The Los Alamos County Department of Finance is doing it again!

Top row, from left: Reese Chavarria-Quam, accounting operations manager, Helen Perraglio, chief financial officer, payroll coordinator Nicol Avila, payroll manager Sonya Ortiz, nicholle Cordova, AP and PCard administrator. Middle row, from left: Yvette Atencio, Senior Budget Analyst, David Griego, Senior Management Analyst, Rebecca Andrus, AP Coordinator, and Trina Suazo-Martinez, Senior Accountant. Bottom row, from left: Head of Accounting Operations Beatrice Odezulu, Senior Accountant Zhengyan Liu and Deputy Chief Financial Officer Melissa Dadzie. Not shown Budget & Performance Manager Monther Jubran. Courtesy/BAC

By Kristen Laskey
Los Alamos Daily Message

The Los Alamos County Department of Finance has done it again. At a recent Los Alamos County Board meeting, county chief financial officer Helen Perraglio said her team received more awards to add to their extensive collection.

These new prices include:

  • Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA);
  • GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for FY2021 Budget;
  • GFOA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Financial Reporting; and
  • Fiscal Year 2020 New Mexico Counties and Office of the State Auditor’s Audit and Accountability Award – Certificate of Continuing Excellence.

After winning all three GFOA awards, Perraglio said the department was recognized as the winner of the GFOA Triple Crown.

This is far from the first time that the Department of Finance has won these awards. In fact, this is the 29th year that he has received the award for budget presentation and the 30th year that the department has received the award for financial reporting. Additionally, of the five years the GFOA has awarded the Outstanding Honor for Popular Annual Financial Reports, the County Department of Finance has won it five times. Finally, he won the Audit and Accountability Award from New Mexico Counties and the Office of the State Auditor for Six Years.

“The county’s Department of Finance awards and accolades demonstrate the continued commitment to quality,” said Los Alamos County Council Chairman Randall Ryti. “This continued excellence has real impacts on maintaining the county’s credit rating. I congratulate CFO Helen Perraglio and her team on these achievements. »

During an interview with the Los Alamos Daily Post, Perraglio credited his team for earning so many accolades and awards.

“I would say it’s definitely the dedication of the team, which helps them come together and do it in such a professional way,” she said. “Because it’s not an easy task; it’s a huge push, a ton of effort and it’s just constant collaboration.

For example, Perraglio said that in order to receive the GFOA’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award, there are specific criteria that must be followed. This includes industry-specific formatting, a tax policy message to present as well as ensuring that the presentation is readable and has all the components that show best practices in financial accounting and budgeting. It’s not just about the report, she explained; it is about how the finance department and county management follow strict budgetary and governmental accounting standards in establishing the county budget.

It takes teamwork, not just within the finance department, but across county departments, Perraglio said.

“There’s definitely a group effort across all departments,” she said. “We are an incredibly committed team in Los Alamos County. It is necessary to collaborate between each department and division to build this budget… in a timely manner. It’s just a tremendous amount of effort and dedication to working extreme hours. We work roughly from December to March 31 non-stop, to get there.

The real point of pride in this year’s awards, Perraglio said, is that they were achieved while the finance department was working remotely due to COVID. She said it’s a testament not only to the effort to win these awards, but also to how the department has leveraged past investments in technology. These rewards are more than just additions to the trophy showcase. Perraglio said they benefit the county.

“It definitely benefits Los Alamos County as a whole,” she said. “It puts us on the national recognition map. It puts us at the top of our peers and the national public sector finance industry… It means that even though it’s a small town, we can compete with the best of them. We don’t sacrifice excellence in any way, so it’s really beneficial in that regard.

The other benefit is that it makes the county attractive to come and work with and do audits, to get grants – federal grants, state grants – any of those types of other sources of funding to run programs specific, Perraglio said.

“If you have a clean audit and you’re part of GOFA recognition…it really helps get more funding for the county,” she said. “It gives us more opportunities because it shows that we have strong internal controls. We’re accounting for things correctly…it really benefits all of our programs and all the things that we want to try to do.

Plus, it helps with county bond ratings, Perraglio said. There are a lot of factors to value bonds, but it helps the county lower its financing costs.

“It shows that you have a very clean internal control structure – it’s very attractive to be able to get more funding, to have great bond ratings and to bring in some of the best auditors to come in and do our audit as well. “, she said. “They really want to work with us.”

“It also benefits the community,” Perraglio said. “Because there are many times when you really need a grant…and the best way to do that is to have strong controls, accountability and the ability to receive the money and report money too.”

She explained that for the county to get a grant, it has to go through a rigorous process.

For example, Atomic City Transit is funded by the US Department of Transportation. The Department of Transportation is heavily audited, and Perraglio said the county received a “brilliant” report. She noted that the Los Alamos Fire Department’s cooperative agreement to provide fire services to the Los Alamos National Laboratory is funded by a $24 million federal grant. Additionally, the county is seeking $11 million from the Federal Aviation Administration for capital expenditures at its airport. There are also smaller grants for state-run programs such as the DWI program.

The most important achievement, however, is getting a clean audit.

“The audit is the most important achievement because…basically it is the test of all the planning we do to budget…the audit tells us if we did it, if we did it right , if we’ve used those funds correctly, if we’re accounting for them correctly,” Perraglio said. “So having a clean audit is really the most important measure to show that we have a great system and a great team.”

As for the finance department team, it is small but mighty. Perraglio said it consists of 12 people and these people oversee all financial components of the county: revenues, expenses, payroll, disbursements, receivables, grants, property taxes, etc.
Having a positive audit means this team, and really the entire county team, has strong controls from top to bottom, she said. It also helps with accreditations from different departments such as fire and police departments. The Department of Community Services is also beginning its accreditation process.

Looking to the future, Perraglio said his goal was to “maintain the bar”.

“The bar has been set high for Los Alamos,” she added. “It’s always a lot of work to be able to maintain the bar. But what I’m really focusing on going forward is staff development, team development and making sure we have a good succession plan. Because the things you learn and what we do – it takes years to fully understand them and be able to have the expertise to follow them. We work very hard on staff development in finance. It’s constantly evolving. We are regulated by the GASB (Governmental Accounting Standards Board), they issue statements every year that impact us… it takes a lot of thought and foresight to analyze how this will impact our financial statements. This is the constant challenge of our team… to respect the GASB standards.

Perraglio added that she strives to keep her staff informed, educated, motivated and engaged in the work and the hours it takes. She pointed out that her team devotes much of their lives to maintaining the department’s high standards.

“If we didn’t have that kind of dedication, we wouldn’t be on the map,” she said.

To have that dedication, Perraglio said they were thinking outside the box and allowing the team to continue working in a hybrid model. She believes the key to future success is to continue to retain and attract talent while adapting to the new paradigm of remote working or a hybrid of flexibility, to achieve true work-life balance and continue to maintain excellence by investing in staff development.

Perraglio emphasized how much his team is valued and what they have achieved is a win for everyone – the county and the community.

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