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SSMU finances back on track after adoption of revised budget

Council discusses fee bundling, communication with constituents

On November 6, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for its bi-weekly meeting to discuss the possibility of fee bundling and methods for better communication with constituents, and to continue its previous discussion on library improvements. SSMU VP Finance and Operations Kathleen Bradley also presented the revised 2014-15 SSMU budget to Council.

Budget presentation

Bradley was optimistic about the budget, saying that SSMU is “doing well as far as long-term financial sustainability.” She also announced that Frosh ran a $950 deficit, which she called “a really awesome number.”

A glaring hole in the budget was the student-run café, The Nest, which is projected to operate at a $76,000 deficit. Bradley cited this loss as a consequence of the “disconnect between the low food costs that students want and the original mandate of The Nest,” which specifies that The Nest must be “local and sustainably oriented.”

“This year we’re waiting to see how [The Nest] operates over a full year because last year, we didn’t have very much data to go on,” said Bradley in an interview with The Daily. “And if it’s still facing the same high-cost, high-labour, low-price problems, then we’ll have to address [these issues].”

The Club Fund has been set to $86,000, up from $30,000 the previous year. The VP External portfolio budget has been substantially increased to $16,100 to fund a yearly speaker series. Additional funding was also allocated to equity and mental health, the latter being an addition to the University Affairs portfolio this year. The full $50,000 annual transfer to the Capital Expenditures Reserve Fund has also been made for the first time in three years.

The budget presentation and the line-by-line breakdown are available on SSMU’s website.

Fee bundling

SSMU President Courtney Ayakawa brought forward a discussion on fee bundling, which would group all of the small student fees payable to SSMU on Minerva into sections such as “service fees” instead of listing each fee individually. Ayukawa said that Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens told her that McGill “really wants this [fee bundling] to happen.”

Arts Representative Lola Baraldi spoke against fee bundling, citing “the easiness of seeing this big fee and having someone just click to opt out of all of those services” as her concern.

Echoing Baraldi’s point, Medicine Senator David Benrimoh also stated that he was “very worried that people may opt out of all the fees, even the fees that they may benefit from.”

“Having a big bundle of fees is completely counter to the sense of transparency in government,” added Benrimoh.
Ayukawa also expressed her dissatisfaction with fee bundling. “A lot of these fees are things that students run […] which arguably the University should probably be doing,” she said. “I fear that bundling, with the limited information on the bill itself, may not give credit enough to all the students that are doing work that the University should be doing.”

A straw poll was taken to gauge Council’s position on fee bundling; the councillors were unanimously against it.

Communication with constituents

Arts Senator Kareem Ibrahim brought the problem of communication with constituents to the floor, citing a Facebook event supporting a facetious motion to “turn SSMU into a giant Chuck E. Cheese,” created after the October 22 General Assembly, as a concern. The name of the event page has been changed since its creation.

Ibrahim asked councillors for their opinion on creating a Facebook group to “poll constituents about issues.” Arts and Science Senator Chloe Rourke spoke in favour of the suggestion.

“Using online forums such as Facebook is worth considering, because really the communication channels we have right now are inadequate,” she said. “There is a huge disconnect between SSMU and its constituents, a lot of the time there is misinformation about what SSMU does.”

Ayukawa was a bit more hesitant about the idea. “This often devolves into personal attacks and I don’t think that it’s fair to put […] any of us into a situation where we are going to be personally attacked,” she said. She suggested that instead, each set of faculty councillors create their own Facebook pages that “could be passed down from year to year.”

Extended library hours

VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan brought up the discussion of extended library hours, which she had previously brought forward at the last Council meeting.

Engineering Representative Anikke Rioux reported her constituents’ feelings to Council. “A lot of people care more about having the hours than who pays for it,” she said.

Arts and Science Representative Saurin Shah echoed this sentiment, saying that his constituents “would very much like McGill to fund extended hours, [but] if it came down to it they would rather SSMU fund it than not have it at all.”

Publications fee

VP Internal J. Daniel Chaim brought to discussion the funding problems of the Old McGill Yearbook that SSMU publishes every year. “It’s very important that we figure out a sustainable way to fund [the yearbook] for the future, because as it stands right now the SSMU loses over $23,000 a year in the publication of the yearbook,” he said.

Chaim said that nothing could be changed this year, but suggested the implementation of a publications fee which would also cover “the handbook, the website, and other improvements that we’d like to make in the future in terms of technological publications.” He estimated that the fee would be around $2.50 per semester.

Baraldi spoke in favour of this approach. “Creating a fee opens up possibilities for students for what they want to see in the yearbook, and I definitely also think it should be opt-outable.”

Changes to clubs and services

A motion to amend the Clubs and Services Portfolio By-law Book to allow services to use leftover fees to fund projects was criticized by councillors due to its restrictive nature. The motion stated that services could not use discretionary funding for capital expenditures “whose use and value exceed the timeframe in which the project or event takes place.”

Bradley defended this provision. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask students of today to be funding services that donate to projects of tomorrow,” she said.

The motion passed, along with a motion to create an Ad-hoc Club Hub Committee. The committee is to review the current club structure and make recommendations to Council on changes to this structure by the end of the academic year.