Deep cuts, deeper repercussions

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The proposed 2010-2011 Student Association budget will leave a majority of student organizations facing steep cuts.

Total spending on S.A. organizations is set to decrease by $2,000 while 38 Tier III organizations will see their budgets slashed by an average of 23 percent. S.A.’s total revenue is expected to be $1.4 million, down $7,000 from this year’s expectations; it is the first reduction of that number in recent history.

Student Association Director of Finance Lauren Atkinson said its total revenue would decrease because of faulty accounting by previous directors of finance going back more than five years.

"From what I can tell I don’t know if the correct enrollment numbers were used…I’m not exactly sure how the prior directors came to the revenue number," Atkinson said. "It’s supposed to be the enrollment number times the activity fee. Obviously that was not what they did because these [budgets] were way overinflated."

The reason S.A.’s over-budgeting had not been noticed in past years is because of an irregularity with the undesignated reserve account, or fund balance, Atkinson said. Unspent money allocated to student organizations sweeps into that account at the end of every fiscal year. In past years, those unspent allocations have totaled more than the over-projection in S.A. revenue, leading to a net gain in the fund balance in most years. Effectively, the gains from unspent allocations had been hiding the over-projection.

Last year was different; S.A.’s spring concert was a financial bust. Atkinson said S.A. was forced to dip into its fund balance to cover costs, which led to a net loss in the reserve fund.

The Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SAVAC) budget will triple this year. The organization required additional funding this year to purchase an ambulance and to bring its current equipment up to state safety codes, SAVAC Treasurer Jeffrey Rodman said. SAVAC also needs money to update its radio system so that it complies with county standards, if the radio system does not meet the state guidelines, then it is possible that SAVAC’s license will be revoked.

"It just happens. Sometimes a lot of things happen at once," SAVAC President Tom Potrikus said. "It’s really all these factors are pretty much out of our control."

Ambulances need to be replaced every five to seven years because of their depreciation and wear and tear, Potrikus said.

In SAVAC’s budget request, Rodman asked S.A. for certificate of deposit (CD) accounts to better prepare the organization for future equipment replacements.

SAVAC’s proposed budget is set at just over $150,000 next year, from nearly $43,000 this year. The major components of that increase were funding for a new ambulance, a CD to replace radios in January 2012, as well as a swell in their ambulance replacement CD for five years down the line.

"The CDs, if they stay the same, we’ll never ever have to request additional support like for the ambulance," Rodman said.

"The whole reason we’re in this predicament is that SAVAC didn’t have enough money saved to purchase an ambulance," Atkinson said.

Inside the S.A. proposed budget, SAVAC’s bumper year is counterbalanced by a lean season for other organizations. The proposed budget has Geology club absorbing a 65 percent reduction in funding, a fate shared by many of the academic clubs.

"I’m a bit surprised," Geology Club President Josh Valetino said. "Where did the money go?"

Valentino said he was, "a bit disappointed because it is going to restrict a lot."

Certain events that are going to be cut include spelunking in Virginia and Albany, and Geology Society of America, which helps students with networking.

"That’s probably the most important thing and the biggest loss," Valentino said.

Biology Club will see its funding reduced by 34 percent if the proposed budget becomes law. That same percentage will be taken from the Chemistry club.

Tuba Toori, treasurer of the Biology Club said she didn’t take news of the cuts well.

"I was almost mortified," Toori said. "It’s kind of unfair without any notification or any rhyme or reason why it’s being cut."

Those massive slashes in Biology and Geology clubs have gone to finance the 250 percent increase in SAVAC’s budget for ambulances and radios.

SAVAC was not the only organization to have its proposed funding go up. The State Singers, Students in Free Enterprise, and Synchronized Skating all received over 10 percent increases in their budgets. Even the Student Association Executive Branch and Department of Finance have their accounts increased by five percent in the proposal.

WNYO, Oswego State’s student run radio station, will suffer a 36 percent funding reduction from the proposed budget. Much of their reduction comes from the organization’s salary accounts. In an attempt to balance the lopsided proposal in the days before its presentation, Atkinson and other S.A. executives implemented a 20 percent reduction in salaries across all organizations. Of the 23 line items requested by WNYO for next fiscal year, nine were designated for salaries. WNYO also received cuts in their maintenance and operations accounts.

"At the end of the day, with less funding we won’t be able to offer as much to students," WNYO General Manager Justin Laird said. "We have this big initiative with NPR going. Who knows if we’ll have that now?"

Laird said that the reductions to WNYO’s accounts might leave the organization vulnerable if any of its crucial equipment fails. He added that they would appeal the S.A.’s decision to the Senate this Tuesday.
"It leaves us in an awkward place if things need to be replaced," Laird said. "Every time we’ve appealed our budget we’ve walked away satisfied."

Another expense that, like salaries, was given an across the board cut are organization dinners. This impacts mostly clubs labeled in the budget as "special interest" like Caribbean Student Association, African Student Organization and Black Student Union. Atkinson said all dinner accounts were treated to a 25 percent reduction.

S.A. is required by SUNY Board of Trustees Policy to keep 10 percent of its annual budget in the fund balance. Atkinson said that if the financial irregularity had not been discovered, S.A. might have dipped below that amount, and would have risked being shut down by the board.

"It’s mandated by SUNY that we have to keep 10 percent of our operating budget in the fund balance," Atkinson said. "It’s a good thing that it was discovered, but it’s going to be a really hard year for the organizations."

Atkinson maintains that increased funding for SAVAC was not paid for by taking from other organizations.

"Technically SAVAC is taking more money than they normally would," Atkinson said. "But it’s not like we’re taking money from other organizations to give it to SAVAC."

Yet, the difference in total expenditure from this year to next is $1,776, and many Tier III organizations are facing cuts much bigger than that, while SAVAC and others receive increased allocations.

The proposed S.A. budget is figured by multiplying the S.A. fee by the number of enrolled students from the previous fall semester. The budget that previous S.A. finance directors had calculated was inflated, as seen in S.A. audit reports. For this year’s budget the amount of money that S.A. had projected to receive was $1,447,525 while in actuality they only had $1,397,347 to allocate to organizations. This left S.A. to dip into their fund balance to cover the $50,178 difference. Atkinson is currently trying to find out how and why previous S.A. financial directors came up with their proposed amounts.

After meeting with the budget council and making initial cuts, the budget was still over the amount that S.A. had to work with. Atkinson applied a 10 percent cut to all organizations, except for SAVAC. After applying cuts to salaries and dinners, the budget was still over and she was forced to make another 10 percent cut on all the student organizations.

S.A. adviser James Scharfenberger, dean of student affairs and enrollment is working with S.A. to figure out what caused previous budgets to be lower than projected.

"We’ve had issues in the past where the budget was overestimated," Scharfenberger said. "The good part about this is that they got it before the budget year began."

Scharfenberger commended S.A. for its responsibility in handling the budget deficit.

"It’s an unusual situation but one that can be repaired fairly easily," he said. "It gets better every year because once you discover what the error is then you can employ strategies to solve it."

Budget appeals take place this coming Tuesday and Senate will now take control of the budget process. Senators are able to amend the budget, and might to so to restore cuts they see as untenable.