The Budget Process
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(505) 662-8244

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The County of Los Alamos has endeavored to produce the most comprehensive, yet understandable budget document possible. Every year the budget continues to build on past successes, and strives to incorporate appropriate suggestions that will improve its overall readability and usefulness.

The Government Finance Officers Association has 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, and are detailed below.

Policy Document: This is the most significant function of the budget document. In its broad context, it 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. 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, for example: the goals and objectives of the County's departments, new programs, staffing requirements, etc. 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.

Financial Plan: As a financial planning tool, the budget 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.

Operations Guide: The budget document is designed to be a readable guide to the County's varied activities and services. 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.

Communications Device: To be an effective communication tool, 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.

The Budget Process

The budget process for the County of Los Alamos is an on-going, year round process. The formal budget process begins in October, with meetings held by the County Council, the County Manager, and department directors.

Following these preliminary meetings, departments begin to 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.

Responsibilities Budget Activities
County Manager Discuss proposed operating and capital budget priorities, budget schedules and guidelines with the Management Team.

Brief the Council on the budget process, proposed financial policies, and budget guidelines.

Hold budget meetings to review departments' budget requests. Review budget requests, make budget decisions, and prepare budget message.

Submit the proposed budget to the Council.

Departments Submit to the CountyManager the department's budget requests, goals, and objectives for the new fiscal year, and accomplishments during the current fiscal year.

Meet with the CountyManager to review department's budget submittal.

Participate in Council budget hearings to justify department's budget request.

Implement and monitor the adopted budget for the department and funds.

Finance/Budget Review previous year's budget process, and identify improvements to both manual and automated procedures.

Develop proposed budget guidelines and calendar for the new fiscal year.

Participate in Management Team discussion of budget issues, concerns, and procedural changes.

Review current year financial performance, and develop financial forecasts.

Issue budget guidelines and interdepartmental charge (IDC) guidelines and rates approved by the CountyManager to departments and outside agencies.

County Council Establish County goals for coming year, and meet with CountyManager regarding proposed budget guidelines, financial policies, and budget schedule.

Review County Manager's proposed budget and capital improvement

Hold public hearings and adopt the annual operating budget and capital improvement program.

All budgets for the Incorporated County of Los Alamos are adopted on a basis consistent with generally accepted accounting principles. Annual appropriated budgets are adopted for all County funds, except agency and pension trust funds. All annual operating appropriations lapse at fiscal year end unless specifically approved by the County Council to carry over to the next fiscal year. In contrast, project-length financial plans are adopted for all capital projects funds, and unexpended appropriations automatically carry over to the next fiscal year.


Encumbrances represent commitments related to unperformed contracts for goods or services. Encumbrance accounting is used by the County for budgetary control purposes. Encumbrances outstanding at year end are reported as reservations of fund balances and do not constitute expenditures or liabilities because the commitments will be honored during the following year

Description of County Fund Types

The County uses funds and account groups to report on its financial position and operating results. Fund accounting is designed to demonstrate legal compliance and to aid financial management by segregating transactions related to certain County functions or activities. A fund is a separate accounting entity with a self-balancing set of accounts.


Governmental funds account for all or most of a government's general activities, including the collection and disbursement of earmarked moneys (special revenue funds), the acquisition or construction of general fixed assets (capital projects funds), and the servicing of general long-term debt (debt service funds). The General Fund is used to account for all activities of the general government not accounted for in some other fund.


Proprietary funds account for activities similar to those found in the private sector, where net income determination is necessary for sound financial management. Goods or services from such activities can be provided either to outside parties (enterprise funds) or to other departments or agencies primarily within the government (internal service funds).


Fiduciary funds are used to account for assets held in a trustee or agency capacity for others and therefore cannot be used to support the government's own programs. A pension trust fund is used to report resources that are required to be held in trust for the members and beneficiaries of the County's defined contribution plan (Los Alamos County Employee Pension Plan). An agency fund is used to account for situations where the County's role is purely custodial, such as the receipt, temporary investment, and remittance of fiduciary resources to individuals, private organizations, or other governments.