News  Financial missteps squeeze SUS groups

Executives blame backlogged tax payments, forgotten bills for funding shortage

$20,000 in unpaid bills burdened the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) at the start of the semester, blocking the distribution of overdue payments to departmental groups.

According to the current SUS VP Finance Jordan Doherty, last year’s VP Finance, Eva Kong, left the University unexpectedly in February without submitting a letter of resignation or returning several documents and personal cheques to the organization – which have since expired.

“She just left [and] we had no idea where she was,” Doherty said. “Finances essentially broke down for the second semester.”

In August 2007, Kong helped SUS file approximately five years of unpaid taxes with Revenue Quebec, which convinced the SUS executive that they were in good standing with the government, according to Spencer Ng, the 2007-2008 SUS President.

“Our file was closed; we were 100 per cent certain,” Ng said.

According to emails The Daily received from sources who wished to remain anonymous, payments amounted to $29,050, including $5,463 in interest.

But after Kong’s departure in February, the SUS executive received another letter from Revenue Quebec, requesting another large payment.

Fearing the loss of its corporation status, which is a requirement of SUS’s Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the University to receive student funding, the executives chose to pay the amount Revenue Quebec requested, and seek explanation for the additional levy after any holds on SUS were cleared.

“We had no idea how strictly [Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning)] Morton Mendleson was planning to enforce the terms of the MoA this year, and we knew there was a very legitimate chance that we’d be denied student funds,” Ng said.

Kong’s absence resulted in a breakdown of day-to-day financial business within the SUS, as no executive stepped in, and equalization payments to student departments – determined by a formula that considers the number of students in a department and the revenue that the councils make from fundraising – were never allocated.

According to Ng, no equalization payments were made in Winter 2008 because only some student departments returned requests, and it would be unfair to apply the formula funding to a select few. Instead, Ng opted to give doubled equalization payments for Fall 2008 – covering both Winter 2008 and Fall 2008 – and ensured that the SUS account held a balance of close to $20,000 at the end of Winter term.

But by Doherty’s account, this year’s SUS executive inherited numerous debts dating back to November 2007 totalling approximately $20,000, including unsettled payments to insurers, beer companies, and office supply firms.

“When you factor in the extra $10,000 in equalization, we took a hit that was closer to $30,000,” Doherty said. “We found ourselves paying for the sins of other people.”

Doherty explained that despite a profitable Frosh and this term’s student fees, which balanced the remainder of the expenses from last year, departmental organizations should not expect to receive the promised Winter 2008 equalization payments.

“When you’re $30,000 behind where you should be, something has to go; we can’t honour that commitment that [last year’s council] failed to follow up on,” Doherty said.

However, SUS has funded Fall 2008 payments in full, following the guildelines set forth in its constitution.

Nick Avdimiretz, VP of the Physiology Undergraduate League of Students (PULS), wrote in an email to The Daily that SUS must be held accountable for the missteps, and not its departmental organizations.

“This is money that the Physiology students pay, expecting it to go straight to PULS. Instead, this money was lost with last year’s SUS,” Avdimiretz wrote.

SUS President Neil Issar reiterated his organization’s position on the missing equalization payments.

“We’re not in a financial position right now to recoup the losses of last year’s council. It has had no effect on this year,” Issar said.

Issar encouraged departmental groups needing extra funding to apply to the SUS Special Projects Fund, which was expanded this year.