Council Connection – August 9, 2016

The AUSU Council meeting for August 9, 2016, was supposed to be two-hours long, however, it went on to be over three-hours. Despite being a very lengthy meeting, it was productive and interesting. It went beyond the normal two-hour period because there were no Council meetings in July due to various holidays making it harder to book, and because July is generally a slower period for AUSU. However, the Council meeting in August brought to attention new motions, reviewed policy positions, and there was even an in-camera period.

The meeting was called at around 5:35 PM. There were a couple of action items to review and ratify. The first was the appointment of Carle Knipe, Bonita Arbeau, Alex Pappas, Lisa Sinclair, and Lyle Harvey to the Joint Council/Voice Action Plan Committee. The motion carried unanimously.

There were a lot of new motions to discuss. The first proposed motion was to approve an increase to $3,838.10 in the current office software budget for some anticipated annual renewal expenses that had not been factored in by the new Council and staff at the time of their first budget.

More important, however, was the approval of AUSU’s new 2016/2017 budget. The Finance Committee presented their draft budget for the financial year of October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017. After a slight amendment to increase telephone expenses due to a last minute line item that hadn’t been included, the budget stood with total anticipated revenues being down slightly to $615,300 from last year’s budget of $622,880, and total anticipated expenses also dropping from $730,386 to $691,518. This means that the 2016/2017 budget has an anticipated deficit of $76,218, as compared to last year’s budget having an expected deficit of $107,516.

Of course, expected doesn’t mean it will happen, as I’m told that the actual revenue for this year is now expected to only be $611,379, and expenses only $669,349. Which means the projected real deficit for this coming year is $57,790.

So what’s changed?

On the income side, not much. A lower anticipated income is based primarily on AU’s expected enrolment numbers.

On the expense side, administration costs are increasing by almost 15%, ($14,330 from $12,500) and meeting expenses by almost a third ($16,500 from $12,500). Fortunately, That’s balanced by a decrease in the amount budgeted for rent, which is now some $8,000 lower than last year’s budget. VPFA Kim Newsome explained that staff and Council are trying hard to keep administrative costs down, but are unwilling to do so at the expense of service to members, and that AUSU is currently looking at the possibility of looking for office space that is less expensive than their current space in an effort to create a sustainable budget.

AUSU is also expecting to spend more on technology this year, doubling last year’s budgets for computer hardware for the office and for councillors, and nearly doubling it for software.

The staff payroll will remain close to the same, with an increase in benefits being closely matched by a decrease in “Staff Appreciation”

The biggest change in AUSU’s budgeted expenses comes in the Councillor Salaries and Benefits column. After AUSU’s internal Executive Compensation review committee did It’s work and brought the Executive Salaries into line with other student organizations in Alberta, AUSU will be saving almost $35,000 in Executive Honoraria alone over last year’s budget, a drop of almost 25%. This, coupled with slight reductions in both representation expenses and money spent on member programs, is largely responsible for AU’s budgeted expenses for next year coming down nearly $39,000 from the current year’s budget.

One item in the budget that did not change was the amount set aside for awards to students. That remains the same at $50,000.

It was noted in the discussions that while income from AUSU’s investments will likely be higher, and the services fees cost likely lower than projected in the budget, these numbers were chosen to reflect a possible worst-case scenario on items AUSU has little control over.

The budget discussion was lengthy, but eventually the motion to approve the 2016/2017 budget carried unanimously. The budget is now available at this link.

Sadly, the next motion was to accept the resignation of Councillor Philip Kirkbride as of June 24, 2016, ending his term on council approximately 22 months early. Even though Kirkbride was not present, the council members thanked him for his hard work and contribution. It was mentioned that he helped a lot with the AUSU Awards Committee, so thanks Philip for your hard work! This motion passed unanimously.

On a happy note, AUSU Council added a motion that proposed the appointment of Councillor Scott Jacobsen to the AUSU Member Engagement and Communications Committee. This motion also was carried unanimously. So, congratulations Scott!

The council members went on to discuss policy revisions. The policy that had the most changes was for travel and related expenses. When AUSU members travel on AUSU business, they will receive $0.48/km to cover gas and a meal allowance of $65/full day of travel. The previous meal amount was $60 ($15 breakfast, $20 lunch, $25 dinner). Therefore, dinner increased to $30, as it is sometimes hard to fit dinner under $25, especially once the tip and taxes have been added. So, the overall change is only $5 per day. It is good to note that a full day of travel means 10 or more hours away from home.

The larger change is that they do not need to keep the receipts for their expenses. However, prior to travelling, advance payments of meal allowances and incidentals must be requested and approved by the executive council. This policy helps the councillors and staff greatly, as it was noted that it can be hard to keep track of every receipt over a longer conference, and adds additional staff time taken to verify what are generally small amounts.

Changes were then made to AUSU’s financial oversight policies 6.05 and 6.06. Previously, any spending of 10% over budgeted amounts had to be brought before council. This meant it could vary from as low as a $50 overage needing to receive full council approval if it was for computer software, while a change of over $10,000 would have been under that 10% line if it was for staff salaries. At the same time, almost all spending within the budget amounts could done entirely by the Executive Director.

Council has instead now instituted tighter controls on expenditures over certain dollar amounts or budget percentages to only be allowable if authorized by different groups within council. Unbudgeted or expenses that are over-budget can now be approved by the Executive council or the Finance Committee depending on their size, with any unbudgeted expenditures over $2,000 still needing to be approved by Council as a whole.

AUSU then reviewed its policy positions, noting that the position policies all say that AUSU will advocate for certain things, but in reality AUSU does not possess the capability to actively advocate and lobby for all of the position policies simultaneously. The polices were adjusted to note that they are AUSU’s positions, which if an opportunity arises should be put forward, but that AUSU will only devote specific resources to advocating for certain priority issues each year.

The meeting was then moved in-camera at 7:16 p.m. The other student observer, Mark Teeninga, and I were politely asked to leave the meeting until we were contacted again.

The in-camera session ended at around 7:39 p.m., and when I rejoined, it was read into the public portion of the meeting that Council had voted on removing Josh Cross from council for 2 or more full absences from council and committee meetings without sufficient notice.

The next motion was to appoint Scott Jacobsen as chair of the AUSU Awards Committee. This motion carried unanimously.

Now with two vacant seats on council, AUSU Council decided to call a by-election for September 30, 2016, to fill them from the members of AUSU. For more information, see here.

Next, the council members briefly talked about reports for the months of June and July 2016. It is good to note that Communication and Member Services Coordinator, Donette Kingyens, has added more statistics about the AUSU mobile app. So, thanks Donette! The mobile app has grown so much, and it really does help students stay connected.

The meeting then went into the question and answer period. I asked more about the two vacant positions on the AUSU council. They said they would keep everyone notified. However, the by-election timeline is tentatively set as follows:

Call for Nominations August 31 ? September 14
Nominees Announced September 19
Campaign Period September 19 to October 3
Election September 30 to October 3

Also, there may be a change in the date of the October Council Meeting. Instead, of being on October, 11 2016, the meeting might be moved to the 18th of October. The reasoning is that the council thought it would be helpful for the new members (who will be elected to fill the two positions on Council) to have the chance to get up to speed on council activities before attending the meeting. The September council meeting will remain as it is on the 13th of September at 5:30 p.m. MDT.

With that, the Councillors commented that this Council meeting was by far the longest meeting for this term. However, it was very successful! At 8:14 p.m., the meeting was adjourned.