One of the names on the ballot for the Sitka Assembly race currently holds at seat at the table. Steven Eisenbeisz , age 32, is a business owner known for his fiscal conservatism and tough line of questioning. Eisenbeisz wants to know the issues from all sides and is seeking re-election with a focus on affordability.
Before an Assembly meeting, Steven Eisenbeisz’s routine looks something like this: the packet comes out on Thursday. He’ll read it cover-to-cover over the weekend and on Monday, call city staff and others to get more information.
It’s difficult to get a “Yes” vote out of Steven Eisenbeisz and he says his critical approach makes the Sitka Assembly more accountable. He’ll bring that approach and experience back to the table if re-elected on October 3rd.
“At one time, we [the Sitka Assembly] were labeled as rubber stampers where anything that came forward to the Assembly was rubber stamped and gone through. That’s not me. That’s not me at all,” he said.
Eisenbeisz is the kind of Assembly member to poke holes in a policy and figure out other point of view, like the challenges of a particular construction project or the hidden costs of a community member’s plan. He’ll share those findings and spur debate with his fellow Assembly members, regardless of where they differ.
“When I first got on the Assembly – I believe it was my first meeting – I looked at everyone and I challenged them and I said, ‘I’m going to change your way of thinking.’ And I don’t know how well that went over at the time,” Eisenbeisz recalls. “But what used to be a 7-0 vote or a 6-1 vote is now becoming 4-3 votes.”
Here’s an example: In July, he voted against the majority for a grant application to replace Crescent Harbor, contending the city should save more money for the project and wait. When it comes to infrastructure, he wants the city to be as conservative as possible. “I don’t think we need Hollywood type amenities here, but we need sewers.
Eisenbeisz holds fast to his views, particularly when it comes to how the city should spend taxpayer dollars, but his mind can be changed.
That happened this summer when the Sitka Assembly was weighing a proposal to merge Sitka Community Hospital with SEARHC’s Mt. Edgecumbe Hopsital. Eisenbeisz said the testimony from hospital supporters was so overwhelming that he was persuaded to keep it open, under the condition there’s a plan in place for long lasting financial stability.
“I think there are opportunities for management contracts where other entities who have large healthcare experience could come in and manage [Sitka Community Hospital], while still being owned by the community,” Eisenbeisz said.
That is a position he reached because of public testimony. He wants citizens to know that their voices – collectively and as individuals – matter.
“If the Assembly’s ever given anyone the feeling that they weren’t listened to, or that their comments didn’t matter, I apologize for that. Do know that I listen to everyone’s comments that comes forward and they do play into my decision,” he said.
Eisenbeisz came to Sitka as a second grader and, aside from a four year stint in the Marine Corps, has lived in Sitka all his life. He and his wife Ashley are the third generation to oversee her family’s business Russell’s, a clothing and sporting goods store.
Eisenbesiz first ran for Assembly as a write-in in 2013, but came up short by 54 votes. He got elected in 2014 and during his term, served at different moments as the liaison to the Sitka Community Hospital Board, Gary Paxton Industrial Park, the Southeast Economic Development Association, and Tree and Landscape Committee.
If re-elected, there’s two areas Eisenbeisz wants to focus on: affordable housing and rate control.
On housing, Eisenbeisz wants to expand the conversation at the Assembly table beyond affordable ownership to affordable rentals. If elected, he plans to introduce a property tax incentive to spur construction of affordable properties for rent. He wants to see apartment complexes, condominiums, or other structures where “a kid fresh out of college could get a start.”
“If you look in the Lower 48, the majority of people get their start out in an apartment complex and there’s not just that opportunity here,” he said.
Another issue of major interest to Eisenbeisz is moving the city’s enterprise funds – like water, sewer, and electricity – from what he calls “a rate-based system” to “a revenue-based system.” He explains this as the Assembly allocating all enterprise funds a certain amount of money every year and requiring projects to stay within that annual budget.
“Will it take an extra year or two to get some projects done? Yes, mostly likely. But what we’re doing there is we’re preventing these massive [rate] increase to the citizens,” he said.
For instance, he considers the master plan for Sitka’s harbors – which project a 6% annual rate increase for several years into the future to replace infrastructure – “completely unsustainable. We’re not going to have a single boat in the harbor.”
And that is a possibility that Eisenbeisz, like many on the Assembly, wants to avoid. “I intend to grow old and pass away here as odd as that sounds. I intend to make Sitka life my lifelong home.” He’s undeterred by the challenges and sees them as opportunities for problem solving.
“I’ve seen plenty of people walking and picking up trash. Whether that’s recognized or not, it’s simple acts like that – where community members are coming forward to clean up a road or clean up our town or doing something to support our community – I think there’s where we have a lot of opportunity. Small things like that, that’s why I live in Sitka,” Eisenbeisz said.