SGA Sound-Off: Contested Budget Approval Meeting
In the longest and most well-attended meeting of the SGA to date, the SGA Senate approved the SGA Finance Committee’s budget of $970,400.73 to be allocated in the FY 12-13 by a 11-3 vote (with 1 abstaining).
Here’s the breakdown:
- MCAB $303,750
- SGA Operations $131,680
- Special Interest & Activities $90,322.73
- Academic & Activism $16,445
- Cultural and Religious Life $41,695
- Club Sports $102,304
- Arts & Media $140,825
- Social & Special Interest Houses $20,265
- Community Service $43,954
- The Commons $75,000
The most contentious issue of the night (and why it was moved to RAJ for the larger audience) was over the budgets of the Commons. Historically, each Commons has been allocated $7,000 per year in addition to a larger ‘pool fund’ under MCAB’s purview in order to host larger events (Viva Ross Vegas, etc.). This past year (11-12), the Commons budgets increased to $9,000 each, and a new Inter-Commons Council retained full autonomy of the aforementioned pool fund ($45,000). The proposed (and now passed) budget decreases the amount of funding individual commons receive to $6,000, with the pool fund of $45,000 remaining the same, and under the control of the autonomous Inter-Commons Council.
Scott Klenet ’12, Chair of the Finance Committee presented a lengthy and detailed report upon the entire proposed budget, and how the Finance Committee comes to their determinations. On average, Student Orgs received an 18% reduction in funds, which Klenet explained paralleled the fiscal realities the Finance Committee and student funds are facing. As Kathryn Bostwick ’12, Finance Committee member later reiterated, “What we’re facing right now is that we need to make cuts, everywhere.”
The cuts in funding come on the heels of a decrease in the reserves and a long history of over-budgeting.
In July 2011 the reserves stood at $413,000, however after large allocations and continued commitments such as MiddView and the FIC Gym, the reserves currently stand at $128,000. With the return of unspent funds and balancing of the books, Klenet projects that the reserves will stabilize around $250,000 by July 2012. In relation to previous years, the entire ($970k) budget is only 3% over the anticipated funds coming in during the next fiscal year (from the Student Activities Fee & the portion of parking fees that go to us), as compared to 8-10% historically.
Many students, staff, and faculty came and spoke in support and opposition to the bill, mostly all in relations to the Commons portion. Senator Michael Polebaum ’12 was the first to speak in support of the budget as posed, and to identify larger fiscal factors: “I rise tonight as a student… as one of the few members of this student community who actually believes in the commons system… I also stand here worried about at our financial security. This administration has asked us to foot bills… to make a long story short, this body has been put into an unprecedented situation where we fill gaps that the administration has left open. I’m not saying that we should be harshly conservative in our finances… but we need to spend it with an eye to the future, and I worry… that we have not been doing that. This budget… is a budget that has been well thought-out… based off of funding from previous years, but based off of what the Finance Committee believes will be spent in future years… Do I wish that the commons had unlimited funding, yes…. but that’s not the reality that we’re dealing with… we will now be allocating the proper amount of money.”
Questions over the spending of the Commons Budgets took a large part of the meeting. While Klenet presented that the Finance Committee had found $4,000-5,500 was the “demonstrated range of Commons’ natural spending capacity… where the normal spend pattern of the Commons are,” many commons council tri-chairs disputed this, saying that they were spending and/or had allocated their full $9,000, and would have no more than a few hundred dollars left at the end of the year. The Atwater Senators present noted they had stopped meeting as they had no further funds with which to grant proposals. Frustration with the budgeting process was also largely acknowledged, with both the Finance Committee and Commons representatives noting that increase communication, far earlier in the year would have benefited everyone, and pledges to work towards that in the future.
Despite repeated acknowledgement that the Commons are certainly not like student organizations and they are absolutely integral to the Middlebury Community, the base is that they are, however, as Klenet ’12 concluded, “competing for the same resources” as all other organizations on Campus. Klenet calculated the reduction in the individual commons funding to be 16%, comparing to the general student orgs average 18% cuts, as they have continued use of the pool fund, as well as administrative funding of the Commons.
While certainly some may have left the meeting unhappy, under new budgeting procedures the SGA Finance Committee has enacted for the past year, they encourage groups to return if, indeed they need further funding in the next year. So while the budget of the each Commons rests at $6,000 now, they were encouraged, if programming does prove to go above that, to return to the Committee.
As Atwater Commons CRA R.D. Jenkinson said in his closing statements, “I have a lot of faith in the finance committee…. and that this is one decision they’ve done a good job with it.”