The University of Montana has whittled down its budget shortfall for the upcoming school year, but the administration is asking Student Affairs to contribute $3.2 million to shore up its bottom line.

The amount is the largest "proposed solution" listed in recent options UM considered. According to Vice President of Student Affairs Teresa Branch, it represents a substantial portion of money the "auxiliary" businesses in her division have been able to set aside for maintenance and capital improvements.

"(But) the transfer of $3.2 million to the general fund does not completely eliminate the fund balances that have been built over many years," Branch said.

Earlier this year, UM's vice president of finance estimated the upcoming budget faced a deficit of at least $2.3 million, but as much as $10 million if it added all the new proposals on the table. At the time, Vice President of Finance Mike Reid said the estimates were conservative and preliminary.

Earlier this month, he said the latest projection had the shortfall at just $1.2 million on the revenue side, or roughly half of the earlier estimate. Many figures are still in flux, but he said the overall picture has clarified and improved.

"Now, our worst-case scenario is a lot better," Reid said.

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The money from Student Affairs is not coming from its general fund but from separate businesses that generate "one-time-only money," Branch said. She said Residence Life is probably the largest one, responsible for all the residence halls.

"It'll take probably a few years for us to regenerate the $3.2 million," she said.

The money comes from student fees, and it accumulates so Student Affairs can then upgrade buildings and pay for emergencies, Branch said. She said the transfer may result in project delays.

All in all, she said, Student Affairs is responsible for 1.6 million square feet of space, some 87 acres. Campus Recreation, for instance, is part of the division.

"If you know anything about swimming pools, you know that they often need work to help maintain them," Branch said.

A few years ago, she said, her division spent some $4 million in one year on upgrades across all facilities. This year, by comparison, Student Affairs spent an estimated $1.7 million, with students reviewing upgrades even before the administration does.

The $3.2 million contribution is "by far" the largest Student Affairs has been asked to make in the past three years, Branch said. In the past, the division has made cuts to smaller programs in its general fund.

Branch said in the short term, the fund must retain enough money to cover emergencies, such as if a storm damages a roof on campus or a fire breaks out. In the longer term, it will begin regenerating funds for larger capital projects.

"We know we're going to have to redo some things and keep our facilities as nice and as comfy for the student body as we possibly can," Branch said.

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Higher Education Reporter

Reporter for the Missoulian