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Students' union considers charging students more to eliminate $10k deficit: financial VP

The King’s Students’ Union (KSU) is running a $10,000 deficit, and KSU financial vice-president Alex Bryant says increasing the union’s operating fees is the most likely solution.

A hand points to the current student union fees, and to the King’s Students’ Union deficit. (Photo: Philippa Wolff)

It could cost even more to be a King’s student next year.
And, no, we’re not talking about inflation or tuition fees.
The King’s Students’ Union (KSU) is running a $10,000 deficit, and KSU financial vice-president Alex Bryant says increasing the union’s operating fees is the most likely solution.
“To be honest, we haven’t raised student dues in such a long time that it’s become unmanageable,” said Bryant. “I would expect it.”
Students currently pay $97.40 each for the union to operate – that doesn’t include services like society funding and health plans.
What does the fee cover?
Union-hired positions’ and KSU executives’ salaries and honoraria take a big chunk—$75,710 of the total $112,470.60 in projected revenue. Operating fees also include office costs, event planning, union employees’ budgets, and executives’ committee spending money. Legal expenses, grad week, and “contingency”— emergency —funds for the Wardroom and Galley are in there, as well.
And the new number?
Bryant doesn’t know yet. He says raising fees isn’t just about balancing the budget.
“Do we want to be in a surplus next year? Do we want to plan for the future? They’re also going to go up with inflation,” he said. “There are so many questions surrounding what that number would be.
“I don’t think myself or my committee are anywhere close to even giving a range.”
A search of the KSU’s archived minutes back to 2003 did not find any record of the last time the KSU raised fees outside of inflation.
Raising fees is something Bryant is cautious about, “because of the weight that that puts on (the KSU’s) membership,” but not opposed to.
Though he and his finance committee are considering other options like grants and sponsorships, Bryant says raising fees is sticking out as the most sustainable answer.

We wanted to see how students felt about a possible union fee hike

The Watch showed 10 returning, full-time students of varying community involvement and academic streams the KSU’s budget as presented to the union in September.

Then we pointed out what students currently pay in operating fees—$97.40—and asked whether they’d support an increase in their fees:

YES: 2
NO: 6
DEPENDS ON THE AMOUNT: 1
TEMPORARILY: 1

We also got some comments:

Bronwen Clewley, 3rd year: “I would support a raise in fees following a clear outline of where the money would be specifically allotted, along with encouragement based on student benefit, i.e. aside from benefits within and limited to the KSU operations.”

Jillian Morgan, 2nd year: “I guess in the grand scheme of things what’s $97 dollars when you’re spending so much money a term anyway. I would support it to an extent but I guess it depends on how much fees are hiked.”

Dumaresq de Pencier, 3rd year: “No, I’d rather they not raise their fees for services I barely use.”

James Pottie, 4th year: “I would be skeptical of having operating fees raised, but not opposed to it. These issues seem to be a result of not properly accounting for the work put in by the hospitality manager. I trust the brains of the KSU can create a solution to this in the future.”

Becky Dingwell, 3rd year: “We go to one of the most expensive schools in the area. … Why should students be responsible for solving that deficit? We dish out enough money as it is.

“We wouldn’t have the certainty that we do if we were to increase dues. We can always talk about different places in the budget where we might cut things back, but I’m really opposed to removing services that might even be underfunded.”
The KSU’s budget deficit was announced in September at the union’s fall general meeting. Bryant says the union is growing faster than inflation, and that there was mismanaged spending in the past.
“We’ve added a place where we’re spending money, but we haven’t started bringing in more money to compensate for that, which means that we either have to start pulling money from other places, or we have a problem.”
That “place” is the hospitality manager’s total projected pay—which was increased after Nick Wright worked more hours than anticipated over the summer. He was supposed to begin work during the fall when the Wardroom and Galley have regular hours.
Bryant says he doesn’t want people to “pinpoint the blame” on that specific line, though he calls the similarity between the hospitality manager line and the deficit—$9,040 to $9,882.40—the “most unfortunate similarity ever.”
“The hospitality manager was a place where we were a little caught off guard. But there might be other places that we might not be aware of yet, that we need to be careful of.”
Bryant and his financial committee’s proposed solution won’t be presented to KSU council until January. He says it’s taking this long because his committee has been researching the way other unions operate and avoid deficits — through consultation with other unions and with KSU members.
“If we’re going to put a number forward, we really have to understand what that number means,” says Bryant. “We’re not going to say, ‘Well, why don’t we increase things by 10 bucks?’
“We better be able to back ourselves up. And we better be able to help our membership make an informed decision on whether or not they want to pay that money.”
Th first consultation at King’s only drew 15 people. Bryant says it was still useful and productive.
“Having different people engaged in the conversation and questioning our questioning process is the most valuable. Because otherwise we won’t… we make too many assumptions,” says Bryant. “Or we completely miss what’s going on, which is part of the reason we have ended up in a deficit in the first place.”
At that meeting, several of the students present referred to a fee increase as an “evil.”
But KSU president Anna Dubinski agreed with Bryant that the increase may be necessary, and said she thinks the student body might agree.
“I didn’t realize that we were viewing raising union fees as an evil,” she said.
Bryant says he’ll propose any fee hikes to the union in the new year. There would be a referendum in February, before this year’s executive elections.
You can reach Bryant at financialvp@ksu.ca.

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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