UCAB Explores Fee Referendum

Students may soon vote on a referendum to increase fees to fund University Center facilities. The University Centers Advisory Board is discussing a referendum, which, if passed, would charge students more to maintain Price Center, Student Center, the Crafts Center and the Che Cafe. University Centers which is facing budget shortfalls, has been unable to maintain its facilities in good working condition over the past several years.

According to University Centers Interim Director Sharon Van Bruggen, UCAB emailed a confidential survey about University Centers to a random selection of 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students in proportion to the six colleges. UCAB used the survey to figure out how students prioritize the upkeep of the centers and how they use the facilities. UCAB will use results to set building hours and determine which student services and activities should be provided starting in Fall Quarter 2013.

The student priorities ranked highest include keeping buildings in good working condition, maintaining clean facilities, opening buildings at late times and on weekends, keeping events free and giving student organizations minimal charges when hosting events.

The survey gave four fee options: no fee increase, a $13 increase, a $17 increase and a $20 increase. The current fee is $76.50 per student per quarter. If a student checked ‘no fee increase’ as her highest ranking, a follow-up question on the survey asked the student to explain the reasoning. Most students in this situation responded by saying that they couldn’t afford fee hikes, while other responses mentioned that students did not use the buildings enough or that they would not mind cuts.

“Tuition has doubled over six years, and we know that,” Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary Ratcliff said. “There will be no referendum for at least five years to increase the fee again after this one. Students who vote on this need that reassurance that the University Centers isn’t going to come back two years later.”

A facility condition analysis by the ISES Corporation, an independent third-party expert in facility condition assessment, showed that the University Centers’ facilities require $14 million for maintenance, repairs and renovation projects over the next ten years. Some repairs needed include ceiling replacement and implementation of fire sprinkler systems.

“While University Centers has a fund, it is relatively small for facilities of our size and scope, and is too thin to address the needed facilities maintenance, repairs and renovations anticipated over the next ten years,” Van Bruggen said.

University Centers has already cut hours, services and activities to balance its budget. The Crafts Center has temporarily closed for the 2012-13 school year, facilities have vacant spaces and Price Center East is open only until midnight on Fridays through Sundays.

The rising operational costs have been increasingly difficult to cover because of numerous factors, including slowing enrollment rates, departmental budget cuts and the economy. The prospect of a referendum is developing slowly and has so far been presented to two college councils. UCAB is using the survey to determine other possible options. If it decides to recommend a referendum, the referendum would have to pass through the A.S.

Council and the Graduate Student Association before it could appear on a ballot. The two councils would ned to agree that there is a need for a referendum and then decide upon the dollar amount increase for student fees and the wording of the referendum. UCAB is planning to present the budget situation to the A.S. Council by the start of Winter Quarter.

“Our intent with our budget presentation to councils is to get students familiar with our budget, where University Centers stands, and what efforts have been taken to remedy the deficit,” UCAB Chair Albert Trujillo said. “This way, if a referendum is to arise, students can make an educated decision on how to vote.”

At the end of Week One of winter quarter, UCAB will hold a retreat, with individual orientations, to give board members a clear idea of the state of University Centers. UCAB will then vote on whether there should be a referendum once all board members are made aware of the budget and of cuts that have been made.

“UCAB is trying to be as proactive as possible right now,” Trujillo said. “If we try to get a referendum passed, we don’t want it to be something that came out of nowhere. We want it to be something that people saw coming.”

The survey is available for two more weeks; so far, over 1,400 students have responded. Approximately 20 percent of the responses came from graduate students.

No student fees are used to provide retail services. Retail restaurants and stores, including Price Center, help pay 24 percent, or one-third, of the University Centers budget, while student fees cover 68 percent, about two-thirds, of the budget. The rest of the payment comes from revenues generated by ticket sales from events, short-term investments and services.

“There is a backlog of deferred maintenance to these facilities,” Ratcliff said. “Back in 2002, benefit costs were about 20 percent of a person’s salary. With the increase in health insurance costs to 46 percent, we didn’t anticipate the benefit cost to go up that high in our previous funding model.”

Students last passed a referendum in 2007 to fund the creation of Price Center East in 2008 to adjust to the growing student population. Student fees increased to $39 per student per quarter. If there is no referendum this year, changes to the University Centers may include a permanent closure of the Crafts Center, decreased facility hours and weekend closures, decreased or eliminated funding for events or concerts, reduced number of computers in computer labs and further delay of building maintenance.

“Fee increases keep arising, and I know students grow tired of them,” Trujillo said. “However, being open with the University Centers budget, the cuts that have been made, and the future of University Centers will hopefully allow students to make a decision that they feel is right should they be faced with a University Centers referendum.”