AMS commission finances explored

Investigating the financial inner workings of the five AMS commissions, funded through assembly allocation

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AMS commissions are responsible for everything from Frosh Week to promoting the municipal elections. This year saw funding for commissions increase by $25,957.92.

There are five commissions, but the Campus Activities Commission (CAC) has by far the largest budget, totaling $539,783. While the commission oversees 11 events, including orientation week and AMS Charity Ball, it only receives $61,127 in student dollars. The rest is funded by the events themselves.

Campus Activities Commissioner Lara Therrien Boulos said that for most events, the numbers seem on track. However, she said that isn’t the case for all events.

Charity ball each year fundraises to supplement costs but also allocates a certain number of student dollars to donate. Fundraising in the 2009-10 year resulted in just enough to break-even with the costs of the event. This meant that the $1,500 assembly allocation was the largest component of the donation, rather than a significant addition to it.

“Charity ball this year, although I don’t have final numbers, the projections of the committee’s fundraising is to be about $700 to $800 in addition to the assembly allocation,” Therrien Boulos, ArtSci ’11, adding that this is despite the implementation of the HST, which increased costs of the events.

Therrien Boulos said the committee looked for innovative ways to keep costs down. For example, the event chairs re-negotiated food with Queen’s Event Services in regards to pricing of food, which made a big difference in the overall cost of the event.

The First Year Not In Residence (FYNIRS) comittee of orientation week also had to think on their feet to stay on budget.

Therrien Boulos said FYNIRS last year brought in $4,800 in revenue. Although this year’s budget projected $6,500 in revenue, the total came in closer to $2,500.

“It’s because we had quite a large drop in participation this year,” she said. “This year the dates for the orientation week changed, so all the information that was sent out to students was wrong.”

Last year orientation week dates were changed to accommodate students celebrating certain religious holidays. Therrien Boulous said committee members forgot to note the change of date in much of their promotional material and thus many students, believed the last day of FYNIRS coincided with the first day of faculty orientation and chose not to sign up.

However, given the lower number of participants the FYNIRS committee was able to lower their costs. This resulted in an unexpected surplus, which the committee used to buy an orientation week flag.

Another orientation week committee, New Exchange Woohoo Transfer Students (NEWTS) was not so lucky and they are projected to end the academic year in the red.

“We had about $10,000 stolen, because it wasn’t locked up properly,” Therrien Boulous said.

A volunteer on the committee had not abided by proper protocols during orientation week and took the money home for storage rather than locking it in the AMS safe. Later the volunteer’s house was broken into, in which both the money and some NEWTS week supplies were stolen.

“Unfortunately, because this was an HR issue I can’t disclose the information,” Therrien Boulos said. “However, appropriate conversations and measures were taken in deciding how to deal with them.”

With the CAC comprising its budget largely from event fundraising, it’s a direct contrast to the Academic Affairs Commission (AAC,) which is solely funded by $41,117 of student dollars. Academic Affairs Commissioner Kieran Slobodin said the commissioner salary, which is budgeted at $23,947, is the largest expenditure, followed by public relations and promotions, which is budgeted at $4,000. Currently, the commission looks to be on track for most of its timelines. Slobodin said the commissioner salary line item will be under budget by approximately $1,200.

“I was an orientation committee member last September, so I had to take a two-week leave of absence, as well as my leave of absence during the election period to campaign,” Slobodin, ArtSci ’12 said. He said this money will be reallocated to the deputy honoraria, to represent the extra work they put into the commission during Slobodin’s absences

The AAC mainly focuses on promoting awareness, reacting to the changes to tuition payment and working with the student advisory team to ensure transition from QCARD to SOLUS. Thus, a lot of their funding is put towards advocacy work.

“With a commission like the AAC you don’t want a surplus,” he said. Compared to the AAC, the Commission of Internal Affairs (CIA) focuses largely on the internal operational costs of the AMS.

The CIA has a total budget of $126,302, with $116,852 of it coming from AMS student fees. The other portion of the money is funded through election and referenda recovery, Judicial Committee bonds and Judicial Committee fines.

Calum Macbeth, commissioner of internal affairs, said that with three full-time positions, the commissioner, the clubs manager and the judicial affairs commissioner, salaries are by far the largest expenditure.

