With a $55 million school decision looming, Tisbury voters turned their attention to the annual town meeting Saturday, approving $5 million in roadway spending and a bevy of smaller capital projects, as well as a handful of hotly-debated personnel and zoning bylaw changes.

Planning board member Elaine Miller, right, urged voters to approve money for a town master plan. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Convened under a tent at the Tisbury School softball field for the second year in a row due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the more than four-hour, 50-article annual and special town combined meeting literally and figuratively covered nearly all the town bases. Voters labored over everything — from a $30 million operating budget to a set of aspirational climate change and energy goals.

A separate special town meeting begins at 1 p.m. Sunday to take up the pivotal school question.

On Saturday, with the tent protecting 136 voters from a light, chilly drizzle, moderator Deborah Medders placed the town’s other business front and center, shepherding voters through a 16-article special and 34-article annual town meeting.

The moderator opened the afternoon by recognizing six Tisbury residents who died last year, including centenarians David Cronig, Selma Frank and Duncan McDonald, and asking for a moment of silence for all who lost loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Last year we gathered at a time when it felt like the worldwide pandemic held more unknowns, than knowns,” Ms. Medders said. “And now, a year later, less unknowns than knowns. Yet we still need to practice caution.”

Masked voters heeded her words.

The $30.3 million fiscal year 2022 operating budget was approved, with $5,000 added to a line item to fund an Islandwide emergency management position. The budget represents a 3.4 per cent increase over fiscal year 2021, with the largest increases in the ambulance and school lines.

Voters also swiftly approved a $5 million spending article that will allow the highway department to complete roadwork on more than 30 streets in the town over the next decade, as well as $145,000 for a town master plan, much to the delight of town officials and the planning board.

“Tisbury has never had a master plan,” planning board chairman Elaine Miller said. “Join us in our efforts to make this critical document . . . a reality.”

The meeting began with grumbling over 10 zoning and personnel bylaw changes. Voters unanimously decided to take no action on a minimum maintenance bylaw for vacant properties, and shot down a bylaw change that would require accessory apartments to be separate from primary dwellings.

Holly Stevenson noted the challenge such a change could present for elder caregivers.

From left, select board members Jeff Kristal, Jim Rogers and Larry Gomez. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“The homeowner should have the right to decide,” Ms. Stevenson said. “An accessory apartment should be accessible to the house . . . if that’s what the homeowner wants to do.”

And in the only hand-counted vote of the night, voters also rejected a proposal to change language that would have limited accessory uses for garages, falling short of the required two-thirds vote, 64 to 61.

Beyond significant discussion on certain articles, voters otherwise offered up few surprises Saturday, approving Islandwide aspirational climate goals that look to move away from fossil fuels and toward electric energy, backing a $50,000 appropriation to create an assistant natural resources position, and taking the first steps toward special legislation to increase the mandatory age for town firefighters from 65 to 70.

Some concerns were raised about the safety of keeping older firefighters on the job. But selectman Jim Rogers, a former firefighter who retired at 65, and veteran firefighter Malcolm Boyd spoke in favor of the article.

“People gain a lot of experience,” Mr. Boyd said. “The strain diminishes as they retain rank.”

The article was approved unanimously.

Zoning changes adding clarifying language to pool permitting were approved.

And after nearly 25 minutes of debate, discussion, amendments — and amendments to amendments — voters approved a measure that bans excessive noise in the town after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and after 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and no earlier than 7 a.m. Monday through Friday and no earlier than 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“Did you write that down?” Ms. Medders asked town counsel David Doneski with a laugh after the amended article was finally settled on. Selectman Larry Gomez’s proposed amendment to ban excessive noise before noon on weekends was soundly rejected.

By hour two, the pattering rain gave way to a bright afternoon sun, raising the temperature beneath the tent but apparently calming voters. The only other major hiccup of the afternoon came on a $250,000 Community Preservation Committee spending request to redo the town’s Church street tennis courts with a state-of-the-art hard-tru clay court facility.

Masks were mandatory. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Tony Peak questioned whether the project had been through the proper public process, and MacAleer Schilcher urged voters to reject the money, calling it an irresponsible expenditure considering the myriad pressing issues facing the town.

But selectman Jeff Kristal supported the measure, and Carolyn Wallis, who serves on the town’s open space and recreation committee, said the project came out of a community survey and would economically support itself.

“These courts are just well beyond their useful life,” Ms. Wallis said. “We were pretty excited to develop a whole recreational facility for this area.”

The measure passed.

Voters powered through the rest of the warrant, approving:

• More than $715,000 in water works capital projects;

• $100,000 for improvements to the Tisbury School playground;

• $120,000 for a new HVAC system at the library;

• $72,000 for electric school buses;

• $180,000 for improvements to the high school IT system;

• $62,500 for a Coastal Zone Management grant.

As the meeting came to a close, the required preamble became a post-amble when Ms. Medders realized she had skipped the requisite opening lines of the meeting. So instead of starting with “In the name of the Commonwealth…,” she ended with it — finishing the historic town meeting in characteristic Tisbury fashion.

“In hindsight, your moderator did find your warrant in order,” Ms. Medders concluded with a laugh.

“We re-gather tomorrow.”

More pictures.