With vigorous debate over two long evenings, Tisbury voters emerged from their special and annual town meetings late Wednesday night with a $24.3 million spending plan, authorization for Dukes County to buy a new building for the Center for Living, a new garage for the water works department, a new parking lot for the library, a share of the costs for a new school administration building, and a restructuring of government that brings the department of public works under the authority of selectmen.

The big ticket items pushed the town’s operating budget up 4.7 per cent, and its school budget up 6.4 per cent. The rising costs will require a Proposition 2 1/2 override at the town elections on April 28. The town meeting rejected the advice of its finance committee on several expensive projects, prompting concern from some voters.

“We had an override last year, we have an override this year,” said Rachel Orr. “From what I hear, we’re looking at another one next year. We have the highest taxes on the Island. I’m not sure how we as a town can go about making any adjustments, but I’m really worried about it.”

Larry Gomez, chairman of the financial committee and a candidate for selectmen, said the reason for the town’s rising tax rate is that town meeting finds it difficult to say no.

Moderator Deborah Medders uses lottery method for warrant articles. — Steve Myrick

“We don’t pick and choose what is financially good for the town,” Mr. Gomez said. “You have control of your taxes. Just say no.”

On the first night of the town meeting, 222 voters checked in at the registrar’s table. On the second night, 146 registered voters attended. Moderator Deborah Medders shepherded the voters through 54 separate warrant articles.

Tuesday evening began on a jocular note, when Martha’s Vineyard poet laureate and Tisbury resident Arnie Reisman read a poem for the occasion. The crowd had a good chuckle when he ended his short verse with the lines, “And let’s agree before we splinter to usher in spring and repeal winter.”

Because of the moderator’s lottery system for picking the order of warrant articles considered, the operating budget was among the last items considered, late Wednesday evening. The $24.3 million spending plan passed with little debate. Several voters questioned the large increase in costs for the Tisbury School. Tax collector and treasurer Tim McLean outlined the numbers.

“The total increase was 6.4 per cent,” Mr. McLean said. “We were able to fund only about three per cent.” The rest of the increase, will come in the form of an override ballot question, asking voters to exceed the tax limiting law Proposition 2 1/2, by authorizing an additional $208,929 in spending. Mr. McLean said if voters reject the override question, the town will have three options.

“The Tisbury School would have to cut that money out of their budget, we could call another town meeting, or we could try to find another funding source and come back to town meeting,” he said.

Voters agreed 124 to 67 to take the first steps to bring the town department of public works (DPW) under the control of the selectmen. Under study for several years, the January blizzard brought the restructuring issue to a head, when there were many complaints about the town’s response.

Spirited debate continued into a second night. — Steve Myrick

“Many people are surprised that they are independent, and not answerable to the board of selectmen,” said town administrator John (Jay) Grande in a presentation. “The way we’re structured really is an obstacle to strategic thinking.”

Several current and former board of public works commissioners rose in opposition.

“I’ve been on the DPW board for 23 years,” said John Thayer. “The process seems like it came up at the last minute. I would think this is a more thoughtful process. You’re dismantling the DPW.”

Though it eventually passed on a voice vote, there was a spirited argument over the Dukes County plan to buy the former Vineyard Nursing Association building off State Road in Vineyard Haven for use as a new home for the Center for Living. The county asked to borrow up to $1.6 million. The finance committee lauded the Center for Living programs, but recommended that voters reject the article.

Several voters told emotional stories about how their family members benefitted from the center’s supportive day program, which provides supervision and activities for people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other conditions.

“Let’s not let the perfect ideal be the enemy of pretty darn good,” said Jonathan Snyder, chairman of the board of selectmen. “I think we have a pretty darn good building. I think we should seize the opportunity.”

“I pay a lot of taxes,” said businessman Clarence (Trip) Barnes 3rd. “But I’ll pay some more if we can get this through.”

Aase Jones, assistant to the town manager, asked voters to separate the Center for Living program from the building purchase.

“This is about the building,” she said. “We’re committing to a huge investment. I don’t understand why we have to buy this building, not suitable, not in a good location. Think carefully. Don’t come back and complain in a few years about high taxes.”

Voters next authorized the town’s share of paying for the first year of anticipated borrowing to finance the purchase. Tisbury’s share of the financing amounts to about $301,000, plus interest, over 10 years. The measure must still be approved on the April 28 town election ballot, which asks voters to exempt the purchase from Proposition 2 1/2.

Two other building projects were before the town meeting. Voters approved a $1 million project to build a new garage and offices for the Tisbury Water Works, on a large parcel fronting West Spring street, across from the current water department office.

Voters also approve the town’s share of a $3.9 million bond issue to finance a new building for the school superintendent and administrative staff, on the grounds of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The administration staff currently operates out of a former church near the Tisbury School.

The Vineyard Haven Library board of directors got authorization to spend up to $900,000 to negotiate purchase of one or two parcels at the corner of Main street and Greenwood avenue, to create 20 to 30 parking spaces for library patrons.

Voters added two new full time positions to the town payroll, an additional paramedic and a new position for an information technology administrator.

The meeting ended on a touching note. The final article of the evening was a measure to transfer or appropriate a sum from the town’s unreserved fund to keep the budget under the Proposition 2 1/2 tax cap. The amount was dependent on all the appropriations before it, which Mr. McLean, the town treasurer and tax collector, carefully tracked through two evenings and nearly eight hours of debate. Ms. Medders called on him for the final figure. As he rose, fire chief John Schilling called out from his bleacher seats, “For the last time, Tim McLean.”

The meeting broke into spontaneous applause, and then a standing ovation for Mr. McLean, who is retiring later this year.