By Jason Arthurs
While Student Congress might finish this semester with an unexpected surplus in this semester's budget, it faces a debt $44,000 larger than usual due to optimistic projections in last year's annual budget funded by student fees.
Congress plans to pay off the debt next semester, a move that will leave few dollars available at that time for campus groups, said Finance Committee Chairman Mark Townsend.
Only a few weeks ago, Congress faced a quickly dwindling pool of funds to allocate to campus groups this semester, taking time to question exactly how it would dole out the remaining dollars in the subsequent allocations fund.
But when no groups requested money during the final finance committee meeting, leaving $5,431 originally earmarked for allocations this semester, Congress and student body leaders began looking ahead to next semester - specifically to fill in a more than $44,000 hole dug just last year, Townsend said.
"We're going to take all this debt and eat it next semester," he said. "We just want to nip it in the bud."
Student Body Treasurer Patrick Frye said that while Congress typically runs in the red because of miscalculations of revenues from student fees, overly optimistic projections and a start-off deficit of $5,195 caused the current debt to be about $44,000 more than it should be.
Frye said the $193,666.90 annual budget for 2000-2001, drawn in February of last year, is between 5 and 11 percent higher than it should have been.
The overall budget figure is based on enrollment projections and subsequent student fee collections, money rolled over from the previous year and estimated reversions - money not spent by groups that must be returned.
Frye said the budget figure for this year was presented by last year's Student Body Treasurer Ryan Schlitt. Schlitt probably made the optimistic projection, Frye said, because treasurers before him had made a habit of budgeting more money than they were collecting in student fees.
Student Activities Fund Office Director Howard Brubaker said he thought last semester that the reversions would not be high enough to support the proposed budget for fall 2000, but Schlitt thought Congress would end up with about $20,000 in surplus funds. Instead, they only passed $5,195 over to this year's Congress.
"It varies from year to year, but you can kind of get a feel for (the reversions)," Brubaker said. "I said I didn't think it was going to be that much. It was a lucky guess on my part."
Townsend said that although the debt was not caused by current Congress members' actions, it would be up to them to inform groups that if they want money next semester, they need to get their requests in early - before funding runs out. "We didn't create the debt - we're just having to deal with it," he said. "Honestly, I think everybody is going to take a hit."
Congress members originally thought more groups would feel the deficit, with such a small amount of money available for subsequent allocations. Frye said he was "very surprised" about the $5,431 surplus this semester.
He said that although the $5,431 surplus from this semester's allocations will carry over to next semester, the $14,322 total available for groups in the spring will be $8,000 less than the still markedly low amount of money Congress had at the beginning of the fall 2000 semester.
"It'll be harder for (campus groups) to get money," he said.
Townsend said it is in the best interest of Congress to go ahead and pay the debt next semester so future Congresses will not have similar problems.
"If we can bite the bullet, it won't be a problem for students that come three to four years down the line."
The University Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.