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Dixie Lee in arrears: Summerside councillor critical that mayor's business owes city money

Customers leave Dixie Lee in downtown Summerside on Thursday afternoon. The fried chicken franchise is owned by Mayor Basil Stewart and his son, Major Stewart.
Customers leave Dixie Lee in downtown Summerside on Thursday afternoon. The fried chicken franchise is owned by Mayor Basil Stewart and his son, Major Stewart. - Bradley Works

A Summerside councillor says he is “very disappointed" to learn that a restaurant owned by the city’s mayor and the mayor’s son owes tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding electric charges.

Coun. Greg Campbell says no business should be allowed to be in a debt situation like Summerside restaurant Dixie Lee is in.

Rob Philpott, CAO with the municipality, told CBC that Dixie Lee, a fried chicken franchise owned by Mayor Basil Stewart and his son, Major Stewart, is more than $40,000 in arrears in electric payments and owes another $1,300 in water and sewer charges.

Philpott declined The Guardian’s request for an interview.

“All I can say is that it is between the city and the customer," Philpott said in an emailed statement.

“All parties are working on a resolution, in good faith. It is our policy to otherwise offer no comment when private interests are involved."

When a reporter noted to Philpott that the chief administrative officer had provided considerable comment on the matter to CBC and asked again if a telephone interview was possible, he responded, by email, that the “city will not be commenting further at this time”.

Philpott is far from alone in choosing to clam up on the sensitive matter that has created poor optics towards the city’s mayor.

The Guardian called seven Summerside councillors, the deputy mayor and the mayor seeking comment.

Coun. Brian McFeely said he was not prepared to comment, noting only that he had received a few inquiries on the issue from his constituents. He would not elaborate on what his constituents had to say.

Campbell, however, did answer the call and he let his concerns be known.

“I was quite surprised and very disappointed that it did happen," said Campbell, adding part of his concern is that the mayor co-owns the business.

None of the phone messages left by The Guardian on the cellphones of the other members of council were returned.

The company, according to the CBC report, has been locked in a two-and-a-half-year battle with the city over its outstanding electric bill.

Philpott told a CBC reporter that the city underbilled the restaurant $5,200 soon after it opened and went back and tried to recoup that amount.

The outstanding electrical bill was allowed to grow to more than $40,000 with the lights remaining on at Dixie Lee.

Campbell added he has yet to hear concerns on the matter from residents of Summerside.

“It’s really just getting out in the news,’’ he said.

Counc. Cory Snow says residents have reached out to him to express their concerns.

He says some noted they had their electricity shut off because they had not paid their bills, yet Dixie Lee manages to dodge similar fate even though the business has been in arrears for more than two years.

Snow says he is disappointed in the situation, adding council just became aware of the issue last week and directed Philpott to get the matter addressed.

“From a council’s point of view, it is being handled," he says.

Snow says the municipality needs to ensure “this type of thing doesn’t happen in the future."

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