SGA to hold student referendum on increasing service fees

"all about the money"The Student Government Association at FIU advocates an augmentation of service fees through a university-wide referendum. | Kevin Gonzalez, PantherNOW

Magali Zoghaib | Contributing Writer

The Student Government Association passed a bill to hold a referendum for students to cast their votes about the increase in semester fees. This could significantly alter the revenue allocated for investment back into the FIU campus and the services provided to students.

“Students deserve to be well informed on where their money goes upon paying fees and there should be utmost budget transparency on campus,” reads the bill. 

On Feb. 19, the student senate passed “All About the Money”, S.B. 04 018, by a unanimous vote of 20. 

“I do think it’s important to increase the input students are putting into it,” said senate president Kailey Lachapelle during senate, saying that regardless of whether students vote to increase, it’s important for students to know what their fees are for and take part in budgets. 

The bill introduces possible increases for two semesterly fees: the Activity and Service (A&S) fee and the Health fee. These fees are mandatory for all FIU students, as they provide crucial funding for their respective departments.

“The ballot shall contain two separate questions: ‘Should the FIU Board of Trustees convene an A&S fee committee with the intention to raise the fee to $15?’ with only two options: ‘yes’ and ‘no’,” read the original draft of the bill. “The other question will state: ‘Should FIU Board of Trustees convene a Health fee committee with the intention to raise the fee to $94?’ With only two options: ‘yes’ and ‘no’.”

Senators added a “need more information” option during the Feb. 19 meeting. 

During senate, Senator Dale Brochinsky expressed concerns about keeping FIU affordable, with increasing fees posing a financial burden. 

Floor leader Karina Hernandez seconded that point, suggesting that SGA hold a forum or town hall to give students more detail beyond a single question for each fee.

“I think we should allow students to speak on this, given the proper education,” said Hernandez, supporting the measure so long as students understand the implications of their vote.

Senators added that measure, scheduled for mid-March or April. 

The A&S fee funds a variety of student services, organizations, and clubs encompassing the vast majority of engagement on campus. 

The SGA’s budget committee annually distributes these funds, which are allocated to various entities including FIU in DC, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and the Black Student Union, among others. Nonetheless, challenges arose regarding the 2023-2024 A&S revenue. 

According to the 2023-2024 SGA Budget Allocation, approximately 10 entities did not receive funding for the current fiscal year.

“Now here’s the problem with the activity and service fee that the student body and the student government is facing. The activity and service fee is charged based on credit hour enrollment and we haven’t seen huge increases in enrollment. In fact, it’s been pretty stagnant and that has resulted in stagnant revenue,” said Alexander Sutton, president of the Student Government Association. 

The SGA budget fell below $20 million for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Moreover, this fiscal year’s budget experienced a decrease of over $300,000 compared to the previous fiscal year. 

The A&S fee funds stipends and salaries for students working within these entities as well as numerous items requested by student organizations. Therefore, it is crucial to emphasize that the nation’s 6.4% inflation rate and increase in minimum wage exacerbated the challenges faced by budget cuts. 

Furthermore, the health fee allows the university to provide clinical care and mental health services on campus. The departments funded by the health fee include Student Health Clinics , Counseling and Psychological Services , Victim Empowerment Program, Healthy Living Program, and the Disability Resource Center. 

These divisions provide essential and pivotal services such as primary health care services, empowerment programs, counseling for mental health concerns, wellness workshops, nutrition counseling, and accommodations for students with disabilities. 

However, there has been a significant reduction in the allocation of health fees from the 2021-2022 fiscal year to the present one, amounting to a decrease of over $200,000.

The current A&S and Health fee are $14.45 and $93.69. However, increasing the A&S fee to $15 and the Health fee to $94 will make a significant change to the revenue being allocated to the university which will serve as an investment in the services provided to FIU students. 

“Having been explained the aim behind the fee augmentation, I believe this increase is absolutely fundamental since I strongly believe events on campus shape our college experience and open paths to a variety of opportunities,” said Gabriela Leal, a graphic design student at FIU. 

The bill cites student demands for engagement as a reason to advocate for increases, and thus a reason to hold the vote. The referendum requires 60% approval to pass. 

The university-wide referendum is scheduled for April 17 and 18, enabling students to cast their votes on the proposed fee increases.

The resolution emphasizes the importance of enhanced transparency in budget allocation and advocates for increased student involvement in the decision-making process. 

“This bill should be thought of more as advocacy and raising awareness for an issue than something that’s actually going to take effect,” said Sutton.

PantherNOW staff Elise Gregg contributed to this report.

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