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(courtesy of Ella Meloy, Senate Vice-President -- photo by Jack Liu.)

The ASUO Senate approved financial benchmarks from the different finance committees at its Nov. 3 meeting.

A breakdown of ASUO’s annual budget process can be found on its website. It includes the steps taken before University of Oregon President Michael Schill’s review.

With the benchmarks, ASUO can choose to raise its incidental fee budget by a certain percentage depending on financial requests from organizations or programs under each finance committee. The I-Fee is a student-paid fee that supports services and programs under ASUO, including student organizations on campus.

As part of the budget process, finance committees submitted benchmarks that were approved during a senate meeting.

ASUO senator and Programs Finance Committee chair Ella Meloy said the benchmarks senators have produced on the finance committees are to make sure they are “all on the same page” with their financial priorities for the year. According to ASUO’s website, “finance committees utilize benchmarks in order to inform decisions about the individual unit’s budgets within their purview.”

“The benchmarks function as a way for us to kind of determine collectively what are our financial priorities, and then how do those financial priorities allow for some of these departments and orgs to get the money they requested,” ASUO President Isaiah Boyd said.

Meloy said there is a yearly discussion on if the I-Fee should be raised at all. “The senate body each year will decide essentially if it’s justified to raise those few extra dollars because it impacts every single student,” she said.

ASUO Finance Director Aaron Lewis said ASUO usually tries to keep the raising of the I-Fee budget below a 5% increase. “It’s a cost that’s obviously a student cost,” he said, “and we want that cost to be as low as possible.”

If the increase is more than 5%, ASUO would be required to get special permission from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

To avoid going over 5%, Boyd said there was an increased focus on trying to find a way to provide for the financial priorities this year. “So what I presented on was a lot around ‘hey, look, we can cut here; we can pull funds from here,’ to bring us from being over that 5% cap back to around 4%.”

Boyd said the benchmarks are not set in stone and can be altered if need be.

Lewis said the biggest part with this year’s benchmark process was the PFC budget increase to get funding for the TOSS Model — a new stipend model for student organizations.

“A lot of the I-Fee discussion this year surrounded student stipend increases for our student organization leaders, so there’s a lot of emphasis at making sure that we do allocate those stipend increases for student org leaders,” Meloy said.

Lewis said ASUO is still funding a budget increase for the EMU Board, but cannot meet the increase requested.

In addition to the finance committees, the ASUO Executive Branch submits its own benchmarks. Lewis said the Executive Branch makes the initial benchmark recommendations for the senate finances committees.

According to UO’s official website, the EMU Board “is responsible for making general policy decisions and long-range plans for the operation of the EMU.”

Senator Irisa Mehta, who is also on the EMU Board, said the pandemic affected the EMU’s revenue stream, which was reflected in their budget request. The EMU Board originally projected a 6.12% I-Fee increase totaling a little over $462,000, but eventually settled upon a $300,000 increase with ASUO. Mehta said members on the board are not predicting a lot of revenue coming in any time soon because the EMU is not open at full capacity.

“We’re doing the best we can with the money that we do have to not only increase wages, but also stipended students,” she said.

Mehta said the EMU Board is questioning whether they will have to cut EMU jobs or programming if they follow the Executive Branch’s benchmark recommendations rather than the EMU Board’s budget request.

“Talking with EMU directors and advisors, we are trying to find some sources of money elsewhere where we can keep jobs that we currently have in the EMU and also work on increasing payroll,” she said.

Mehta said the board is unsure if it is going to make cuts to jobs or programs within the EMU, and it will discuss the topic further.

Now that the finance committees have had their benchmarks approved, they are now holding their own budget hearings with the programs and groups they fund.

Boyd said the benchmark approvals allow the finance committees to have an understanding of how much money they can receive and then appropriate the right increases in budgets for their departments and organizations.