Board agrees to focus on policy to mitigate spending in the future
When Director of Finance and Operations Curtis Whittla announced that the UVSS Elections Office was $23 000 over budget at a June 18 UVSS board meeting, he could only theorize as to why the elections office had spent almost twice their allotted budget for the 2017–2018 year.
Following three weeks of income statement analysis, the UVSS revealed more details about the expenditures at their July 9 board meeting and passed directives for the Electoral Committee to develop policy to mitigate potential future deficits.
At the July 9 meeting, the UVSS identified labour costs and advertising costs as the main culprits behind the significant overspending.
The students’ society originally allocated $26 237 for their 2017/18 elections budget, which covers referendums and UVSS elections. That allotment is relatively consistent with the past six years of UVSS budgets for the Elections Office. While the past four years have seen little deficit, this year bucked the trend in a dramatic, $26 000 fashion.
In total, the Elections Office ended up spending $45,732 on labour for the 2017/18 referendums and election, more than doubling their original labour budget within the larger elections budget.
After the UVSS’s accounting office had caught up on income statements, Whittla and Tyler Arnold, Director-at-Large and Chair of the Electoral Committee, reported at the July 9 board meeting that the 2017/18 Electoral Committee originally budgeted $19 331 for labour costs. In total, the Elections Office ended up spending $45 732 on labour for the 2017/18 referendums and election, more than doubling their original labour budget — most of which went to Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Karen Potts.
The Office also spent $4 134 on advertising — $1 359 more than their allotted $2 775 — meaning advertising expenditures were exceeded by almost 49 per cent.
Reasons for the overspending
“It’s an unusual year, and it was a bit of a confluence of a couple of events,” Whittla explained, “like not having a (UVSS) accounting manager, not having a (UVSS) Executive Director, having a particular CEO that maybe wasn’t doing the same things that previous CEOs had done, and then the fact that the electoral account didn’t budget for two electoral events.”
Whittla claimed, however, that the students’ society as a whole had close to a $14 000 surplus — “so that’s more than what was budgeted for,” he said.
After limited discussion on the figures at their July 9 meeting, the UVSS board of directors moved on to unanimously pass their resolutions issuing directives to the Electoral Committee for policy development . Potential policies that may be drafted include board approval on additional expenditures, financial reporting to the board, and ensuring that UVSS Elections staff have financial management experience.
“Financial tracking is the biggest one,” Arnold said of the potential policy changes at the July 9 board meeting. “There need to be a lot more rules and restrictions, I think, in place, in the event that the SEO (Senior Electoral Officer) or CEO is completely overworked like they [were].”
“There need to be a lot more rules and restrictions, I think, in place, in the event that the SEO (Senior Electoral Officer) or CEO is completely overworked like they [were].”
In a response to a direct question about a specific breakdown of labour costs from Director-at-Large Shaun Zhang, Arnold estimated that 60 to 70 per cent of the labour overspending came from UVSS CEO Potts. When Whittla and Director of Outreach and University Relations Pierre-Paul Angelblazer were interviewed the next day, however, they said they were most likely unable to find out what exactly those hours were spent doing.
“We can’t say exactly,” Whittla said, asserting that since Potts is no longer contracted by the UVSS, she is no longer obligated to answer questions about the deficit. “I got accounting to prepare [statements] that showed how many hours everyone in the electoral office worked per pay period. So I can see that but we aren’t able to separate out what any of them were doing specifically.”
Whittla and Angelblazer noted that the situation, at least in recent years, is unprecedented, but said that changes to policy to prevent overspending would hopefully come to the UVSS board for approval by the end of August.
Concerns have been raised before
This is not the first time that concerns have been raised regarding the Elections Office budget. In a report from March 2017, previous UVSS CEO Lori Roter discussed the 2017 budget and the significant expenditures that elections can incur.
“Many factors external to the Elections Office can impact the budget,” Roter’s 2017 Electoral Report reads.
“These factors include: the number of referenda asked, the number of candidates running; the conduct of the candidates in terms of time and effort needed to resolve complaints; appeals from any complaints and decisions; and the ease of hiring and training both pollsitters and electoral officers.
“Given the operational structure and make-up of the Elections Office,” Roter wrote, “keeping wages on track with budget is seldom simple or straightforward.”
The 2017 spring election saw the UVSS go only $4 931 over budget — a far cry from this year’s $26 000.
A previous version of this article claimed the 2017 spring election went $90 over budget. The actual figure was $4 931. We regret the error.