it properly and replace the system.” 

The funding was approved by a majority vote. 

Mr. Ruskin also asked voters to amend an article requesting $14,240 to fund the town’s share of the All Island School Committee’s contract for adult and community eduction (ACE MV). Mr. Ruskin asked that West Tisbury reduce their share proportional to other towns, if other towns reduce their contribution. 

But others pushed back on that proposal.

“If other towns aren’t paying their fair share, that doesn’t mean we should join them,” said Chris Look. “We should stand strong and pay for what we think is important for this community.” 

"We rely on all the towns to support us . . . we really can’t raise tuition for people,” said Holly Bellebuono, executive director of ACE MV. “West Tisbury is one of those towns that really benefit from broader services provided by adult education.” 

In the end, the article was approved unanimously. 

A separate school spending request, $55,543 to pay for the town’s share of a roofing design project at the West Tisbury School, was approved by a majority vote with little discussion. 

The last article to see discussion regarded a request to appropriate $7,308 to cover the Dukes County budget shortfall. At the request of County Commissioner Leon Braithwaite, voters reduced the funding request by half. He said that the shortfall was not as severe as anticipated. 

But Mr. Ruskin asked voters not to cover the shortfall. He said that the county returned close to $250,000 to the towns recently, which was accrued over a number of years, and should have been returned each year those excesses occurred. 

“They are now catching up, and returning those monies to the towns, at the same time asking to cover a budget shortfall for this year,” he said. “I was confused . . . and remain confused, and so I vote no. And I would encourage you to do the same.” 

Mr. Manter, who serves on the county advisory board, said that the shortfall is not related to the lump sum of excesses. 

“It is two separate issues,” he said. “The money is needed to provide the services that they presently provide.” 

The amended article was approved by a majority vote. 

Other items approved by voters included: 

            • $19,000 to fund playground equipment for the Charter School

            • About $145,000 for a series of programs administered through the county, including substance use disorder and homelessness prevention, CORE programs and Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard. 

            • $44,234 to cover the town’s portion of maintenance cost for upgrades to the Dukes County Regional Emergency Communication Center and Radio System. 

            • $30,000 for the purchase of a new police cruiser.