Request for Smith operations tops $1 million

With the SFC budgeting process now in full swing, student leaders have become concerned with the amount of money requested by the Smith Memorial Student Union for operating costs next year.

The SMSU has requested over $1 million in student fee money for the 2006-07 school year, an increase of roughly $450,000 over the current year’s student contribution of $612,192. The Student Fee Committee is responsible for allocating over $8 million in student incidental fees that fund student groups including student government, athletics and the Vanguard and the SFC is currently dealing with over $10 million in requests for next year.

“There’s been an increase to the cost of utilities is the blanket answer I’ve been given as to the increase,” said Molly Woon of the Smith Advisory Board. “I think the strategy is ask for a lot and see what you get. The nature of it is groups don’t get as much as they ask for.”

The SMSU submitted a budget of $1,703,039 prepared by director of auxiliary services Julie North and assistant director John Eckman. The budget calls for $641,391 to come from rental fees and university support, leaving students responsible for $1,061,648.

This is in accordance with a deal negotiated between former SFC chair Tracy Earll and retiring vice president for finance and administration Cathy Dyck last year to increase student ownership of the Smith building.

Rental revenue and university funds are immediately taken off the top, according to Eckman. “Last year the model changed; its complex enough where it’s tricky for all of us to function with,” Eckman said. “Students pay for the difference between what’s rented and what’s agreed upon between SFC and university.”

“The frustrating thing about Smith is that we’ve been asking a series of very simple questions and have not received straight answers for any of them, such as ‘How much do we pay?’ and ‘How much space do we own?’,” said ASPSU president Erin Devaney, who served on the SFC last year with Earll. “We’re getting very different answers every time we ask the questions.”

Devaney appointed what she calls “a group of very dedicated students” including Woon, Sa’eed Haji and Mario Campbell to the Smith Advisory Board in an attempt to get solid answers. The process has been slow.

“The advisory board gives advice, we don’t make binding decisions,” Woon said. “It’s really frustrating because students want control and in reality we really have very little say.”

Exactly where that money goes is one question that has been asked several times by advisory board members, but has yet to be answered clearly. When students have raised these issues at Smith Advisory Board hearings they have been met with hostility and excuses.

“It’s really complicated is not an excuse. It’s a pacification. Show me how I own it,” Woon said. “With SALP and Smith it’s harder to say how student fees are actually used.”

Technically students occupy and utilize 47 percent of the building and if the current budget is passed through the SFC, students will pay for 62 percent of the operating cost next year. This year student fees pay $612,192, or 48 percent of the total operating cost. If the budget passes unchanged, students will be responsible for both the largest amount of money and the greatest percentage of the total budget in over six years.

“We’re trying to get major capital maintenance back in the budget,” Eckman said, noting that the drop in last year’s total budget was due to the SFC declining to fund such projects. “That would take care of pipes breaking and other maintenance.”

Until clear answers can be obtained, Devaney says that certain things are simply being taken on faith.

“We pay for all the utilities in the building,” she said. “Students pay for over 50 percent of the building and we don’t get the benefit of the revenues or know where the money goes. “