UNBC Student Society Announces $100,000 Debt

Contrasting their society’s operations to the KSA’s reveals the problem

Students drink in The Thirsty Moose at the University of Northern British Columbia on Nov. 14, 2016. The pub faces possible closure due to the UNBC student union’s large debt. (OVER THE EDGE NEWSPAPER/Colin Slark)

The University of Northern B.C.’s undergraduate society (NUGSS) announced that it is $100,000 in debt at last month’s annual general meeting. Its financial troubles, which the society’s vice-president finance, Eric Depeneau, called the “culmination of many years of poor planning,” has led it to consider closing the campus pub and cutting funding to student clubs.

“Very recently [UNBC] hired a new general manager and this general manger was the person that suggested that they cut a bunch of services instead of running a deficit,” explains Tanvir Singh, vice-president of student services for the Kwantlen Student Association.

The Thirsty Moose Pub—NUGSS’ version of the KSA’s own Grassroots cafe—has lost an average of more than $50,000 per year. The society also owes nearly $100,000 for a program that provides subsidized bus passes to students.

However, the board of NUGSS has created a four year plan that includes cutting the
pay to the board and the general manager, as well as decreasing the amount that they give to student clubs. The society hopes that these and other cost cutting initiatives will hold future directors accountable and prevent a crisis from happening again.

“It wasn’t particularly surprising,” says KSA President and VP External Alex McGowan. “The UNBC Student Society hasn’t been operating under the practices and standards of accounting and business management that [the KSA] hold ourselves to, and that we would expect a student society to hold itself to.”

Although the KSA has never had to deal with a financial crisis like the one NUGSS currently faces, it hasn’t been without its share of difficulties. The Grassroots has operated at a loss for several years, with a $22,438 deficit in 2012.

Since that year, however, the cafe has earned an average profit of $18,120, a fact which Singh attributes in part to the hiring of the KSA’s General Manager Jeremy McElroy.

“For the last couple years, we’re happy that the Grassroots is running a small profit,” says McGowan. “We try to keep that profit modest and return any profit we would get out of it to students in the form of lower cost of food, which is why they all get a 10 per cent discount. So really we break even.”

While the Grassroots Cafe profits have ebbed and flowed over the years, The Thirsty Pub has operated at a loss every year since it was opened, with the exception of 2013.

“Pubs don’t make money on campuses in Canada,” says Singh. “The way we run Grassroots is almost as if it was a service toward students.”

The Thirsty Pub was established by the UNBC undergraduate society in 2009. Prior to that year, NUGSS had an average annual surplus of $147,644. However, the pub’s establishment in 2009—along with a Grab N Go Sandwich Shop and Degrees Coffee—lost them a total of $151,480 that year alone.

NUGSS’ 2009 audited budget also indicates that they lost $137,543 in a capital fund. They amortized the debt and started paying it off with a fixed repayment schedule in regular installments over a period of time, but the fund has cost them roughly $100,000 every year since 2009.

Luckily, the KSA has no such fund. While KPU’s student society has had its good years and its bad years, their budgets have leveled off since 2012. In addition, all of its worksheets, audits, and budgets are online, so KPU students interested in the financial situation of their society can keep themselves informed.

“The KSA’s a well-run organization and we’re really happy to be as transparent as possible and make sure that students get the best bang for their buck,” says Singh.