Editor's note: This article previously stated that SGA might forgo Spirit Splash ducks due to budget cuts. SGA President Cait Zona said this is not true. In fact, Homecoming recommended that SGA take money away from its marketing budget in order to keep the ducks and avoid losing tradition.
The UCF Activity and Service Fee budget committee needs to cut $853,570 from requested funds in order to stay within its 2016-17 budget of $18,600,000.
The total comes after three days of meetings that ended Friday with Student Government Association's ASF budget committee.
The total budget is the same as last year, but the increase in department funding requests and a required 3 percent salary increase for specific UCF employees means that A&SF will have to cut extraneous funds where they can. The increase only applies to salaried employees paid by A&SF funds who meet certain criteria and performance standards.
“Part of it is the 3 percent [increase]. Also part of it is organizations. Everyone wants a bigger budget next year so people request higher [funding] than they currently have and we just have to cut it back a little bit,” said Benjamin DeStefano, A&SF chair and SGA comptroller. “The 3 percent salary increase definitely hurt us a little bit, but every year there’s always a lot of cuts to make.”
The A&SF budget is based on the current Activity & Service Fee, which is $11.67 per credit hour. The Activity and Service fee is determined on a semester-by-semester basis, and the updated amount will be provided in spring 2016. The budget is determined in a series of steps: A&SF balances the budget, cutting funding where necessary. Then the budget will need approval from the SGA Senate, student body President Cait Zona, university President John C. Hitt and the Board of Trustees. Once Zona has approved the budget, it will also be passed along to Maribeth Ehasz, director of Student Development & Enrollment Services.
A&SF committee members listened to budget proposals earlier this week and began cutting funds for departments and student agencies Friday. Student At-Large John Kann proposed cutting A&SF’s Safe Ride budget, but Sen. Cara Gillaspie said that the Safe Ride program was necessary for UCF, as drunken driving is a major issue that this program directly combats. Kann declined to comment on his reasoning behind proposing to cut the Safe Ride Program’s budget. A&SF voted to keep the funds for the Safe Ride program at $45,000 and postponed any further related discussion.
The Safe Ride program is a service that gives students a ride home, whether it’s from an emergency room or a downtown bar.
“It’s always maxed out; every voucher that is budgeted for is used,” DeStefano said. “The idea is that since the demand is greater than the supply, we don’t want to cut it but if we had to cut it ... that’s where some of the committee members were thinking we could start. A lot of the committee was against that because it’s such a popular service.”
Once the cutting process had moved through the university’s departments, it began looking at student agencies. Zona wanted to rework budget allocation for departments and their new employees rather than cut money from individual student agencies, and so the committee backtracked and re-evaluated their previous decisions.
During the review, Sen. Cara Gillaspie noted a discrepancy among catering budgets for different agencies. She said some agencies requested a couple thousand for catering one or two events, whereas other agencies were able to host six events and cater for less than $1,000.
Gillaspie said A&SF needed to re-evaluate agencies with higher catering budgets, and Sen. Scott Benton agreed. The re-evaluation of catering budgets was postponed until the next meeting.
When Zona proposed decreasing funding allocated to Knights on the Mall, Sen. Scott Benton objected, claiming that a majority of alumni interact with students through the initiative.
The committee moved through each department slowly. The Office of Student Involvement was the first department that ASF “gutted” this year, Benton said. OSI originally requested $1,828,562 in funding, but after A&SF committee deliberation, was granted a tentative $1,753,350. The majority of OSI cuts were made to the new hire budget and Knight Camp, which was disbanded entirely. This saved $46,240 and $38,000, respectively.
Knight Camp "welcomes newly admitted students to the University of Central Florida by providing the opportunity to meet incoming and current students, grow personally and professionally through activities, games, VIP campus and athletics tours, leadership/diversity workshops and service projects," according to its website.
While making his case for OSI funding, Interim Director of OSI Shane Juntunen said that students who feel more involved on campus graduate at a higher rate than those who don’t. OSI Communication Coordinator David Oglethorpe said that, although there are no hard numbers regarding these claims, it’s nationally accepted that students involved on campus graduate and are retained at a higher rate than those who are not involved.
Juntunen said that the cost of programming is constantly increasing for agencies under OSI, such as CAB and Homecoming, and so he would prefer to make cuts to the overall OSI department budget than its individual student agencies.
A few other decreases were made at Friday’s meeting. The Recreation and Wellness center asked for $75,000 in funding for repair and replacement, which A&SF decreased to $50,000. The executive branch of SGA requested $780,000 of funding, which A&SF decreased to a tentative final amount of $774,450 – $17,344 more than the 2015-16 executive SGA budget. Student Legal Services was denied funding for new staff, saving $46,960. And the Student Union was denied $123,100 worth of funding.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Elections Commission of SGA had its budget increased by $4,000.
Zona and Sen. Ryan Garwood proposed to finalize budget cuts in January 2016. Historically, the SGA Senate decides on the A&SF budget in April so the budget determination is ahead of schedule and doesn’t need to be rushed, said David Pavlonnis, assistant vice president of Student Development and Enrollment Services.
DeStefano said that the next budget meeting will take place in mid- to late-January. He urged students who have an opinion on the budget to speak at budget meetings or find him in his office.
“It’s a lot of work, but we’re doing our best for the students,” he said. “We like to hear student input because [this] is based on what’s best for the students and what the students want."
Students can contact DeStefano at email@example.com or go to the A&SF office located in the Student Union in room 215.
Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.