This is the third in our series of five profiles of municipal election candidates.
This is not the first time we’ve profiled Aaron Swanson. He ran for Assembly in 2012, and came in fourth.
“What made me run again was basically the public support; people asking me if I was going to run again and telling me that I should,” he said.
Last year, Swanson was a political newcomer, with no experience in city government. That has changed in the last 12 months. He joined the Police and Fire Commission, where he says he was exposed to the public process in a way that’s made him even more interested in serving on the Assembly.
“Last year I wasn’t really involved in the public process,” he said. “This year I’m on a commission and I’ve had a little more input from being on the commission, as to how the public process works.”
And he says he wants to help shape Sitka’s future.
“Right now, the biggest issue for me is probably the economy,” Swanson said. “What’s going to happen with the economy after, say, the Blue Lake dam project is complete?”
The city’s effort to raise the height of the Blue Lake dam constitutes the largest public works project in city history. It’s also brought scores of workers to town, who are spending money in restaurants and stores, and using services that boost the area economy.
As for the Blue Lake project itself, Swanson says it’s short-term pain for long-term gain.
“I’m not super excited when I open my utility bill every month, but that’s to be expected for the amount of money they’re paying for this Blue Lake expansion project,” he said. “Hopefully with the Blue Lake expansion project it can generate any interest from outside groups to come into Sitka and put in some kind of new industry in Sitka, like maybe a nice sawmill that will require a lot of electrical use, and they could hopefully manufacture lumber for building affordable housing here in Sitka.”
Affordable housing is a big issue for Swanson, too, although he says he wants a better understanding of what constitutes “affordable” in Sitka. He worries about the future, especially as it relates to his own kids.
“I have two boys. Jacob is going to be 6 and Jon is going to be 4,” he said. “Jacob just started kindergarten.”
We asked Swanson if he feels they have a future in Sitka.
“The way Sitka is right now? I’m going to say, probably not,” he said. “They’ll probably finish school here and go off to college and go where the money is. I’d like to see them as adults in Sitka, but I don’t foresee that in the immediate future.”
So, how does Sitka boost its economy into the future? Swanson says there are no silver bullets, but that there are little things that can help. Among them, boosting tourism, attracting new industry, and yes, looking at taxes.
“One thing that would help, and I know a lot of people probably won’t like this idea, would be to keep the taxes at 6 percent for the sales taxes, as opposed to dropping it down to 5 percent in the fall and putting it back up to 6 percent in the spring,” he said. “Leave it at 6 percent.”
But that’s not the end-all, be-all of building a secure financial future for Sitka. That, he says, takes a little from column A, and a little from column B — shoring up the city’s revenue and also keeping spending in check.
Aaron Swanson is one of three candidates for Sitka Assembly. Election Day is Oct. 1.