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Budget in Jeopardy Pending Fee Vote

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Should the student activity fee become optional with next month’s referendum, the Student Association at the University at Albany is prepared to slash over half of its budget.

Passed on Wednesday, the first ever contingency plan would be a $1.9 million budget reduction from this year, the largest budget drop in recent history. Under the plan, most SA expenses — notably student group budgets — would be scrapped.

The only expenses met are bylaw mandated. This includes providing one cent for every SA recognized student group in one fund; in total, this would be less than $2.

Out of the $541,000 plan, the bulk of funds would come from next year’s student activity fee. However, the bill’s sponsor, Austin Ostro, senate vice chair, expects SA to muster much fewer from the fee than estimated.

“It’s not pretty,” Ostro told the senate last week. “It’s not fun.”

Ostro said that he plans to shock officers into supporting the mandatory vote at Tuesday’s budget town hall with the contingency plan.

Officers for Middle Earth, the second highest budgeted student group this year, are already alarmed by the coming vote. Much of Middle Earth’s funding goes toward intern compensation and programming. Lacking SA support, Danielle Haft, Middle Earth’s equity and diversity chair, said that the program would likely be unsustainable.

“Without SA, none of [our programs] would be possible,” said Haft. “We really, really need this funding.”

The Jamaican Student Association mirrors a similar sentiment. Along with programming losses, Shenelle Minto, JAMSA president, worries that a voluntary vote would bar the organization’s dance team from competition.

“If you don’t get [SA funds] then you have to fundraise more,” said Waithe. “This is $2,000, which is a lot to get.”

Beyond student groups, most SA internal operations (97 percent of the contingency budget) would come to a halt. The possibility of a Dippikill purchase — now under legal review — would reach a halt. Programming such as Parkfest would likely be stalled for the next two years.

Without debate, the contingency budget sailed through the senate, 24-4-0.

“That’s like worst case scenario in case the vote goes voluntary, but I’m more than confident in the student body’s judgement that they’ll make it mandatory again,” said Brandon Holdridge, senator-at-large.

However, the student body has not made the fee mandatory on the first vote in four years. While the fee is rarely waived under referenda throughout the SUNY system, it was voted voluntary two years ago. SA later called for a re-vote, stating that the original vote was invalid, a decision that fell under question.

SA again fell under scrutiny after passing a $10 fee increase, with faulty communication between student groups and university officials late last semester. The fee was later moved to fall after SA leaders learned that the spring push failed to comply with SUNY and university policy.

In an effort to bridge communication with students before the referendum, SA assembled a student activity fee task force last semester. Currently, the task force has only met informally.

“We’re just going to hear out the student’s needs and if we don’t think mandatory is the way to go, we won’t go that route,” said Kelvin Collazo, first year senator-at-large and member of the student activity fee task force.

For some students, such as Paul Otty, freshman computer science major, the fee is burdensome for non-involved students. He believes that the fee should be mandatory for students involved in groups and activities covered by the student activity fee.

“Why do I pay for this if I’m not doing any of these activities?” he said.

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