Student Council’s Representative Body voted to approve their $317,787 annual budget for the current academic year Tuesday — the budget is $11,000 more than last year’s final version. This is the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that Student Council will operate on an annual budget rather than two semester budgets.
Holly Sims, vice president for administration and graduate Batten student, presented bills to approve the budget to the General Body in the beginning of September and has continuously advocated for its approval.
A majority of this year’s budget comes from the Student Activities Fee — a fee that students pay as part of their tuition that goes towards supporting student organizations funds. The budget requests approximately 95 percent of its budget from SAF funds and the remaining 5 percent from Student Council’s own funds. A little over 3 percent of the requests from SAF funds come from reallocations of unused SAF funds from the 2023 Summer budget.
Last semester, the General Body passed a bylaw to amend Student Council’s budgetary process to operate on an annual budget, as opposed to a fall and spring semester budget. While Student Council previously operated on an annual budget, it switched to the two semester model during the pandemic to allow for more freedom to adapt to changes in student life.
The annual model will allow Student Council to remove a waiting period between the two semesters where Student Council cannot spend any money until the spring budget gets approved.
The branch requesting the most money this year is the Presidential Cabinet Agency — a group of 10 committees working to implement the president’s long term policy goals — which requests a total of $169,400. The Safety and Wellness Committee, one committee within cabinet, accounts for a considerable $50,000 portion to fund free sexually transmitted disease testing through the Student Health and Wellness center across two semesters.
Student Council established its free STI program last year, but it only operated for 11 days in February due to funding constraints and high student demand. Sims said she hopes the $35,000 increase in funding to this committee will allow Student Council to pay for STI testing across two semesters. This project is the single most expensive item in the entire budget.
“We had utilization data that showed that… it took between 15 and 20 days to completely run out of money for free STI testing,” Sims said. “Ideally this is a service that would be available throughout the semester because from a health standpoint…it’s good to get periodically tested for people who are sexually active. The hope is that by allocating more money, we can meet that increasing public health standard of getting tested regularly for students.”
Despite the sizable request from the Safety and Wellness Committee, the Presidential Cabinet Agency as a whole requests $20,975 less than it did last year. This change can be partially attributed to the Diversity Engagement Committee which will receive half the amount of funding as it did last year.
The Diversity Engagement Committee funds diversity grants that support multicultural Contracted Independent Organizations. SAF guidelines were recently expanded to allow multicultural CIOs to request funds through the formal CIO funding request channels, making these grants no longer as necessary, according to Sims.
The Representative Body faces the greatest budgetary cuts compared to last year, receiving $10,850 less in funding. Sims said that this change is linked to the Representative Body’s previous initiative to provide free COVID-19 tests for students.
“[The Representative Body] previously requested $15,000 for COVID-19 tests last year and we did spend some money towards that, but now you can get them for free through the government,” Sims said.
The Representative Body’s budget also was updated to include the additional $3,750 outlined in a budgetary amendment last week to provide Ramadan meals to students.
The branch with the greatest increase in allocations compared to last year is the Organizations Committee, which oversees CIOs and their funding requests. This year’s budget requests $16,000 more than last year — $10,000 of which will be used to re-do storage lockers for CIOs on the 5th floor of Newcomb.
According to Sims, the $10,000 is based on a rough projection, but could be changed with a budget amendment when Student Council receives a more concrete estimate for the cost of the renovation.
Sims said that despite the change to a long-term annual budget, representatives will still be able to introduce amendments to the budget throughout the year. According to Student Council’s bylaws, any representative can propose amendments to change the budget. If those amendments get approved, the money can either come from the remaining SAF funds not requested by Student Council in the original annual budget, or can be reallocated from the original budget to go towards a new initiative.
Sims said the Student Council administration plans to create organized budget amendment periods to make the process more efficient.
“[That way] we know what's coming and we can explain them all at one time, instead of having one [amendment] every week,” Sims said.
Student Council is also investing more in its Support and Access Services branch. Student Council will allocate $28,800 to the Airbus — a service that provides students with low-cost transportation during breaks — including $23,400 to fund the buses for the upcoming year and $5,400 to pay for outstanding invoices to bus companies.
“Because of some technical financial errors…some of the buses from previous years have not actually been fully paid,” Sims said. "We used the summer budget to pay for a bus in 2021 and 2022, so now we just have to pay for the buses that happened at the end of summer with the annual budget.”
The SAS will also see a $15,300 increase in allocations to the Next Steps Fund which pays for additional mental health support and counseling for students and $6,000 to stock Student Council’s free store in Newcomb that provides students with essentials like hygiene items and school supplies.
The Representative Body also voted to approve Sims’ proposal of a $2 increase to the SAF meaning the SAF will total $59 in next year’s tuition and fees cycle. Sims said she hopes this increase will allow Student Council to meet increasing funding requests from Student organizations.
The bill to increase the SAF passed with 18 yeas, 1 nay and 0 abstentions, and the bill to approve the annual budget passed unanimously with 19 yeas.
Student Council will not be able to spend any of the money allocated in the budget until the Student Activities Committee — a group under the guidance of the University vice president and chief student affairs officer — approves it. The Executive Board will meet with the SAC on Thursday to finalize these proposals.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that this year's budget is $15,000 more than last year's. However, the budget this year is $11,000 more than the final version of last year's budget after amendments. The article has been corrected to reflect this change.