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SSMU copes with reality of failed base fee increase

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The current Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives have been forced to adjust operations to fit the new budget constraints caused by a failed Winter 2016 referendum motion. The motion proposed a $5.50 increase to the SSMU base fee but failed by 0.3 per cent. The current SSMU executives have adjusted operations to fit the new budget constraints caused by the failed referendum motion. SSMU President Ben Ger assured that the majority of these adjustments consist of reorganizing services and expanding avenues of revenue.

    “Sacha, the new Vice-President (VP) Operations, is working […] on the Student Run Cafeteria (SRC) to make sure this coming year we see major reductions to its costs, improvements and alterations to its menu, and additions to its structure and space,” Ger said. “Niall, our VP Finance, is working on a number of budget scenarios that we will be further exploring in the months to come.”

Temporary student club restrictions

    SSMU is currently not accepting applications for new student clubs, although Ger emphasized that clubs currently holding interim status can still apply for full status and that full status clubs have nothing to fear.

“There are no plans for these temporary restrictions on the ability to receive interim club status to become permanent,” said Ger. “As of now, the entire executive is committed to making sure that this isn't the situation for very long.”

SSMU VP Finance Niall Carolan explained that without the approval of the SSMU fee increase, the creation of new clubs is difficult to accommodate due to a lack of available resources and funds.

“When you create a new club, they need a new bank account [and] they need to have their signing offices approved by the accounting department and myself,” Carolan said. “Not only does it put a strain on our internal resource process, but we also have a great deal of technology that we use in conjunction with club administration.”

Gerts and Student Run Cafeteria operations

SSMU’s largest operations are the SRC and Gerts Bar. Both suffered from a lack of profits last year, and a drop in revenue is expected due to the McTavish Street construction. SSMU VP Operations Sacha Magder hopes that restructuring will improve the profitability of SSMU businesses.

“We realized that staff need to have more training, and most importantly they need to be able to train each other,” Magder said. “Moving forward, we'll be tracking the sales of all meal options to make sure we cut anything that isn't selling; this results in reduced waste and allows us to replace stock with more popular options.”

Magder said that a key issue was a lack of consistent branding, noting that ‘The Nest,’ ‘Grill,’ and simply ‘Second Floor Cafeteria’ have all been used to refer to the SRC.    

“I’ve been working with our marketing team over the summer to define our brand identity and to develop a marketing plan,” Magder said. “We’ve proposed some new ideas–which are confidential for now, but will be released soon–that were validated by working groups in the last week of August.”

Magder hopes to run Gerts activities that will appeal to students. He listed themes, trivia, and open mic nights as potential regular events. B-week was one such an event, providing discounts on various drinks at Gerts from Sept. 12 to 16.

“We’ve already [completed]  B-week […] to keep the momentum rolling from Frosh, and we’ll be having many more fun events throughout the year to make Gerts more than just another bar,” Magder said. “Most importantly, we’re looking to work much more closely with the faculties. We’d like to collaborate for more events and to use Gerts as a basecamp for various events across campus.”

Monetizing the Shatner Building

    Carolan pointed to the member base fee, Gerts, the SRC, special operations (such as SSMU Minicourses), and rental space as the primary sources of income for the Society. He stressed that SSMU is mandated to not repeatedly run on deficits, and believes that student operations alone cannot generate the necessary profits.

“We’ll never be able to rely solely on operational revenues to sustain the Society because it’s a multi-million dollar non-for-profit, and those aren’t the kind of profits you can expect from that scale of student-run initiatives,” Carolan said. “So with that in mind and the failed base fee of last year, there are only so many different avenues of funding that we can pursue.”

Carolan explained that renting space to corporate sponsors is a reliable source of income, and saves costs for the student body as well.

“Before utilizing corporate sponsors, I wanted to make sure that our internal operations were running as effectively as possible so that I would have an idea of our shortfall,” Carolan said. “The only time we’d use corporate sponsors is to save passing that cost to students.”

Rather than charge students or clubs for running events–such as Activities Night–corporate sponsors carry the costs in order to advertise on campus. Carolan believes that this is an effective way to cover costs, provided that the focus remains on students.

“I do agree that we need [to] keep an eye on [sponsors’] impact on the events and make sure it doesn’t detract from the entire experience,” Carolan said. “That’s really the point of it, if we have to use sponsors, we want to use sponsors who are relevant to students and hopefully provide a benefit to students at the same time.”

Yearbook mementos

After several years of running a deficit, McGill’s yearbook has been discontinued. The SSMU executive team has expressed a desire to see it continue in some form, but details remain unspecified.

“It was just an unfortunate cost-benefit analysis where we thought, if there are these hundred students who are actually buying it, is it worth incurring this many thousands in deficit to make that happens,” Carolan said. “I’m not sure […] whether it will be discontinued indefinitely. I hope not, and I think that we’ll be doing everything we can to bring it back.”

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