Possible budget bill blowback: SAFE Team
This story is a part of a continuing series that touches on the effects certain departments will face as a result of the proposed budget bill that will cut 15 percent overall to programming.
According to the Student Government (SG) website, SAFE Team is a service that patrols sectors of campus in order to deter crime, offers safe escorts to USF students and works in conjunction with local figures to provide the Alert Cab service to USF students.
The new budget for the 2018-19 school year will decrease the SAFE Team budget from $415,268 to $292,523 — which is a $122,745 cut.
Dakota Wiersma, the director of SAFE Team, expressed his concerns to Senate last Tuesday about cutting the department’s budget to fund an endowment, which was proposed by Activity and Service Recommendation Committee (ASRC). Senators have denied that the endowment is the reason for the cuts.
“ASRC is proposing to cut (over) $122,000 from SAFE Team’s payroll and I do not believe this is the right thing to do for our students as SAFE Team is the face of SG in the streets,” Wiersma said at Tuesday’s Senate meeting. “We provide safety to all the students and you will be cutting 10 employees for the next year; we would have to limit our hours from 6:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. (midnight), get rid of summer altogether and get rid of our programs like our drunk driving assistance.”
In the last data collected from the SAFE team, about 100 people use SAFE team services every weekday. On average, 110 people use SAFE Team on Mondays, 102 on Tuesdays, 101 on Wednesdays and 97 on Thursdays. On the weekends, it averages out to about 64 people due to a minimized staff and less students on campus.
There are currently 44 staff members, but with the budget cut and other factors, Wiersma said there will be 30 staff members next year. New payroll requirements would have to be discussed with the new budget.
In an interview with The Oracle, ASRC Chair Aladdin Hiba said that approximately three-quarters of the funds allocated to SAFE Team were spent on payroll. However, last year only $190,150 was spent from the originally allocated $315,712 for payroll purposes.
According to Hiba, the difference of the funds spent and allocated “were not spent on anything, it was just sitting in their account and it did not end up getting spent on anything.”
Hiba also clarified that leftover funds do not rollover to subsequent years and will instead return to ASRC for reallocation.
A question that was raised at the Senate meeting was how SG decides how much a department gets cut since SAFE Team received one of the largest reductions. Sen. Najib Albadrasawi said during the Senate meeting on April 10 that SG takes cuts less from budgets that are more tight and more from places that are overspending.
“In the last expenditure from ASRC, they (SAFE Team) spent (approximately) $190,000 dollars on payroll,” Albadrasawi said. “They requested (over) $315,000 dollars so you can see there, they are requesting a lot more than they spend.”
Wiersma disagrees with ASRC and Albadrasawi because he does not believe they are presenting all the available information.
“What they are not accounting for, and I am not sure if they were aware of it because they left it out of their argument, but historically SAFE Team has been understaffed until I took over in the fall of 2016,” Wiersma said. “So, we started with 17 staff and by the end of that semester we shot up to 40 total.”
The hiring process requires a background check and drug testing — about a two-month time period — which meant for a slow hiring process when culminating staff members.
“We were running for the first third of that fiscal year at only 17 staff and didn’t make it to 40 until half of the year,” Wiersma said. “The payroll is not going to instantly be eaten up.”
Wiersma said he tried working with ASRC to suggest a reasonable cut because he knew they wanted to fund the endowment, though senators deny that this is the purpose of the budget cuts. A payroll transfer is done at the end of the year which Wiersma said is always spent on new carts or buying new furniture for the office. This year, Wiersma did not want the payroll transfer because it would be the middle of summer and he believed it would be better waiting for the new budget.
“When I went to ASRC, I tried to say to cut $50,000 and put it back into new initiatives, and they said it was a great plan and that they would take it into consideration when they were planning for their new initiatives to my face while I was there,” Wiersma said. “Then, I find out the day of the fiscal bill that they took that $50,000 and doubled it to fund the endowment.”
SAFE Team’s current hours of operation are 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. According to Wiersma, summer hours may have to be cut. Wiersma said he would rather discontinue summer than shorten current hours of operation because he feels it would be unfair to students.
“The plan is to use as much payroll as possible until we make it to summer then see what kind of hours we can do, if we can do them at all,” Wiersma said.
Currently, there are three teams from 6:30 p.m to midnight and three teams from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. With the budget cuts, Wiersma said SAFE Team would probably have to cut down to two teams a night which will severely impact the wait times for students as the demand goes up.
Danielle McDonald, dean of students, organized a list of potential consequences with the cut to 15 percent of department programming funds. SAFE Team was said to reduce by nine members, a change in hours of operations and longer wait times because of the deduction of $122,745 to their current budget. Multiple Senate members responded to the list by inferring that the numbers were false and that the information given was incorrect.
Wiersma said though the numbers are not false, there are discrepancies as to what exactly is being cut.
SAFE Team is receiving an approximate 30 percent cut to the department as a whole, according to Hiba.
“It’s not fair that they (Senate) are assuming it is not factual when they haven’t ran the numbers themselves; it is a very spur of a moment decision to blindly say there is no way that can be right,” Wiersma said.
Wiersma said SAFE Team is always going to be around, since it has been present at USF since 1976, but he said he believes the budget cut will make it difficult to cater to the growing number of on-campus students.
“With the budget cut, wait times will increase, staff will have to be reduced and student demand will keep getting higher with new dorms being built,” Wiersma said.