Aquinnah voters passed a $7.1 million budget and established a new affordable housing trust at the annual town meeting Tuesday.

Moderator Michael Hebert led the approximately 70 voters at town hall through the warrant in about two hours. All 20 articles were passed. 

There was little discussion on the budget, which will increase 11 per cent over last year, largely due to rising costs for the ambulance service, police department and schools. Voters also readily backed the new housing trust and the creation of an accompanying board.

Town officials look on as town meeting gets underway. — Ray Ewing

The new board will oversee the housing fund and consider using it to create and preserve affordable housing in town, as well as provide assistance to households who make up to 175 per cent of the area median income. Mr. Hebert said this type of trust was tied to the efforts to start a housing bank on the Vineyard. 

“We’re all very hopeful that someday soon there will be a housing bank and part of the legislation for the housing bank requires that towns have a housing trust who is responsible for the financial part of acquiring land or assistant and finding affordable housing for people,” Mr. Hebert, who is also chairman of the housing committee, said. “This is a way to have an avenue to accept funds for affordable housing.” 

Various other spending articles were also approved Tuesday, including $250,000 for upgrades to the town hall, fire station and the town comfort station at Aquinnah Circle. 

Community preservation funds for housing projects and the restoration of the Gay Head Light lantern room also got the thumbs up. 

“[Community Preservation Act funds] are used for three categories of affordable housing, historic preservation, and recreation and open space,” Derrill Bazzy, chair of the community preservation committee, said during the meeting. “We use that funding extensively in town for a lot of things. You can’t drive through town without seeing where these funds [are being used].”

There was some discussion around a proposal to exempt two town-owned parcels at the base of Gay Head Lighthouse from town zoning. Town officials asked that the land, which the town purchased eight years ago for $575,000, be exempt from zoning bylaws so they could  plan on what to do with the property going forward, whether it be for community purposes or otherwise.

Sophia Welch stands up at town meeting. — Ray Ewing

Some voters were confused about where the money for the initial purchasing of that land came from. There were also questions about whether the article would be considered spot zoning, an illegal practice of creating a new zoning district for one single landowner. Because no new zones would be created by the article, it isn’t considered spot zoning, said select board chair Thomas Murphy. Town staff also clarified that the some of the money came from the Community Preservation Act.

Voters head back to town hall Thursday for the annual town election. This year’s ballot has a contested select board race with incumbent Thomas Murphy and challenger Jannette Vanderhoop, as well as a $330,000 debt exclusion for the town’s school budgets. 

Polls are open from noon to 8 p.m.