Council approves 2009-10 budget

Timeline of process causes lengthy debate

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Another year, another contentious budget debate for the University Students’ Council. With debate raging from Wednesday night into the wee hours of Thursday morning, this year’s executives were left facing harsh questioning about the budget and its process.

One of the main complaints was the timeline under which the budget operated " a mere week between first proposal and passing.

Richard Wong, a student representative on the Board of Governors, and student Senator Michael Tithecott echoed such complaints.

“We really only had a week … which is quite a limited timeline to fit into everyone’s schedules,” Wong said.

Stephen Lecce, USC president, defended the current process.

“[The USC] went and invited students to come and listen to the budget presentation,” Lecce explained, alluding to last week’s public presentations and posting of the budget proposal on YouTube.

As for the current timeline, Lecce explained much of it was out of the Board’s hands.

“We’re limited because [Western] requests our budget and the student fee breakdown in advance of the Finance and Property Committee meeting with the Board of Governors which takes place in March,” he said.

Lecce explained this year’s budget process encouraged internal USC managers to come forth with initiatives to increase transparency.

“That process takes time to hear feedback,” Lecce noted. “The timelines are unfortunate, and they don’t allow as much time as we would like, but this year [the Board of Directors] has done as best we can within those limited timeframes.”

Wong raised the possibility of next year’s VP-finance enhancing the training councillors receive on reading the budget.

“The majority of council aren’t comfortable with reading budgets or interpreting financial statements,” Wong noted, adding he was only able to fully understand it after being walked through the document with current USC VP-finance Matt Kington.

Although Lecce did not feel it was within his purview to step on the toes of next year’s executives, he expressed optimism for such an endeavour.

“Our controller [Carrie Passi] possesses the talent and communication skills to really give basic training on finances,” he said. “So it empowers our council team to ask the right questions and that leads to a positive end.”

Another positive step from previous years noted by both Wong and Lecce was the decision to not hold the budget debate in confidence.

Last year’s budget was held for the first time in a closed session, meaning non-voting members of council were excused from the room. Although the move was ostensibly necessary to protect legalities, the perceived lack of transparency irked some.

“[This year] everybody getting to see it and getting a stake in it before it passed increased the transparency of it,” Wong said.

Both Wong and Tithecott did note the positive step of moving towards quarterly budget reports next year will further enhance the transparency of the USC’s executive.

Lecce agreed: “Quarterly updates of the budget I think will provide ongoing accountabilities … our council will hold our managers and our executives accountable to the budget that was passed.”

In the end, this was the gesture Wong was striving for.

“Overall, I didn’t necessarily disagree with the entire budget. I just wanted to raise a lot of concerns and the best way to bring it to the attention of the council is to disagree; to voice my opinions " start a discussion.

“The councillors’ role is to hold the Board of Directors accountable and when the Board is making decisions unilaterally then the councillors aren’t given the power to do their job properly.”

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