Select board members in West Tisbury are considering reducing the size of the quorum needed for town meetings.
West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand proposed a warrant article to change the current quorum from five percent of registered voters to simply 75 registered voters during a meeting Wednesday, Jan. 24.
Rand said the annual town meeting easily attracts 75 or more voters, but a higher number could be a stretch for special town meetings. The five percent threshold was adopted during a special town meeting in 2006.
“The five percent is never going to get smaller, and voter participation seems to be getting smaller,” she said.
According to the minutes of the 2023 West Tisbury annual town meeting, 142 people formed the quorum.
Board members were split over the proposal.
Board chair Skipper Manter said there were two recent town meetings when reaching a quorum was difficult; Manter said that one town meeting had to be canceled because of a lack of a quorum. He later added he would prefer the proposed quorum be set at 100 registered voters
Board vice-chair Jessica Miller said she personally struggled with the proposal. While she agreed that there were issues filling a quorum, she would rather look for ways to increase voter participation.
“People already complain that all these decisions are made by a small group of people, and we’re making this group of people even smaller,” she said.
Board member Cynthia Mitchell said she was “torn” about the proposal.
The board requested that the town administrator come back with information on quorums of other Island towns before the next time this issue was discussed.
Meanwhile, West Tisbury is looking at a nearly 9 percent higher budget compared to last year.
Although a final approval was not granted yet, a review of the tentatively proposed town budget for fiscal year 2025 showed a figure of $25.8 million, an increase from the fiscal year 2024 budget of $23.75 million.
While there were some items in the budget that may see decreases from last year, there are significant increases being proposed. Two that town accountant Bruce Stone highlighted were the Up-Island Regional School District and Tri-Town Ambulance. West Tisbury’s proposed share of the school district budget is $10.68 million, an increase from $9.4 million in fiscal year 2024. For Tri-Town, while the actual budget increase was around eight percent, Stone said the regional ambulance’s debt service shot it up to a 51.9 percent increase — $891,056.78 for fiscal year 2025.
The town may need voter approval to pass an override to cover the budget increase.
Discussions regarding the budget and warrant articles will continue after the board receives more information.
In other news, the board unanimously approved appointing Pat Mitchell, Ben Retmier, and Alex Lam to the Public Safety Building Space Needs Committee with a committee charge of developing improvement recommendations for the West Tisbury Public Safety Building by June.
The board also unanimously approved, pending unforeseen circumstances, to Eversource to install underground electrical work for an electric vehicle charger at West Tisbury School.