West Tisbury voters agreed to back the controversial housing bank proposal and establish a first-time rooms tax during a two-night annual town meeting this week that saw impassioned debate, procedural tangles and a surprise twist at the end.

Moderator Dan Waters presided over meeting that ran for two nights and will continue on April 30. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

A crowd of 352 voters packed the West Tisbury School gymnasium Tuesday evening, but turnout was lighter on Wednesday night when 153 voters turned out. Both nights ran late as moderator Dan Waters guided voters through 62 warrant articles, many drawing debate.

In an unusual turn at end of the second night, a final article to establish a funding mechanism for the housing bank was held over for a special town meeting later this month.

Finance committee member Greg Orcutt made the motion to continue the meeting, pointing to the lateness of the hour and low attendance.

“The number of people that showed up last night demonstrate the importance of this article to the town. This is barely a quorum and I don’t think it gets a fair airing,” he said.

Voters agreed, and the meeting will now reconvene following the special town meeting on April 30. The meeting had been previously set for votes on two high school spending matters.

The widely-debated proposal to create a housing bank saw the longest discussion of the two nights, and in the end won approval by a wide margin 184-58. On Tuesday the proposal was defeated in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs.

In West Tisbury, Doug Ruskin was an outspoken proponent. He said the timing was right and the need for housing too great to turn down the opportunity.

Doug Ruskin led the charge to approve the housing bank. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

“What used to be a problem is now a huge problem,” he said. “It’s an Islandwide problem and we have to come together as an Island to solve this.”

Although he admitted that the proposal still has “holes that need to be filled,” that was no reason to turn it down, he said.

Others argued that for all its good intentions, the proposal, a home rule petition that would go to the state legislature, lacks clarity and definition, including how the new housing bank would be structured and staffed.

“It’s quite vague as drafted right now,” said attorney Isabelle Lew, who works for town counsel Ronald Rappaport.

“I don’t think this is a well thought-out piece of legislation,” said finance committee member Chuck Hodgkinson, who also announced his retirement from the board. “There are too many unanswered questions about the housing bank at this point. It’s just not ready.”

In the end, West Tisbury became the first town to approve the housing bank.

The six per cent rooms tax also won approval, although some who own summer rental properties said adding a tax on top of the new 5.7 per cent short term rental tax could be a big leap for summer visitors.

“It’s not coming out of my pocket directly . . . but people may not want to pay 11.75 per cent more so quickly,” said Lisa Amols.

Voters stood to speak both for and against the housing bank. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

Henry Geller, a member of the town affordable housing committee, responded that the rooms tax is already the norm in all the other Island towns and business hasn’t suffered.

“I understand being worried about losing the rental but people coming to Martha’s Vineyard on vacation are coming to a relatively expensive place . . . I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” he said.

Voters defeated two related articles seeking to place 60 per cent of the money collected from the rooms tax into stabilization funds for town road work and vehicles. Instead all the money will go into the town’s general fund.

At the outset of the meeting a bylaw to ban single-use plastic water bottles begun by a group of school children was quickly and unanimously approved. Wearing Plastic Free MV T-shirts, a group of the fifth and sixth graders attended the meeting.

“We are hoping to change the habits of not only residents but tourists as well. West Tisbury has the opportunity to be a leader for change. We are looking to you to make a better future for us all,” said Emma Bena, a fifth grader at the West Tisbury School.

By contrast, there was little unanimity and considerable confusion over a five per cent fee that the county administrator had tacked onto a $39,000 package of five social service spending articles.

County commissioner Leon Brathwaite explained that the fee was necessary to offset the loss of funding when the county stop receiving alarm fees from the sheriff’s office.

“We put this together to balance the budget,” Mr. Brathwaite said.

Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd, a town selectman and member of the county advisory board which oversees county finances, argued that the fees were improper and just a hidden way to raise revenue for the county. On both nights he called for amendments for the fees to be removed.

Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd called out the county for tacking on a five per cent administrative fee onto social services articles. — Albert O. Fischer 3rd

“I think it’s inappropriate and misleading,” Mr. Manter said.

On the first night Mr. Manter tried unsuccessfully to remove the fee from two line items in the town budget relating to Vineyard Health Care Access and MV Senior Services.

On the second night he tried again when the social services articles came up, ands the amendment failed. But a short time later Paddy Moore, a founding member of Healthy Aging, stood to a propose her own amendment to remove the fees for three articles relating to the CORE, First Stop and Healthy Aging programs. Voters agreed. A motion followed to reconsider removing the fees for the previous articles, but failed.

A similar scenario played out on the town meeting floor in Tisbury Wednesday night, where there were questions about the fees.

West Tisbury voters unanimously approved spending $138,000 for the town’s share of a feasibility study and design work for the high school.

“Our high school is really falling apart,” said school committee member Kate DeVane. “I really do think that this is the time to put money into something like this. If we don’t, we’re going to be in very bad shape.”

Requests totaling $204,000 for school repairs, including $21,000 for work at the Chilmark School and $182,000 for roofing at the West Tisbury School were approved.

A bylaw to ban pumping water from town waterways, including the Mill Brook, was adopted by a wide margin.

“Water resources in this town are finite. They are public resources and people have felt free to use them,” said conservation commission member Whit Griswold. “It hasn’t been a huge problem to date, but it might well become one.”

A petition to move future town meetings to Saturday mornings failed after a brief discussion over whether it would improve attendance.

“The size of the crowd is usually proportional to what’s on the warrant,” said Mr. Manter. “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way to get here.”

Voters approved a zoning bylaw amendment to allow retail sales and cultivation of marijuana at the airport business park, by special permit from the town zoning board of appeals. The article was submitted by petition from Geoff Rose, the owner of Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard.

They also approved:

• $252,655 in CPA funds for housing projects and rental assistance;

• $32,484 to fund the town’s share of maintenance at the emergency communications center;

• $26,675 to hire a shellfish agent and buy equipment;

• $90,000 to upgrade town hardware including the telephone system in town buildings.

On Wednesday the meeting wrapped up just before 10:20 p.m.

“We’re not done,” said Mr. Waters. “I guess we’re adjourning until April 30, so thank you very much.”