The town of West Tisbury, a breeding ground for property tax rancor in recent years, had a record high $289,000 in tax abatements in 2008 based on approximately $68 million in total adjusted property values.

While town officials say the high number of abatements can be tracked directly to the current triennial real estate revaluation and a spike in waterfront property values, some residents insist that they signal a continued level of discontent with the current assessment system and the company hired to help conduct the revaluations.

Property taxes continued to be a hot topic in West Tisbury all through 2008 as tax bills doubled and tripled in some neighborhoods this year — principally at Seven Gates Farm and around the Tisbury Great Pond — while in other neighborhoods they remained flat or actually went down.

There were a total of 108 abatement applications in 2008, which fell just shy of the record mark of 110 set during the last real estate revaluation in 2005. A total of 82 out of the 108 applications — or just over 75 per cent — received some abatement.

West Tisbury principal assessor Kristina West said abatements ranged from $11,100 in assessed value, which equaled a tax rebate of approximately $45, to the largest adjustment of approximately $3.4 million, which resulted in a rebate of just over $14,000.

She said the total amount returned to taxpayers last year was almost certainly a new record in terms of dollar amounts, although she speculated the amount proportionally was not much different from the amount abated in 2005, when just over $135,000 was given back to property owners.

This year a total of $68,292,100 in total assessed value was abated, or roughly 16 per cent of the town’s total assessed property values of $405,964,000.

Ms. West said it is not unusual to see a high number of abatement applications during real estate revaluation years. The town is currently in the second year of a triennial real estate revaluation being conducted with the assistance of Vision Appraisal Technology, the Northboro-based company the town contracts with to prepare and update the town property valuations.

“Every time there is a [real estate revaluation] you expect to see an increase in abatements. It’s part of the checks and balances of the system . . . we fully expected there to be a significant number of abatements last year. We were not caught off guard,” she said.

Ms. West said the sagging economy may also have played a role in some people’s decision to apply for abatements. She said a recent shift in the market caused many waterfront properties to shoot up in assessed value; subsequently many of the abatement applications came from waterfront property owners.

“During the 2002 [revaluation] we had 110 applications and most of those were from interior property owners. At the time that market shifted and it was the lower value properties that saw increases [in their assessed values]. This year we saw a wider pool of applicants for abatements,” Ms. West said.

But some residents say the high number of abatement applications was by no means ordinary or routine.

Jonathan Revere, a former candidate for board of assessors and co-founder of the West Tisbury taxpayers association, said the high number of abatements and rebated tax money is a direct result of inherent flaws with the appraisal system used by Vision Appraisal and endorsed by the board of assessors.

Vision Appraisal assists assessors across New England with state-mandated property revaluations. The company represents more than 50 towns and cities in Massachusetts, including every town on the Vineyard except Chilmark.

Under the complex formula used by the company to determine property values, a base rate is set, which is then ratcheted up according to various criteria. The company has earned its fair share of detractors on the Island in recent years, due in no part to several high-profile property tax disputes.

In 2005 Vision Appraisal officials publicly admitted they made mistakes valuing Chappaquiddick properties, and Edgartown assessors later granted more than $150 million in abatements and returned more than $450,000 in collected taxes. Then there was the well-publicized William Graham case, the longest-running residential tax dispute in state history that finally ended last month with a win for the town assessors.

During that trial some of the appraisal methods used by both the town’s former primary assessor Jo-Ann Resendes and employees of Vision Appraisal were called into question.

Mr. Revere said Vision Appraisal, both in West Tisbury and in other towns, have shown a tendency to overvalue more expensive properties.

“They think this just affects the rich people who stand around all day guarding their ducats. But in fact this company has initiated a very punishing series of events that affected all the taxpayers in town, not to mention people who spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees defending themselves against unfair tax assessments,” he said.

Mr. Revere also noted that the $289,00 rebated in tax dollars last year will have to be made up from somewhere else.

“The other taxpayers wind up making up the difference. That is not free money,” he said.

Mr. Revere said he would like to see the town conduct a survey of all the coastal communities in the state that have used the services of Vision Appraisal to see what experiences they’ve had, and see if appraisal methods used were comparable.

Board of assessors member Cynthia Mitchell took the middle ground. While she agreed the high number of abatements can be traced to last year’s revaluation, she agreed the current process of determining values may need to be improved.

“I do think more people last year scrutinized their tax balls and questioned things. And I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. People have the right to question their [tax bills] and the methods used, and it is our job to continue to make changes and make things better,” she said.