Sitka’s next mayor will be practical, realistic, and committed to making Sitka a better, more affordable place to live.
But whether he or she teaches Math, owns a popular restaurant, or has served 20 years in the Alaska National Guard will be up to voters.
The three candidates for the mayor’s seat on the assembly met in a forum before the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (9-28-16). They all had much more in common, than differences.
The three candidates for mayor will meet 6:30 – 8 PM Thursday, September 29, in a live election forum on Raven Radio. You can call-in your questions during the forum at 747-5877, email a question to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post a question on the forum thread on Raven Radio’s Facebook page.
Mary Magnuson co-owns the Mean Queen, which opened last year and has been a popular success among Sitkans. She describes herself as the business candidate. She doesn’t think the path Sitka is on is sustainable.
“I realize we’re on an island and we’re isolated, and we can’t depend on state agencies to help us out. But we can’t be everything to everybody, because we can’t afford it anymore. We have an amazing recreational infrastructure built, I think it’s time to start looking for industry.”
Ben Miyasato is a lifelong Sitkan. He spent 20 years in finance, and then in the National Guard. He’s served three years on the assembly and holds a seat on the Sitka Tribal Council. He participated in turning that government’s finances around, and he sees possibilities for community as a whole.
“You can’t do it by raising the rates. People will cut back. So we need to look at methods other than raising rates, and it goes back to how to get businesses here? Especially ones that will use electricity. That’s a very good solution.”
Matt Hunter is the youngest candidate, but also the elder statesmen. He’s served four years on the assembly, giving him more seniority than any member other than the current mayor. Now in his 11th year teaching Math and Science at Mt. Edgecumbe, Hunter still brings a youthful energy to Sitka’s problems.
“I’ve learned more about my town in these last 4 years than I even knew I could learn. Everything from the sewer system — well, everything. Fascinating! I love Sitka. This is home. This has always been home, and I sincerely hope that this continues to be my home for many more years to come.”
Hunter supports putting a property tax increase before voters this October, but he’s not optimistic it will pass. The assembly just passed an ordinance agreeing to dedicate one mill (.001) of any property tax increase to holding down electric rates. But for Hunter, the reality of subsidized electric rates is already here.
“This coming year we’re looking at probably the equivalent of close to 3 mills going to our Electric Fund anyway, to try and keep our rates at a point where we don’t drive more people from electricity.”
The candidates all agreed that some modest growth would ease Sitka’s financial problems. Hunter and Miyasato expressed some reservations about commercial marijuana businesses in downtown Sitka, though Hunter sponsored an ordinance — and Miyasato supported — using local licensing fees to fund school activities. Mary Magnuson, however, thought there was an untapped black market that Sitka should exploit.
“Colorado can’t figure out what to do with all the money they’ve made. And there’s no reason this community can’t reap that same benefit.”
Except for minor differences in their approach to marijuana, and their positions on Ballot Proposition 1, to raise the property tax cap by 2 mills — Hunter and Miyasato both support putting the question to voters, and Magnuson is a flat-out no — there wasn’t much polarity between the candidates. And no one rolled out a firm plan to hold down electric rates, should Prop. 1 fail.
Well, there was one plan.
“Increasing consumption? Christmas lights year-round.”
And with that one-liner, Ben Miyasato won the biggest laugh.