After leading the small town through bleak financial times, Guadalupe City Administrator Andrew Carter has informed his bosses he will be leaving as soon as July 1 from the job he has held for more than three years.
Carter, 59, notified the council last week of his plans to move away from the Central Coast this summer, offering to remain on the job through August if his replacement has not been hired.
The former San Luis Obispo City Council member doesn’t have a new job lined up yet, but said he hopes to find a management analyst or deputy city manager job near his planned new home of Hanford, southwest of Fresno.
“This is really more of a personal life decision I’m making than a career decision,” Carter, who is divorced, said of his plans to move closer to his girlfriend as he seeks a better work-life balance.
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As his time with the city winds down, Carter is poised to wrap up the fiscal year in the black, instead of the red ink Guadalupe often has seen.
“I’m officially projecting a small deficit just because I like to be fiscally conservative, but I personally think we’re going to end up with a surplus,” he said.
That’s a huge milestone for the city once facing a $750,000 deficit and doubts about its future.
“I feel pretty proud of that because we literally could have gone out of existence,” he said.
Former Mayor Frances Romero said replacing Carter with someone qualified will be difficult because Guadalupe’s salary is lower than other communities pay.
“Andrew has meant the difference between the city staying in business or going bankrupt,” she said. “If it wasn’t for his attention to detail back in 2013 and figuring out the shell game going on, the city could not have sustained that type of budgeting for much longer.”
Romero added, “To have a rightly balanced budget is a huge accomplishment.”
Months into the job, Carter said he discovered accounting irregularities done for noble purposes, but still inappropriate by accounting principles.
Trying to solve the city’s financial problems, he stumbled into the fact the Guadalupe budget for the General Fund relied on larger-than-acceptable inter-fund transfers from enterprise funds such as water, wastewater and others that are supposed to be independent.
“It was an ah-ha moment when I discovered it,” he said.
To help solve the city’s money woes, Carter proposed three new measures to boost city coffers. which were approved by voters in November 2014.
He also led efforts to create water and wastewater system master plans, key as the city suffered two critical failures in his short stint with the city due to neglect.
Memorial Day weekend 2013, the city’s main well failed, and Guadalupe came within 12 hours of running out of water, according to Carter. Months later, a key sewer system serving a major portion of the city failed.
“That’s what happens when you aren’t taking care of your water and wastewater infrastructure,” Carter said.
As city administrator, Carter has worn many hats, including public works director, utilities director, human resources officer, information technology director and others.
Recent rate increases will help pay for a public works/utilities director to monitor the systems.
“It’s not just important in terms of managing the system, but it’s also important in terms of making this job more doable for whomever follows me,” Carter said.
While the city is financially healthier than in the past, Carter included a note of caution.
“Now, does that mean our financial future is rosy? No, we’re just getting by,” he said, adding that health insurance and retirement increases will require a 5.5-percent hike in personnel costs.
While most cities rely on sales-tax revenue and transient-occupancy taxes for revenue, Guadalupe is challenged because it lacks big income generators such as big-box stores, auto dealerships and major hotels.
“It’ll be a challenge to come up with a balanced budget,” Carter said.
Leaving behind the staff members who worked alongside Carter during the financial woes won’t be simple, he said, noting he hired Finance Director Annette Munoz.
“We’ve gone through battle together in terms of the finances of the city, the grand jury investigation, in trying to rectify that,” he said.
Guadalupe city employees have a long tenure, remaining loyal despite challenges.
“It’s not a Sunday walk in the park in terms of serving Guadalupe,” he said. “I mean, we have the lowest pay scales of anyone around for public sector.”
The end of redevelopment agencies hurt small cities like Guadalupe, which has been forced to seek multiple years of concessions from employees, including unpaid furloughs that continued long after other government agencies were able to discontinue them.
Romero said she has seen big improvements in morale among employees since Carter joined the staff, adding that city employees and residents owe Carter a huge debt of gratitude for caring about the community.
“Andrew was never an outsider. When he came here, he embraced this community and he really has a heart for a small-town community,” Romero said.
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