According to the recently approved 2013-14 University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union budget, prepared and tabled by Vice-President Operations and Finance Steven Heidel, the union will run a deficit of $278,000 next year, which includes asset depreciation costs.
Depreciation is the decline in value that all assets are subject to as time goes by.
Without asset depreciation costs, the union’s actual cash position is a deficit of $22,523.
That compares to a budgeted deficit of just over $200,000 in 2012-13 and one of $440,000 in the previous year.
Revenue from tenants in lower Place Riel continues to pour in as expected, but slipping profits from union-owned businesses such as Louis’ and Copy Central are keeping the union from balancing its budget.
The last time the USSU managed to break even was in 2009-10, before the $30-million Place Riel renovation that shut down many of the union’s revenue sources for almost two years.
With the reopening of lower Place Riel, rent from tenants has returned and this year the union expects to collect about $380,000, even with a vacancy in the corner space that was formerly occupied by Campus Cove.
“It would’ve been better without Campus Cove leaving,” USSU General Manager Caroline Cottrell said. “But other than that [lower Place Riel] has been doing good.”
Heidel said there were 40 additional chairs recently installed at the food court after they noticed it was tough to find a place to sit and eat at one of the restaurants. The USSU is paid according to how much business each tenant does.
After running small deficits for the past few years, XL Print and Design is expected to turn a profit of over $30,000 in 2013-14. This year was XL’s first year operating from the main floor of the MUB, after working from Browsers for several years.
Cottrell believes they have developed an excellent reputation for their quick turnaround times, and says that they expect business to continue improving.
Last fall, university administrators told the USSU that they would be tearing down the beach volleyball courts on College Drive and rezoning the land for hotel development.
For at least the past decade, the beach courts were home to the Louis’ beach volleyball league, which annually brought in $30,000 in league fees and another $70,000 in food and beverage sales.
Without the league, Louis’ has been forced to revamp its operations. The restaurant has a new manager and has expanded upstairs with Louis’ Loft opening in the coming months. Next year the operation is budgeted to break even, if depreciation costs are not included.
Since 2008, Copy Central has seen usage fall by approximately 50 per cent, from 500,000 copies per year to less than 250,000. Next year the union’s photocopy business is projected to lose $55,000.
“Copy Central has been running a deficit for a long time and next year we have our contract with Western Business Machines coming up,” Cottrell said.
WBM owns and services the USSU’s fleet of 42 photocopiers across campus and the union pays WBM to keep them here. The union is losing money each year because the contract with WBM costs more than students are spending on photocopies.
Heidel believes the ability to share notes online and the option of scanning documents have drastically scaled down the amount that students use photocopies. He claims adding scanners to the fleet of photocopiers and allowing students to email documents to scanners and printers would make Copy Central more relevant.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that students need copying,” Cottrell said. “To the extent that they used to use it… probably not.”
Administrative salaries are by far the union’s largest expense and account for roughly 50 per cent of the budget. Next year, salaries will cost the union a projected $989,000.
Cottrell says since taking over as manager she has cut three senior positions, including one — space and events coordinator — this year.
“We have reorganized and restructured,” she said. “We are trying to make sure we stay as lean as we can without killing people from exhaustion, and just trying to be very strategic with how we are administering the way we manage the USSU.”
The USSU still owes nearly $18 million on the $19-million loan it took out to pay for the Place Riel renovation. Each month the union makes mandatory $120,000 payments, split between two different banks.
Once the renovations to Louis’ Loft are complete, the union plans to set aside a rainy-day fund of between $750,000 and $1 million, and then begin paying down the loan at a faster pace.
“We’re predicting we can start paying off the debt [faster than $120,000 per month] by the fall of 2014,” Cottrell said.
Graphic: Cody Schumacher