The Students’ Society of McGill (SSMU) Council voted to hold a special referendum at the end of the month in which students will be able to vote on a proposed base fee increase as well a the creation of a seventh SSMU executive position, the vice-president (VP) Operations. As discussed in the Jan. 14 Council meeting, the membership fee would see a $5.50 increase. The two questions will be asked independently in the referendum.
Motion to hold special referendum for a $5.50 membership fee increase
A SSMU referendum is scheduled at the end of this month regarding a $5.50 membership fee increase. The fee is collected once every term and is non-opt-outable.
If the special referendum passes, the membership fee will increase from $44.75 to $50.25 per term for full-time students in Arts, Architecture, Education, Engineering, Music, Management, Nursing, Physical & Occupational Therapy, Science, and Arts & Science, and $22.44 to $27.94 per term for part-time students in the same category. As for faculties of Law, Religious Studies, Dentistry, and Medicine, the proposed increase will bring the fees from $33.56 to $39.06 per term for full-time students, and from $16.83 to $22.33 per term for part-time students.
According to VP Finance and Operations Zachariah Houston, a portion of the extra revenue will be spent on improving student clubs and services.
“Basically, [a] $5.50 [increase] will haul in $242,000 roughly in revenue per year,” he explained. “We want to increase the club fund allocation by $25,000 [.…] We want to cut [independent] student group leases in this building a little bit, so that we’re not using that as a primary source of profit.”
The extra revenue will also be invested into other priority areas such as mental health programs and student space maintenance.
“We want more funding to go into mental health programming such as the Happy Lights program, Mental Health Space, etc.,” Houston explained. “We want to increase the amount of money that goes into the space fee, which […] goes out to student areas outside of [SSMU] Building on campus […] and student space in this building.”
According to the Base Fee Estimations document released on SSMU website on Jan. 15, it is estimated that $5,000 will go into mental health services. The increased space fees will cost $10,000, and the costs for SSMU building maintenance and related services will cost another $10,000. Additionally, independent student group leases will be cut by 15 per cent, costing yet another $10,000.
The campaigning period for the referendum question will begin on Jan. 18 and end on Jan. 29, with polling will take place between Jan. 27 and 29.
Motion to hold referendum on restructuring of executive portfolios
Council passed a motion to pose a second referendum question regarding the restructuring of executive portfolios, which if passed, will create a new executive position, known as VP Operations. The position of VP Clubs & Services will then be renamed VP Student Life.
According to the proposal, some responsibilities currently undertaken by the VP Finance & Operations will be transferred to the new VP Operations, such as the management of the SSMU building, Gerts, and MiniCourses. Meanwhile, VP Finance will take up new responsibilities including human resources, which is currently within the the president’s portfolio, as well as overseeing SSMU Daycare, while continuing to be in charge of SSMU funding, student fees, and the budget.
“[Human resources] will fit better into the portfolio [of VP Finance],” Houston said. “There is currently a lot of overlap between [SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim] and myself due to salaries, budgets, and the way that the VP Finance gets involved in the administration.”
It is estimated that an additional executive will cost approximately $35,000 a year, including stipends, benefits, and taxes.
“What an executive makes after tax is roughly $25,000 [per year],” Houston explained. “But before taxes, […] it’s roughly $30,000. On top of that, SSMU has approximately 16 per cent of different benefits it has to pay, for example, Quebec pension plans, [Quebec Parental Insurance Plan], et cetera.”
Houston clarified that the membership fee increase is not a precondition to the expansion of the executive team.
“We don’t require an additional $35,000 to pay a new executive,” he said. “The SSMU [annual] revenue is around $4 million. We can find that money if we need to. We can adjust other staff salaries, reduce some of our student staff research positions, […] or start cutting executive portfolios [and] service areas to the society—but I would love to not do that.”
Houston expects that the initial costs of restructuring will be covered by the long-term advantages it brings.
“I believe that in the long run, through a very intentional restructuring of the staff positions, you could afford a seventh executive without a significant increase in salaries,” he said.
VP External Affairs Emily Boytinck suggested that given the flexibility of SSMU’s current financial situation, students should not feel obligated to cast their votes for the two referendums in bundle.
“[Students] have free vote over either [issue],” she said. “They don’t have to vote [the same] to each [of the question]. They can vote yes for one and no for another.”
In order to avoid conflict of interests, SSMU executives will not campaign for this referendum during their working hours, or use any SSMU resources for this campaign.
“This is not a council-initiated ‘Yes’ [campaign] committee,” said President Kareem Ibrahim. “No SSMU e-mails or resources for this campaign whatsoever.”
The campaigning period will run between Jan. 18 and Jan. 29, and polling will be open Jan. 27 through 29.