Taxes touch off mayoral debate at South Glengarry all-candidates meeting

South Glengarry mayoral candidate Lachlan McDonald (right) makes a point during an all-candidates meeting in Williamstown, Ont. on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022 while incumbent Lyle Warden listens. The two had a difference of opinion on the state McDonald left the township in when he resigned as treasurer. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

WILLIAMSTOWN – Money issues, such as back taxes and hiring at the township office, dominated the South Glengarry all-candidates debate in Williamstown Friday night.

Around 100 people were at the Char-Lan Recreation Center Friday night to hear from the South Glengarry council and school board candidates.

Around 100 people were at Tartan Hall in the Char-Lan Recreation Center on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022 for the South Glengarry all-candidates meeting. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

After opening statements, moderator Art Buckland took five questions from the audience on campground development next to Cooper Marsh, roads, access to information at the township hall and the increase in municipal staffing.

But a question from a South Lancaster resident on the over $3 million in back taxes touched off an indirect exchange between mayoral candidates Lyle Warden and Lachlan McDonald, who is the township’s former treasurer.

“Our treasurer resigned last December and left us hanging and we’ve have struggling to get just day to day stuff ongoing. The back taxes have been issue since I’ve been on council,” Warden said.

Warden, who was appointed mayor in the middle of term, said a new treasurer will be starting Monday and collection of arrears will be a priority for him.

Lachlan McDonald said bringing up the issue was “a little sermon on my shortcomings” and “I could have done better.” McDonald said he stayed on working Fridays and weekends for two months after he resigned.

McDonald is working in the finance department for the Municipality of South Dundas and said he would resign from that position if elected mayor.

Deputy mayoral candidate Martin Lang added that the arrears were close to $4 million a couple of years ago and “a lot of them (taxpayers with arrears) haven’t even got a letter to say they’re late.” Lang admitted the township could have done better over the past term.

In closing remarks, McDonald revisited Warden’s accusation and said he didn’t leave the township hanging. “I worked for South Glengarry for two months on Fridays after I resigned. I did not leave you hanging. I am a good man and I take care of my community.”

But Warden disagreed. “Respectfully, Lachlan, you did leave us hanging and we had to pay you for four months to clean up the mess that you left us in.”

That statement drew an audible reaction from the audience.

Earlier in the evening, another resident questioned the seven new office staff hired at the township – most of them assistants to senior staff. The incumbents responded that the hires were carefully reviewed and in some cases they were to save money in the long run.

“In terms of where we are in terms of staffing, I don’t want folks to think that somehow South Glengarry is so overstaffed compared to all other townships. I did some double checking, we have less staff than all the other townships that I was able to get data from, even the ones that are smaller than we are. So please think that we are being very diligent and not adding staff unless it’s absolutely warranted,” council candidate Stephanie Jaworski said.

South Glengarry councillor candidate Stephanie Jaworski makes a point as challengers Sam McDonell, Todd Lalonde and Trevor Bougie listen on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Deputy mayoral candidate Jacqueline Milner was not at the debate because she was isolating at home with COVID-19.

There are four people vying for the three council seats: Stephanie Jaworski (incumbent), Trevor Bougie, Sam McDonell (incumbent) and Todd Lalonde.

South Glengarry ratepayers will vote by telephone or internet from Oct. 19-24.