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Heart of gold cost her a job

Call it an excess of compassion.

After 18 years as tax collector in this quiet farming community, Wanda Stula stepped down after tearfully confessing that she has often forgiven the interest on delinquent property taxes for the elderly and the poor.

"I did it out of compassion," she said. "I was trying to do good."

The Board of Selectmen confronted Stula after a disgruntled property owner complained that her own request for a tax break was turned down.

While some town officials seemed stunned, others say it was hardly out of character for the 60-year-old Stula, who got more votes than any office-seeker in last fall's town election.

"The problem is, Wanda's got a heart of gold," said Stanley Skut, a retired ironworker who said he has known her since she was a little girl.

Stula told the board Monday night that she thought she had the authority to forgive the interest on the delinquent taxes of the poor and the elderly. But under Connecticut law, tax collectors must get the permission of the town's governing body.

"Wanda just left out one of the steps in the process," said First Selectman Jenny Contois, who was crying when she joined other selectmen in voting to seek Stula's removal.

Before Stula could be forced out, she resigned.

The town's board of finance also voted to spend up to $10,000 in an audit to try to determine how much Stula's generosity has cost the town.

In an interview Thursday, she said she couldn't estimate how many times she has forgiven the interest on delinquent taxes or how much money was involved.

"I should have followed the guidelines," said Stula, who said she felt crushed by the way she had to leave office. "I certainly didn't want it to be like this. I loved my job."

An audit covering April, when there was a push on delinquent tax collections, revealed that Stula forgave $15,000 for just 11 property owners in the town of 11,000, Contois said.

Stula wouldn't comment on whether she considered the 11 property owners to be needy.

Contois said there was no indication Stula was motivated by self-interest. But the resident who complained says she wants to know whether the people given breaks were friends of Stula.

"When I asked for a tax abatement, Wanda told me it was against the law," Gladys Peay said. "Well, I want to know who got abatements and why."

Still, most residents are solidly behind Stula, Contois said.

"Wanda has a lot of friends in Colchester," said Contois. "She's a good person."

Perhaps she was just too softhearted for the job, suggested Bruce Heyn, chairman of the finance board.

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