Changes to residence fees on horizon

Students no longer have to worry about the 2.5 per cent surcharge for living in McNeill House.
Students no longer have to worry about the 2.5 per cent surcharge for living in McNeill House.
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Student leaders lobbied together yesterday at a special meeting of the Senate Residence Committee’s (SRC) Budget Sub-committee, where the members unanimously reversed their position on the proposed residence fee structure beginning in the 2007-08 year.

Alexis Meyerman, Main Campus Residents’ Society (MCRS) president said she was happy with the outcome.

“I think that it was great,” she told the Journal. “Students got together and lobbied. It was all four groups—AMS, SGPS, Jean Royce Hall Council, and MCRC—and we all came together and had a staged approach to this. It ended up paying off, because the administration sided with us.”

Originally, the SRC, a nine-member committee of administrators, faculty and student leaders responsible for advising the University on residence policy, had proposed three fee changes for students living in residence, which included a decrease of the annual increase in residence fees solely for the 2007-08 year, a reduction of the financial incentive for upper-year students in residence, and a possible surcharge for students living in redeveloped residences, beginning with McNeill House.

According to a press release issued by the Main Campus Residence Council (MCRC), the special meeting was organized at the request of council, who had expressed concern with the proposed plans.

The first proposal was to decrease the annual increase in residence fees from the current 3.75 per cent to three per cent for the 2007-08 year, while keeping the 10-year projected fee increases at 3.75 per cent in subsequent years.

MCRC Vice-President (Finances and Operations) James McIntosh said the problem with the proposed plan was that it was an isolated solution.

“That looks nice on paper, but essentially you just get one good year,” he said.

In an earlier interview, Meyerman told the Journal that she felt the proposed decrease was being instituted only to appease student concerns.

“MCRC has been complaining about this because our residence fees are already among the highest in the country,” she said. “Fees will hit the $10,000 level in the next few years, which we think is ridiculous.”

McIntosh said the committee’s decision yesterday was in support of MCRC’s proposal for a more sustainable plan for the 10-year projected fee increases.

“The fee increases for the entire planning horizon are now 3.5 per cent [beginning in 2007-08],” he said.

Bruce Griffiths, director of Residence and Hospitality Services, explained that the Budget Sub-committee usually works with a two-year horizon and also plans the ten-year budget projection.

“This year’s committee is setting the [2007-08] fee based on a preliminary budget,” he said. “They’re [also] recommending the [2006-07] budget. This fall [the fee increase] is 3.75 per cent.” Griffiths said the system is designed so that while the University is recruiting students, the next year’s residence fee is available for them to consider.

“By projecting outward and also using our reserve funds, we can balance those highs and lows with the goal of keeping increases in between three and four per cent,” he said.

McIntosh added that the Budget Sub-committee approved the 2007-08 residence fee increase at 3.5 per cent, no longer the proposed three per cent.

“The three per cent was a suggestion brought forward by [Bruce Griffiths, Director of Residence and Hospitality Services],” he said. “He brought that forward on the premise that we were going to be lowering the subsidy for upper-year beds.”

The second proposal was the reduction of financial incentives for upper-year students living in residence from $1150 to $500.

Historically, upper-year students living in residence were given a lower fee as a financial incentive, something that will be changed for the 2007-2008 year, Meyerman said.

Griffiths said the upper-year rate, which is 12 per cent less than other student rates, was not originally meant to be long-term.

“I think we introduced that rate on the understanding that it would not necessarily be forever,” he said. “The rationale was that somebody paying 12 per cent less is better than a vacancy.”

This year, residences received 750 applications for upper-years in residence, he said.

“The question was posed, “Do we still need a 12 per cent discount [to fill the spaces]? Would a smaller discount do?”

Griffiths said the large volume of applications suggested that students were seeing a value in residence aside from the discounted rate.

“Nobody wants to pay more, but we also have to look at the overall issue of, ‘If these students are coming anyway, is it fair for every other student to be subsidizing them?’” he said.

The committee decided to adopt a more gradual approach to cutting the discount for upper years in residence, he said.

Upper-years living in residence will now be given a $750 discount for the 2007-08 year.

“If everything [goes] okay and we don’t have upper-years fleeing residence, the plan is to discount it again to $500,” McIntosh said. “This would be over two years.”

The possibility of a 2.5 per cent surcharge for students living in redeveloped residences was also eliminated at yesterday’s meeting.

“The really important thing that happened is that we managed to get rid of the proposed surcharge,” McIntosh said.

Griffiths said the plan to increase fees for students living in redeveloped residences was established last year on the basis that students who live in Leggett and Watts Halls pay a premium.

“When we built the new residences, we put a premium on these residences,” he said. “We were cautious about saying it was because [they were] new, but mostly because the services were enhanced.”

Leggett and Watts Halls, both completed in 2003, have a new accommodation style that features a shared bathroom between two residents.

Residences will be undergoing a series of improvements over the next decade starting with McNeill House, which will be renovated in 2006-07.

Meyerman told the Journal before the meeting she thought the decision to increase the fee for redeveloped residences was based on the wrong premise.

“[The increase for] Watts and Leggett is actually based on different accommodations,” she said, explaining that students are willing to pay more because they get to share a bathroom between every two single rooms instead of a common bathroom as other residences have. “This 2.5 per cent increase is simply a reflection of the fact that their fixtures, wall paint and carpet are going to be newer.”

Meyerman said the fee would apply to all redeveloped buildings in the future.

“In the end, when all of these buildings are redeveloped, all students [would not have been] be paying not only their regular fee, but an additional 2.5 per cent forever,” she said.

The Budget Sub-committee agreed with the stance taken by MCRC and nixed the surcharge idea.

Meyerman said the new changes made by the committee are better for students.

“If you add those things together, they actually end up being quite good for students,” she said.

The sub-committee will report its recommendations to the SRC on April 3.

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