CALDWELL — ElJay Waite has been the city’s finance director for 20 years. But at home, it’s his wife, Pep Waite, who handles the family’s budget — and that model of little debt and upfront cash payments is what inspires him when managing the city’s finances.
Waite, 65, started working as the city’s finance director shortly after Mayor Garret Nancolas was first elected in 1998.
On March 16 he will retire — to dedicate himself to fishing and service work at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Meridian.
Over his 20 years, Waite has been involved with several major projects in the city, including work on uncovering and beautifying the Indian Creek and bringing Treasure Valley Community College to Caldwell. Whenever any of these big projects was envisioned, Waite said, the city council would ask him how the city would pay for it, and he would be tasked to come up with a solution, which he always did, he said.
“I’ve never met anybody that understands numbers the way he does,” Nancolas said. “ElJay has been instrumental in putting together financing packages and delivering results.”
Both Waite and Nancolas have the same favorite memory from their time working together.
In early 1998, when Caldwell’s Urban Renewal Agency was still in the early stages of development, the two men drove around the city in Waite’s pickup truck to assess the needs of Caldwell and develop a plan for how an urban renewal agency could address the issues.
“If you compare a picture of Caldwell from then and now, it’s amazing how things have changed,” Waite said.
Waite’s role was key in ensuring the city’s needs were not compromised even in the midst of the national economic crisis that started in 2007 and 2008, Nancolas said.
Waite said he relied heavily on the city’s savings during the recession and its aftermath — at one point, bringing the fund balances down to “the lowest possible.”
Even though some nonessential services had to be cut, Waite said, necessities such as public safety services were maintained at the same level.
“It was a tough time,” Waite said. “Caldwell was hit the hardest in the area, but we pulled through.”
Waite has not been without his critics over the years. Paul Alldredge, 71, writes the Caldwell Guardian blog, covering issues within the city of Caldwell.
Alldredge, who ran for Caldwell mayor in 2013, has disagreed with some city decisions, including bringing in the community college.
Since 2014, however, Alldredge said he has not had any issues with city governance and appreciated Waite’s communication with him whenever asked a question.
“I have to say, ElJay has not ducked any questions,” Alldredge said.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR CALDWELL
The city has not decided on a hiring timeline to replace Waite. There will be an application process to fill the position. Until then, Carol Mitchell, deputy treasurer, is getting trained for the job, Nancolas said.
“Carol has great characteristics,” he said. “But there will be an application process, and I hope she is right on top.”
Waite’s position pays $106,808 per year.
When Waite retires, the new finance director will not have the same starting wage, according to Monica Jones, human resources director.
Waite said he will continue to work on ongoing projects two days a week after he retires.
Mitchell has worked with Waite since October 2015.
“My experience as well as my team’s experience during these last couple of years working with ElJay has been a very positive and rewarding opportunity,” she said in an email to the Idaho Press-Tribune. “ElJay’s guidance and mentorship has prepared our team to continue making Caldwell the treasure of the valley.”
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Beyond crunching numbers, Waite likes to crack a joke here and there.
“You probably don’t see it very often, but he has a great sense of humor,” Nancolas said. “He can make people smile and laugh in difficult days.”
Waite was born and raised in Nampa. After graduating from Vallivue High School, Waite spent a year in Quebec, Canada, serving an LDS mission. He married his wife in 1974, and together they have four children, 17 grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Before working for the city, Waite worked at a mining firm as an accountant in Silver City, Idaho, for 18 years.
Waite said his favorite season is spring, “when everything comes back to life.” Post retirement, when spring comes around, Waite said he is planning to spend most of his time fishing.