The Student Services Financial Committee voted to not recommend the Recreation and Wellbeing budget with a segregated fee increase to Chancellor Blank, Monday night.
Following hours of public forum comments and debate between SSFC members, the committee did not approve the RecWell fiscal year 2022 budget in a tight 3-6-2 vote, largely because of the $1.20 increase it proposed to students’ segregated fees.
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During a period of questioning, Director of RecWell Aaron Hobson said if SSFC did not approve the budget, RecWell would have to cover the deficit by reducing the hours the Nicholas Recreation Center was open between one to three hours.
Rep. Jordan Pasbrig and Rep. Grace D’Souza said cutting back these hours would impact the student body negatively and debilitate RecWell’s ability to serve the students by creating inequitable hours of services. D’Souza said she was voting in favor of passing the budget because she felt it would benefit the most students.
“I am to represent the majority of UW Madison students, so that I will be voting in favor of this budget,” D’Souza said. “The benefits to students, the creation of community and the furthering of RecWell’s mission, that we have cited, are all important to this body [and] are valid and worthy reasons to approve the seg fee increase.”
In the public forum period, a majority of individuals from the student body and student government spoke against the increase of segregated fees to RecWell. Public forum speakers raised concerns the increase would set a troubling precedent for future segregated fee allocation to RecWell and some students claimed the organization’s efforts have not been transparent in their long-term funding plans.
Other students argued it was an inappropriate time to raise segregated fees for services like RecWell, given their services have been reduced to 25% capacity. Freshman Mikayla Beckman said it is a trend she does not want to see continue.
“I think that it is absolutely ridiculous that you are even considering raising segregated fees as services have been severely restricted due to the pandemic,” Beckman said. “The fact that RecWell would like an increase in segregated fees when gyms are not operating at full capacity just doesn’t make sense.”
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Several SSFC representatives who voted to deny the RecWell budget recommendation echoed the reasons of public forum speakers. Rep. Brandt Williams said the increase could have larger consequences in later budget decisions and was unnecessary.
Pasbrig said not approving the segregated fee increase now would hurt RecWell in the long run. Rep. Aisha Hurston said she believed there was “no way in [her] mind” RecWell would be fully operational and able serve students in the coming months, noting as representatives of students, they should not consider raising fees amid the pandemic.
“This is one budget increase that we are talking about across all, in addition to all of the rest of the budget increases that we’re talking about … We have other areas that are more pertinent to the needs of our students for the next year that we represent,” Hurston said. “I am very concerned with the presentation of any increases that don’t directly help students.”
Roshan Verma said he was against raising the fees, but he proposed the creation of a committee to extend the conversation with RecWell on alternative funding options and other ways to lessen the burden of segregated fees on students, such as increasing the amount of time RecWell had to pay off bonds used to help fund the university’s master remodeling plan. The proposal to form the committee failed.
But the committee did leave other avenues open to alternative sources of funding. SSFC voted to recommend the Reserve Board approve the use of segregated fee reserve money to offset RecWell’s deficits.
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SSFC also voted to approve the Greater University Tutoring Service budget, including a provision to fund a paid tutor pilot program. SSFC heard the University Health Services budget, which proposed a 3% increase in segregated fees for the 2022 fiscal year. SSFC will discuss and vote on the budget this Thursday.
The committee will also discuss the formal recommendation to the Reserve Board to provide the funds for RecWell at their next meeting. For RecWell to receive the funds to cover the deficit, the Reserve Board of five members must approve the amount and final transfer of funds.