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The Carletonian

Budget Committee funding in question

<rleton Student Association (CSA) Budget Committee has spent over half of their General Allocations Fund budget for the academic year, a faster rate than is typical.

They have not yet paid for Rotblatt or Passover, two expensive events, said said Seth Harris, CSA Vice President and Budget Committee Chair.

Budget Committee typically begins the Spring with about $600,000 to $700,000, explained Budget Committee member John Mullan ’20. This pool comes primarily from the Student Activities Fee, plus revenue from vending and laundry machines.

Most of that money is allocated during Spring Allocations, when campus offices and groups present the committee with itemized budgets for the coming year. About $65,000 remains in the General Allocations Fund, which Budget Committee uses to fulfil requests throughout the year.

“A lot of clubs don’t have precise numbers to provide the committee when Spring Allocations come up,” explained Mullan. Clubs might miscalculate, come up with new ideas, or experience more popularity than expected, all of which could prompt them to request further funds after Spring Allocations,” he said.

About $25,000 remains of the approximate $65,000 that Budget Committee began the academic year with after spring allocations.
At Winter Break the committee had spent about a third of their total. “Winter term is just heavier than expected,” Harris explained. This is partly due to requests for spring break trip funding, which have exceeded the allocated budget of $10,000, he said.

Ultimately, “a number of factors” contribute to the committee’s steep spending, said Gillespie. “It’s not any one particular person or group’s fault. It’s an organic thing that happens because of the way Budget Committee is set up.”

Budget Committee member Jon Gillespie ’18 does not view this spending pattern as indicative of a continually-rising trend. “I really think that this year is an aberration from the norm. Clubs begin and die all the time, and some are more expensive than others, and this is just a situation where we have a few more clubs and they’re more expensive.”

A number of large campus organizations were absent at last year’s Spring Allocations and requested their yearly budget during this academic year, said Gillespie.

He noted that CSA might not have sufficiently advertised Spring Allocations to “make sure everybody who runs a large organization was aware that they had to go request.”

Moreover, “it’s also on Budget Committee,” Gillespie said, “because we knew that those organizations didn’t get a lot of funding during the spring, so we should have expected them to request during the year.”

Ultimately, “each party is partly at fault,” said Gillespie, “but that sort of stuff happens every year.” This year, requests were simply more significant and numerous than expected in fall and winter, he explained.

Also contributing to this term’s expenditures is the remarkably high number of conference funding requests, said Budget Committee member Sarah Leong-Fern ’18.

Conferences pose significant costs, explained Harris, because these requests tend to include coverage for plane tickets, hotel stays, food and entrance fees.

Conference-funding reform “has been an ongoing conversation since last spring,” said Harris.

Two factors Budget Committee considers in deciding whether to fund a given conference are its accessibility and whether it will improve campus life, said Leong-Fern.

“We are supposed to be 100% focused on life on campus,” she said. “When people request to go to conferences, there’s always some half-hearted grilling about how they are going to bring it back to campus. But in my experience, I have seen people go to conferences that are questionable in terms of how much value they actually bring back to campus.”

Leong-Fern gave a few examples: if a dance instructor were to attend a dance education conference and then come back to teach a new P.E. class, that conference would enrich campus life; a student attending a conference about a niche academic interest, on the other hand, would have a less direct impact.

But that kind of distinction is not explicated in Budget Committee policy, said Leong-Fern. “There’s a lot of vagueness, and we really need to firm up what we actually mean when we say that we’re bringing something back to campus… there’s no measuring stick.”

Apart from conference-funding guidelines review, Budget Committee does not intend to change their practice of reviewing funding requests during the term. “Someone might have a really great idea sixth week of spring term,” said Gillespie, “and we want to make sure those people can get funding just like everybody else.”

Year to year, Budget Committee tends to see the fewest requests during spring term, said Harris. “You never know how light the end of spring term will be,” he said. “It’s hard to predict every club’s behavior and whether or not we’ll reach the number of conferences we’ll fund. That’s a conversation we’ll be having in the next couple of weeks.”

Leong-Fern added that the committee cannot change their behavior without altering policy: “Everything we’re doing is done based on precedent… In situations where the Budget Committee is unsure whether they’re supposed to fund something or not, we act on precedent until we’re constrained.”

If Budget Committee were to continue approving requests at the current rate and use up all $25,000—a situation that Harris does not imagine will happen—they will tap into the Student Projects Committee’s (SPC) funds, which currently total $105,000. All of these funds, however, are spoken for. (See the article on page 2 about the SPC for more information.)

SPC collects rollover funds that get allocated but not spent, and the money is used to fund student projects such as the bikeshare program, Little Nourse renovations and KRLX expansion. Budget Committee can pull from the SPC pool if need be, which happened two years ago, explained Harris.

CSA’s Capital Reserve Fund, which currently holds $40,000 and has a minimum balance of $30,000, is another resource that could “help pick up the tab,” said Mullan. This money cannot be used for new initiatives, but rather exists as an emergency fund.

Budget Committee’s ahead-of-schedule spending pattern is unrelated to the increase in the Student Activities Fee, which rises every year for its own reasons (specifically: to adjust for inflation and to provide more scholarships).

“It’s not a particularly bad situation, or a situation that’s anyone’s fault,” said Gillespie. “When you’re budgeting things, sometimes it gets a little tighter, and a little less tight. That’s the way it goes, and it’s tight right now, but I am not—and I don’t think anyone on the budget committee is —super worried about the situation.”

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