Where does our money go?

Story by Haley Zblewski and Alex Zank

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Last year, students paid more than $4 million in student segregated fees. For the 2012-13 year, each student is paying $419 in student segregated fees. These fees are allocated to various organizations, activities and services by the Student Senate.

The specific group within the Student Senate who deals largely with this money is the Finance Commission, where 13 elected students help decide where this money, and how much of it, will go.

Segregated fees
Bryan Larson, director of the Finance Commission said the amount of money generated by student segregated fees has typically been between $4 million and $4.5 million over the past couple years.

Larson said the fees are broken up into two groups, the student segregated fees and the student segregated technology fees. The Student Office of Sustainability gets a portion of the student segregated fees and the rest of it is what the finance commission works with.

The money the finance commission allocates goes to major student activities such as Student Health Service, Counseling Services, the Children’s Center and the Athletics department.

It also allocates 0.5-1 percent of the total segregated fees to the Student Organizations Commission, where it is allocated to various clubs and student activity groups such as the Student Radio Initiative, The Flipside and club sports, Larson said.

Student Body President Corydon Fish said that UW-System Policy F50 is what enables Student Senate to have control over the non-allocable student segregated fees F50 states that non-allocated fees “are used to support long-term commitments for fixed financial obligations, ongoing operating costs of university owned or controlled buildings, and similar commitments for student unions, health centers, child care centers and recreational sports centers.”

Fish said this measure exists because students deserve to have a say in where their money is spent.

“I think it’s absolutely important for students to have control over the largest amount of fees as possible because in the end they’re paying to go here,” he said. “These fees aren’t going to go toward classes so it’s what extra curricular activities, auxiliary functions and services they would like to see provided.”

The funding process
Each year in September, organizations send their financial information, such as current budget needs and any money from the previous year that wasn’t spent, to the Finance Commission and request a budget for the next fiscal year.

In October, there is then a hearing process where the organizations meet with the Finance Commission to go over why they think they deserve the allocation they ask for, Larson said.

“Everyone comes in, they present their budget, we ask them questions. We find out ‘what do you need this money for? What’s the impact this has on students? Why is it worth the students’ investment?’,” Larson said.

On their own, each Finance Commission member states the amount they believe each group should be given, and then a meeting is held in late October where the commission then deliberates on whether to allocate the amount of money requested by the organization, or to allocate them less.  The Finance Commission bylaws prevents the commission from allocating more money to a group than what was requested, Reeves said.

While the Finance Commission allocates the money to organizations on campus in October, the Student Senate as a whole approves the budget in February, Reeves said. This gives organizations time to appeal the amount of money the Commission has decided to allocate to them if they feel it is not the right amount.

Larson said the most important factor the commission considers is the impact the organization has
on students.

“What’s the benefit students receive? At the end of the day, that’s what we look at with every single organization that comes to us,” he said. “And if the answer is yes, that’s great.”

After that question is answered they move on to other issues that the funding may present, such as whether or not the group could do more fundraising or cut paid positions that don’t bring in enough revenue.

Besides setting the budget, the commission also deals with special allocation requests.

“Organizations that may have an unforeseen request for money that (they) weren’t planning on in their budgets from last year …  present (the special allocation request) to us and we can just actually vote on that,” said Tyler Will, senator and member of the Finance Commission.

The Finance Commission has 13 voting members that offer insight as well as approve the funding allocations brought before the commission.

Two members that are new to the commission this semester are Will and senior Senator Kayla Ogren.

Ogren said her role in the commission was at first a learning experience, where she learned to be an “active, honest” member.

Now that the semester is in full swing, the newer members have a solid understanding of how the commission works and they have greater responsibility, Ogren said.

Will said being one of the voting members of the commission gives him a voice in what segregated fees are being spent on.

“If you don’t speak out towards something or point out something, you’re really not fulfilling your duty on the commission,” he said. “Because that’s what we’re doing; we’re ensuring there’s proper use of the segregated fees.”

The effect on students
Reeves said that he imagines that students who have had to work with Student Senate in order for campus organizations  to receive funding are likely the most aware of how segregated fees are allocated. But as to how many students that included, he wasn’t sure.

“I know those organizations and student activities touch a lot of students, but what is a lot? Meaning people that are actually involved in the organization, not participating in events but actually in the organization,” he said.

Sarah Knutson, a sophomore at Eau Claire, said she was unaware of exactly what student segregated fees were and said she was unaware of how it was decided they were spent.

Larson said that he believes students are at least somewhat aware of the allocation power that Student Senate and the Finance Commission has.

“I hope they are (aware),” he said. “I mean, we have an article in The Spectator every week… That’s what we’re constantly striving to do is constantly get more students involved and have them understand the process.”

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