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SSMU Building at McGill
The Jan. 28 SSMU Council will see presentations from two student federations. (L-A Benoit / McGill Tribune)

Budget, bylaw reform, and fee consolidation reviewed at SSMU Council

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The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Council met on Thursday to discuss the 2014-2015 budget, bylaw amendments, as well as fee consolidation.

2014-2015 Global budget

Council announced SSMU’s budget for the 2014-2015 school year, which plans to break even in accordance to their mandate.

The report detailed the financial profits and deficits of various SSMU activities and operations. Notable deficits included SSMU’s student-run café, the Nest, which has incurred a deficit of $76,282 since its opening. The 4Floors Halloween event and frosh also saw deficits of $5,281 and $3,600 respectively. Gerts, the student bar, ran a profit of $15,081, and SSMU mini-courses ran a profit of $29,000.

SSMU VP Finance and Operations Kathleen Bradley explained that about $240,000 of the budget for the building’s lease and utilities had been removed from the operating budget following the creation of a restricted fund in October. The fund is comprised of money collected through the SSMU Building Fee that is not used in rent payments due to lower than expected costs of utilities. 

“There’s an excess of student fees that I don’t think would be appropriate to put in the operating budget,” Bradley said. “We created a restricted fund that can now only go towards rent payments […] either in the form of re-adjusting the fee when the lease is re-negotiated […] or through ending the fee a year early, and paying the entire last year’s rent with the remaining portion of the fee, depending on how much there is.”

Bradley also spoke to the Nest’s financial operations, explaining that cost of food sales and salaries were major contributors to the deficit.

“[The Nest is] meant to be local, sustainable, vegan-friendly, [and] in-house made, but on the other hand, all of the student feedback we get is that ‘We want the cheapest food possible,’” Bradley explained. “It’s hard to make the two things coalesce because local companies are generally more expensive, [and] making food in-house does have additional labour costs to it [….] I think that’s more of an existential question the Nest needs to answer—what we want to be and how we want to operate—because currently […] it’s not financially sustainable.”

While Bradley acknowledged the challenges that the Nest’s $76,282 deficit presented, she also explained that the deficit had been accrued through last semester’s start-up costs and that efforts were being made this semester to decrease the deficit.

“I think that some of it will be offset by our daycare catering, which has already started, and decreased waste,” she said. “Additionally, we were closed for September, so we don’t actually have any financial info from this semester as to how sales are doing, how costs are, what labour is.”

The budget report also stated that SSMU will be able to transfer $50,000 towards its capital expenditures reserve fund (CERF), which funds long-term projects such as renovations and student projects. It was passed at Council.

Motion to amend the Clubs and Services Portfolio bylaw book

A motion was passed regarding the amendment of the Clubs and Services Portfolio Bylaw Book, which concerned Donations and Sponsorship Funding for clubs and services. The purpose of this funding, VP Clubs and Services Stefan Fong explained, was to distribute the fees collected on behalf of services such as TVM, the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), and Midnight Kitchen. The fees would contribute towards groups, projects, or events that share a similar mandate with the service making the contribution. The bylaws were created to address the previous lack of transparency in the distribution of the funds,and to establish guidelines for how the funding would be distributed.

In response to concerns from some councilors that the bylaws were too restrictive as to what purposes the funding could be put to, Fong explained that they were created in accordance with bylaws governing the funding committee.

“It makes it more clear to services what can and cannot be funded,” Fong said. “As of now, because [there are no guidelines], if I have to deny funds […] because it’s obviously not in accordance with the mandate of the service, it’s really unclear because we don’t know if it’s what I think the mandate is versus what the student thinks it is. [Hard] definitions in bylaws themselves would make it more clear to students.”

Discussion regarding fee consolidation

Council also discussed the pros and cons of bundling the smaller fees charged by SSMU to reduce the workload of processing said fees for the McGill administration. The proposal of such a fee consolidation was brought forth by the university administration.

SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa said the administration was eager for the fee consolidation to pass, and asked Council to give feedback she could bring back to discussions with the McGill administration.

“Small fees generate a lot of work to create,” reads a document on the proposed fee bundling. “It requires a great amount of man-power, particularly when there is a different fee for part-time students, and increases dramatically the amount of time to test the accuracy of fee assessment.”

Councillors raised concerns over the impact bundling fees would create towards opt-outable fees, saying that this may prompt students to opt out of more fees when they may only strongly disagree with one, thus taking money away from services.

“While there is information about how fees are divided elsewhere, we absolutely need to provide at every possible place the information and the transparency that students deserve,” Bradley said. “I would echo that this clearly benefits the administration, not the students, and I’m very concerned about the opt-out rates for services that really rely on this money.”

SSMU Building energy report

SSMU Green Building Coordinator Alex Heim reported to Council regarding the building’s energy usage and utility costs.

Heim pointed out that although utility prices have risen in the past few years, SSMU has reduced its consumption of energy so that the total bill is actually lower than in previous years. She attributed the decrease in usage to the plan SSMU now undertakes which heats and cools the building at appropriate times, instead of constantly throughout the day.

“[Previously,] the building would be heated or cooled 24 hours, not considering the duration of when people were here and working or not,” Heim explained. “What they do now is [ask] ‘When are the peak times of energy consumption; when are people in here?’ They then accordingly decide when to heat or cool the building.”

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