SFSS passes 2019–20 budget, sees rises in both revenue and staffing costs

By: Zach Siddiqui, Copy Editor

At the April 18 board meeting, the SFSS approved their 2019–20 operating budget. The Peak reached out to Matthew Chow, outgoing vice-president finance, to talk about the new budget’s highlights.

The 2019–20 budget features a $372,000 increase from the 2018–19 budget because of revenue from the new agreement to deliver services to FIC students. However, this comes with “its own set of operational issues,” says Chow.

“Even in our current capacity, our staff are already overwhelmed, so the increase in expected service delivery means a required increase in staffing to keep up with the demand,” he explained.

As a result, the budget accounts for significantly higher staffing costs for the SFSS Student Centre. However, Chow stressed, “the entire cost of increased staffing isn’t directly increased due to the FIC deal, but rather, is connected to the cost of scaling the organization in size.”

Staffing costs are also rising for the Administration Office, which mainly encompasses the cost of the SFSS’s management positions, such as the executive director and the general manager, as well as the cost of legal aid and expert consultations.

In fact, the SFSS has not yet decided to hire more administrators. However, the society is currently doing an internal organizational review, which includes assessing how many management jobs are needed. Because of this, the funds to hire more management have been budgeted for, should it become necessary.

“If next year’s Board decides that additional management isn’t necessary, that’s honestly their decision [ . . . ] When budgeting, it’s best practice to account for probable situations that are likely to happen,” Chow wrote.

The vice-president also spoke on the committee budgets, which have been restructured to account for the greater guidance role staff have been playing for board committees.

“The Board’s services budget, more commonly known as the committee budgets, has been reallocated across the operating departments for management,” wrote Chow. “As we’ve on-boarded new coordinators into the organization, the relationship between staff and Board committees has shifted in that the staff member oversees and advises the committee on the plans they have.”

He noted that because frequent events like pancake breakfasts and pub nights should fall under the umbrella of standard operations, the SFSS plans to hand more autonomy to the coordinators. However, the board of directors will still be making all funding decisions.

Changes have also been made to the SFSS council budget, which has risen from $1,500 to $5,000 to fund any ventures the council may want to undertake for the benefit of the student body.

“Given the complaints that Council has been ineffective and purposeless for the last few years, this will be a structural change to enable the body to advocate for subjects better [sic] and run projects that the Board doesn’t have capacity to run,” says Chow. However, the SFSS vice-president finance reserves the right to block and investigate any reimbursement requests from Council that seem suspect.

“In terms of internal controls, this line item still falls under the Board budget, so in the case of a shady reimbursement, the VP Finance has full authority to reject cheque requisitions and investigate the reimbursement.”

Something stressed during the April 18 board meeting was that the board can diverge from the approved budget if needed. Chow expanded on this over email.

“The budget is not harshly prescriptive, but rather permits the annual spending of [up to certain amounts for certain line items.] In the case that the Society does feel the need to spend outside of the proposed amount, they can motion an allocation at the Board table and request additional spending out of the line item.”

While Chow deplores “frivolous spending” — for instance, a committee asking for more funding because it has depleted its budget on goods it didn’t use — he acknowledges that at times, the society needs fiscal flexibility.

“In the case that there arises a new initiative or project that has a proven cost/benefit analysis for how it benefits students aggregately, the Society should be open to the possibility of allocating additional resources,” he writes.

“If the Board of Directors does motion an allocation for an unbudgeted expense that warrants resource provision, then they’re held accountable for their reasoning in a public eye, which I believe is a reasonable position to take.”

Chow notes that a particular strength of the 2019–20 budget is that it is clear about what’s on the table as far as proposed projects for the year, with the SFSS having “really emphasized planning ahead.” However, he also acknowledges that the budget is hard to read and understand on paper. In particular, the relationship between the operating budget and the society’s overall finances is not well explained.

“Upon reading the summary of the budget, you might be concerned that there is a proposed deficit of [about $126,000], but before anyone jumps to conclusion[s] on the mismanagement of the Society, you have to understand that the Society is already in a stable position,” Chow writes.

“It has funds in excess [ . . . ] for several operating cycles, and the amount proposed to be spent here is an investment to better improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our service delivery.“

Chow also notes that the society has had to estimate what the Student Union Building’s operating costs will look like. Those figures, he says, will have to be revisited when the SUB opens.

The full SFSS budget documents for each year are not publicly available, as they include the salary and wage information for SFSS staff, which is confidential. However, consolidated budget summaries are available on the SFSS’s website. The consolidated summary for 2019–20 has not yet been posted online.