This year the CIA saw an increase in cases of non-academic discipline, hearing 78 cases as opposed to the 46 heard last year.

“It affects the operations of the office in terms for pure hours work but it doesn’t actually affect the [finances] … there’s just fixed costs. The case load doesn’t affect the operational budget,” Macbeth, ArtSci ’11 said. “It’s pretty standard sort of year-to-year.”

The budget for the Municipal Affairs Commission (MAC) is also fairly standard from year to year, said Municipal Affairs Commissioner Hilary Windrem. She said the commission aims to engage and educate students about community issues and predominantly focuses on advocacy work.

This year, the MAC was budgeted at $69,797, an almost $10,000 increase over last year. Windrem said this was due in part to an additional $3,000 that was allocated for the promotion of the municipal elections and an extra $1,500 for other public relations and promotions. The commission’s budget is funded by student dollars and supplementary grants. The United Way Revenue is one exception, coming from an opt-outable fee.

“As of right now, I don’t have exact numbers for the commission, however one thing that will be going over budget is the [promotions for] the municipal elections,” she said, adding that since there hadn’t been a municipal election in four years she didn’t have a point of reference for this line item.

Windrem said that there aren’t a lot of things that she would do differently budget-wise, however she would recommend the incoming commissioner allocate funds for the employment opportunities coordinator to expand the portfolio.

“Right now, [expenses for the employment opportunities coordinator’s projects] comes out of deputy’s special projects funds, which is fine to maintain what it currently is, however to really … provide [students] with summer employment opportunities in Kingston, I feel like we need to be more proactive,” Windrem said.

AMS Social Issues Commissioner (SIC) Daniella Dávila increased the SIC budget by almost $20,000. This is because of new publications such as Able as well as equity grants.

She said most of the SIC committees are currently slightly under budget, which Dávila said is due to an emphasis on advocacy work. The SIC was allocated $68,927.50 this year, compared to $49,718 last year, demonstrating a $19,209 increase in funds.

The SIC is budgeted for a total revenue of $80,927.50. Although the total has increased significantly from last year’s total of $59,518, Dávila said that the increase correlates to a new publication, an increase in equity grants and larger budgets for things like the Education on Queer Issues Project (EQUIP) and Outwrite.

Last year, the SIC ended the year going over budget by $5,392. Thus, the larger budget is also in part a better reflection of reality. This year, EQUIP is budgeted at $5,000 and Dávila said they seem to be on track. This was not the case last year, when the Project was budgeted at $1,750 but spent $5,592.

“It’s important for the commission to have these funds,” Dávila said. “The publications for example, we wouldn’t be able to produce them unless funds were allocated to them. They offer a venue for different students to express themselves that they probably do not find elsewhere in this university.”

Breaking Down a Budget

AMS Vice-President (Operations) Ben Hartley said the budgetary breakdown of the AMS commission is simpler than most people may think.

Every student has to pay a mandatory $620 fee to the University during registration in September. Included in this fee is a $66 AMS specific fee.

This fee goes towards supporting the commissions, paying permanent staff member and executive salaries and upkeep of the AMS office.

In September, each commissioner presents a budget to the AMS assembly for approval. The commissioner bases their budget on last year’s costs and revenues and then adjusts it for new projects and pans, Hartley said.

“One of the principals of the assembly budget is that is always budgets for zero,” he said. “As a society what we say is that you can’t ask for a dollar you are not going to spend. You have to justify what you are going to be spending it on.”

Last year the five commissions ended up with a mere $27.51 in unspent funds. This money is carried into the next year and pooled into the AMS operating fund.

If a commissioner has an expense, he or she will take a voucher and fill it out to indicate the amount that the AMS will be paying to an external organization on behalf of the commission. The commissioner then signs it, approving the amount and gives it to the vice-president (university affairs), who in turn verifies the amount and approves it. It is then given to the accounting assistant who turns it into a cheque, which the commissioner is then able to spend.

Hartley said there are only two students within the AMS who have signing authority for cheques to external parties; they are the AMS President and CEO as well as the AMS vice-president (operations). The only two permanent staff members who have the authority to sign off on cheques are the controller and the general manager of the AMS.

“Whenever we spend money, it has to be authorized by at least two people and one must be a student,” Hartley said.

Hartley said, adding that the process for generating cheques is done through the voucher system.

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