A.S. Council to Consider Midnight Referendum

John Hanacek/Guardian

In an effort to maintain operations at the Price Center and the Student Center, the University Centers Advisory Board has established a prospective referendum for the 2010 Spring Ballot — a proposal that would increase student fees each year to match statewide inflation.

The referendum, which will be discussed and voted on at this Wednesday’s A.S. Council meeting, would base its annual fee on changes in the Consumer Price Index. The CPI measures inflation by calculating the change in price of various goods and services as time progresses. As inflation increases, the amount of goods or services a single dollar can purchase decreases, so businesses pay more for the same level of operation and maintenance costs.

Currently, students pay $76.50 per quarter to fund $6 million of University Centers’ $11 million budget — a number that hasn’t changed since its Price Center East expansion in 2003. Should this referendum pass, it would fund the cost of inflation that University Centers faces year after year by compensating for that difference, beginning Fall Quarter 2011.

“While [Price Center’s] enterprise income increases for inflation, the contribution from the student fee currently does not,” A.S. President Utsav Gupta said. “We would want the fee to reflect inflation, so the building could do two things: stay in the black, and also build up as a reserve over time.”

UCAB drew up the proposal for the referendum this year due to the stagnation of student enrollment.

“We didn’t need it before, because enrollment has been growing pretty steadily over the past 10 years,” Taylor said. “So every time we get fresh new enrollment, the fee stayed the same, but the amount of fees we’re collecting essentially grows, so income grows. This has helped us operate and maintain the building without forcing us to rely on something like a CPI.”

Taylor said that other student fees account for inflation, and UCAB is attempting to do the same.

The referendum also prohibits UCAB from making any decision that would put University Centers in operational debt, meanwhile preserving the amount of student fees paying off Price Center’s construction.

When Price Center decided to expand, it planned to pay with a referendum that dedicated $6.80 per-student per-quarter toward the debt accrued during the construction of Price Center West, and $36 toward the construction of Price Center East.

The new proposal would not affect either portion. Instead, only the other half of the current $76.50 University Centers fee — which finances operational costs in Price Center and the Student Center like building maintenance, custodial services and marketing — would be affected by changes in the CPI.

Once the debt is paid off, that portion of the fee — which totals $42.80 — would no longer be collected. But according to Gupta, the debt will not be fully repaid for “tens of years.”

If the referendum doesn’t pass, University Centers will still require additional funds to keep its facilities open, and will likely request additional student fees every year until a referendum passes, Gupta said.

“Even with operational changes, they just don’t have enough revenue coming in for everything they have to do,” Gupta said. “If it doesn’t go through this quarter, they’ll probably eat at their reserves throughout the next year, and then ask A.S. again… It’s kind of a fiscal reality.”

The referendum language also stipulates that UCAB would be the official University Centers Board, giving it direct oversight over the centers, in place of its current advisory capacity.

When University Centers was founded in the 1980s, the University Centers Board — composed of students — had the final say in decisions regarding the center, and a director carried out its initiatives. However, according to Gupta, the structure was changed over a decade ago by university administration, making the board advisory and handing off the decision-making power to Student Life administrators. The referendum, if passed, would call for a reversal of this change.

“When we’re dealing with a facility that’s funded in large part through student fees, it should be students who are making the decisions,” Gupta said.

Additional reporting by Hayley Bisceglia-Martin.

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