County Gears Up For Budget Hearings

Staff Report:

Los Alamos County is gearing up to present its Fiscal Year 2018 to the County Council.

The budget hearings begin at 6 p.m. April 17-18 and April 24-25 in Council Chambers at the Municipal Building, 1000 Central Ave.

Typically, Council approves the budget on the final day of hearings, which this year is April 25.

Community members may access the proposed budget starting March 31. Copies of the budget will be available at both libraries as well as at the Municipal Building and on the County’s website at www.losalamosnm.us.

Although the hearings are held in April, the budget process is an on-going, year round process. The formal budget process begins in October, with meetings held by the County Council, County manager and department directors. The County website indicates that following these preliminary meetings, departments prepare plans for maintaining current services, reducing or deleting other services and planning for new services.

Detailed budget guidelines produced by the Finance Division in December are submitted to the departments. Departmental meetings are held to discuss the guidelines and the County manager’s goals for the upcoming year. From these guidelines, the departments develop their preliminary budgets.

According to the County’s website, the Government Finance Officers Association identified four general elements that “…constitute good budgetary practices.” These four elements view the budget as a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide and a communications device.

The County website reports that the policy document is the most significant function of the budget document. In its broad context, the policy document pertains to long-term, organization-wide policies that establish broad goals, direct how and where resources are spent, and establish a framework for providing and funding services.

The website further states as a policy document, the budget also describes the County’s short-term financial and operational policies which influence the budget development process for the upcoming year, such as the goals and objectives of the County’s departments, new programs and staffing requirements. Finally, the policy function articulates the most significant choices and decisions regarding key issues, priorities, ramifications and how these have changed from the current year.

As stated on the website, the budget, as a financial planning tool, provides an explanation of the County’s financial structure, descriptions of its funds, summaries of major revenues and expenditures, narratives for the major revenue sources and assumptions associated with revenue estimates and trends. The budget provides a comprehensive discussion of capital projects and their impact on the operating budget, includes financial data and narrative on current debt levels and debt limits, and addresses the potential effect of existing debt levels on the future operations of the County.

As an operations guide, the budget document also is designed to be a readable guide to the County’s varied activities and services, according to the County website. It is a valuable resource, which includes summary tables of personnel and positions, community statistical information, measurements of performance, and other information often referred to by department directors, managers, and the citizens.

To be an effective communication tool, the website reports, the budget must be able to clearly explain significant budgetary issues, trends, and priorities; short-term and long-term financial strategies, capital improvement plans, and significant budgetary impacts to elected officials, department heads and their staff, and to the citizens for whom they work.

Watch for full coverage of the Los Alamos County upcoming Budget Hearings at ladailypost.com.

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