BY JOSH BURY
A surplus of $945,000, accumulated over several previous years of operation due to increased student intake, is now firmly in the crosshairs of Conestoga Students Inc.’s first-ever budget revision.
The new budget, portions of which were revealed at CSI’s annual general meeting on Oct. 30, aims to increase spending with the goal of using up the surplus funds. CSI is not supposed to run a surplus – as a non-profit organization they could have their non-profit status revoked by the Canada Revenue Agency if that were to continue.
“We always try to budget a deficit to try to eat away at the surplus (but increased enrolment has resulted in more money coming in than initially thought). If we continue to run a surplus … we will be taxed like a corporation,” said Jason Wright, CSI president.
The company that CSI uses to audit the budget is BDO International, who initiated the discussions about eliminating the deficit.
“(BDO) had advised us that we needed to start eating away at our surplus, otherwise the CRA would start to question our not-for-profit status,” Wright said.
The decision to revise the budget is a company-first for CSI, pointing to the need to look seriously at ways to reduce the surplus funds of almost a million dollars which reside, for the moment, in a low-interest guaranteed investment certificate.
Wright says the spending increases are designed to go right back to the students.
“When we revised the budget, we made sure that student activities were the first ones to see big increases.”
That means that students at all campuses can expect bigger and more numerous events this year. The Guelph campus will receive $45,000 in total, over twice as much funding as originally anticipated, while all other campuses will see their events budget increase by an additional $10,000.
Wright says specific plans for these new funds are up to the co-ordinator for each campus, but the funds will translate to better event support and likely some new events in the winter semester.
“I know at our Waterloo campus we will try to have more events throughout the month. I know Cambridge is looking for bigger events and more events as well,” Wright said.
The revised budget also includes a large increase in funding for the shuttle bus service, to allow for increased demand and an intended future purchase of a larger bus that is better able to handle the local climate.
One of the shuttles was in use in a southern state and ill-suited for the Canadian cold. Wright said the new bus would need to be custom-built, and that the process would take six months.
Wright says CSI is focused on making sure that they support a Canadian company when placing the order for a future vehicle.
“There have been some issues with (the existing buses) … we’ve allocated money in the budget for it.”
Half a million dollars of the surplus money has also been put aside for a “capital development project,” but Wright refused to confirm that the funds were for the upcoming rec centre renovation. CSI general manager Janie Renwick and Wright are both part of the management team on that project.
Even with the revision, the surplus won’t likely be eliminated this year, but Wright says the new budget is the first step to eliminating the surplus “over a number of years.”
Besides events and the shuttle bus service, the CSI budget includes entries for a number of other items.
The CSI meal subsidy, budgeted at $45,000, is what allows for $2 pizza at the Sanctuary Cafe on Tuesdays. Wright says the subsidy required a budget increase because unprecedented interest in cheap pizza meant the program was “reaching capacity.”
Another part of the budget expense is dedicated to enhancing the furniture found around campus. The Doon campus cafeteria and School of Business recently benefited from some upgrades, but CSI president Jason Wright says they’re looking at other projects as well.
“We are still looking at enhancing the Sanctuary furniture as well, and maybe adding a little bit more to the landing (in the Atrium),” Wright said.
While there has been a considerable increase in student-focused spending, there are still employees to be paid.
After the budget revision, full-time and part-time personnel will cost students $962,000 this year. The $42,000 increase over the previous figure is because CSI is looking at hiring two full-time staff members on one-year contracts, one of who would replace a current full-time employee who is away on maternity leave.
Salaries for full-time CSI staff are calculated using software called PayScale, which gives employers an idea of what an employee should be paid in the current market.
“We’re not pulling the numbers out of thin air,” Wright said.
Parking costs for full-time CSI staff are covered in the budget, but in the new document provided to SPOKE, those costs are no longer a separate item, but included as part of the previously mentioned $962,000 figure.
CSI pays for 13 parking spots for full-time staff, but Wright says that the amount budgeted is more than enough to cover the spots. Full-time staff also have basic cellphone plans and travel mileage for CSI purposes covered.
The revised budget also increases funding for CSI to attend conferences and retreats for professional development reasons. A $10,000 increase in this budget entry will allow most of the board of directors to attend the upcoming assembly of the National Center for Student Leadership in New Orleans on Nov. 21, where previously only full-time staff would have been in attendance.
“It’s where we get all of our speakers for our leadership conference … they are phenomenal speakers and that’s why we bring them in,” Wright said.
A student leadership program, which includes a leadership conference for students, is in itself a big ticket item at a budgeted amount of $160,000. Of this amount, the conference and associated costs represent between 50 and 60 per cent, according to Wright and leadership development co-ordinator Lisa Steele. The conference took place on Nov. 17 and 18 at Bingemans.
The student leadership program also involves a leadership ambassador program which allows students to volunteer time to plan community events, and a global service leadership component where students are sent to support communities in a less fortunate part of the world.
The budget also includes some funds which are contributed to charitable organizations. Among others, the budget includes a $5,000 donation to Christian Horizons, a faith-based organization that serves people with developmental disabilities in Ontario. In some cases CSI donation money is paid to these people with disabilities as a sort of paycheque, albeit a small one.
“They go around and they collect recycling around the college … they’re normally here with an individual that follows them around to make sure nothing goes wrong,” Wright said of their activities, which take place across all campuses.
When asked about the decision to support a Christian faith-based organization, Wright said it was made in the past.
“As far as I know, it’s been a part of the organization since before my time, so it’s been implemented by past boards of directors … as of right now, we don’t favour one religion over the next.”
Those interested in looking at the budget for themselves should check CSI’s website periodically. Students who attended CSI’s annual general meeting were told that the budget would be available online on the CSI website but, at press time, it was not.