'First come, first considered' — Why SGA's Fiscal Affairs Committee only has $12 left from a $70,000 budget

The email came the Thursday before Spring Break, notifying every organization leader of the Fiscal Affairs committee’s recent reversal of fortune.

“At this point of the year the SGA Fiscal Affairs Committee has allocated $69,988 of it’s $70,000 available, leaving us with a total of $12.00 in our Fiscal Affairs budget,” the email read. “To reiterate, we only have $12.00 left for Conference and Lodging and Special Funding requests.”

Austin Harrison, the chair of the SGA Fiscal Affairs committee and author of that email and a candidate in the running for SGA president, said that this year’s funding situation is an “anomaly.”

SGA receives $154,650 from the Board of Appropriations (BOA) every year. Within that, the Fiscal Affairs Committee has control  of $70,000, which it allocates towards Conference and Lodging requests, Bear Grants, and Special Funding.

All of that money comes from the Student Activity Fee that’s attached to Mercer’s tuition. The money is allocated by the Board of Appropriations to different groups on campus like Mercer Maniacs, Quadworks, etc. SGA gets a portion of that.

“Because it’s the student activities fee, every student puts into that pool, so we’re trying to find ways that can benefit the entire student body, and it’s not individual students benefiting from a collective pool,” Harrison said.

Bear Grants take up the largest chunk of that committee’s budget. In the beginning of each school year, they give out $40,000 worth of funding for individual organizations on campus. This process of allocation is a long one. For two to three weeks in September, the Fiscal Affairs committee meets with all of the organizations to go over their applications for funding. If they’re approved,the groups are funded by early to mid October.

That money is meant to last an organization for the entire year.

The other two types of funding — Conference and Lodging requests and Special Funding — are more variable. They’re granted on a “first come, first considered” basis, Harrison said, and the Fiscal Affairs committee considers them on a rolling basis, one at a time.

The Fiscal Affairs committee acts as a filter for all of these appeals before they are brought before the whole senate, to ensure that the senate doesn’t have to spend time questioning whether or not a request is in line with the constitution’s requirements.

For SGA as a body, competitions and presentations take priority.

“We really love events that the whole student body can benefit from,” Harrison said. “Either… You’re making Mercer look good by presenting or competing, or you’re getting educated in some form or fashion to come back and bring it back to campus and make the campus better.”

Events like that tipped the scales this year, Harrison said.

“These are things where they’re going and they’re representing Mercer students,” he said. “[They’re] elevating Mercer in different levels and different areas that we haven’t been elevated in in the past. So, it’s a good problem to have, because it just speaks to our organizations and how well they’re doing, nationally… But, you can’t go on those trips for free.”

The kind of prestigious invitation that some groups have received isn’t something you can plan on, and when Fiscal Affairs presented those requests to the full senate, SGA agreed to help the organizations with their expenses.

As a result, Fiscal Affairs found themselves with two months left in the academic year and only $12 left in their pocket.

Currently, the committee has two requests for funding on the table that were placed after the final large sum was allocated and before the email went out to organization heads to notify them that the well had run dry.

Fiscal Affairs is searching for alternative ways of helping those organizations, Harrison said, as well as those requests that may come in the next month and a half. He is still encouraging students to utilize SGA as a resource that can connect them with other funding sources.

Looking forward, the Fiscal Affairs committee is applying for more funding from the Board of Appropriations in the next academic year and is also exploring how they can change the constitution to reflect their funding priorities.

“I don’t think [the funding process] will change very much from a student organization perspective, just more from our end,” he said. “We’re going to look at [requests] closer and with more of a fine-toothed comb than we have in the past, but I don’t really think that any groups are going to really be affected by it.”

Until that increase in funding comes, however, the Fiscal Affairs committee is limited in what they can do for students.

“We still want to be as much of a help as we can,” Harrison said. “We just can’t be as direct of assistance as we once were.”