West Tisbury town meeting held in Oak Bluffs

Town speeds through business at the Tabernacle.

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Updated June 24

West Tisbury convened an historic and unprecedented annual town meeting at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs late Tuesday afternoon. Impediments posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic triggered the move outside the boundaries of the town. 

Out of 2,581 registered voters, a total of 115 attended the meeting, handily passing the 30-person special quorum set by the board of selectmen. 

While some articles were amended, there were none on the warrant voters wouldn’t pass, including a fiscal 2021 budget of $19.7 million. Voters passed all 29 articles in about an hour and a half. 

Masks were mandatory in the Tabernacle. Blue painter’s tape was affixed to benches to create six-foot no-sit zones between each voter, and every other row of benches was cordoned off with caution tape to further aid social distancing. 

Town moderator Dan Waters told those gathered, “We’ve never held any town meeting outside town borders before,” and thanked the town of Oak Bluffs, the people of Oak Bluffs, and the Camp Meeting Association for their help and courtesy. “It’s a true act of friendship,” he said.

Prior to warrant business, West Tisbury poet laureate Spencer Thurlow read his poem “Few Hours Past Sunset,” Waters spoke of West Tisbury residents who died since the last town meeting, and selectmen chair Cynthia Mitchell, who wavered with emotion at some passages, read the town’s recently crafted diversity statement

A couple of budget line items relative to legal funds saw debate on the floor, including one for the board of assessors. Finance committee chair Doug Ruskin said while his committee has no qualms with the assessors, their infrequent use of the legal fund they’ve been allotted necessitated a reduction in that fund. Ruskin advocated for an amendment that would cut $15,000 out of the assessors’ legal fund. He wanted the sum deposited in the town’s reserve fund, where he said it still could be accessed for the board’s legal expenses, if need be.

Principal assessor Dawn Barnes strongly disagreed, and argued the funds needed to be immediately at hand, as a legal skirmish that resulted in just one multimillion-dollar abatement can trigger a revenue loss over several years. She deemed the threat too great to not have the budgeted legal funds in the assessors’ dedicated coffers. Voters disagreed, and approved Ruskin’s amendment.

Voters said yes to several affordable housing articles, yes to funding all-wheel-drive police cruisers, and yes to safety upgrades to the town’s transfer station.

After modest debate, voters approved $92,496 to resuscitate up-Island VTA bus routes, including along Lambert’s Cove Road. 

Voters also approved $19,000 for the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School playground equipment. Ahead of the vote, Charter School Director Peter Steedman said the equipment, like the playground as a whole, is not exclusively for Charter School students, and that everyone is welcome to use it.

Updated to include more details and photos.