Print Edition: June 6, 2012
The UFV Abbotsford campus will once again be without the services of the AfterMath Socia1hou5e over the summer, following a motion to close the SUS-operated restaurant at the May 25 meeting of the SUS Board.
The move is a repetition of last year’s closure of the previous establishment (Casey’s On Campus) for the same reason: mounting operational deficit. Since the end of the fiscal year at the end of March, AfterMath has amassed $33,000 in debt.
SUS president Carlos Vidal said, “We gave the summer semester a shot, knowing that it had closed every year for the last four at least, and in the end the numbers just didn’t let us feel we were being fiscally responsible.”
The motion passed at the May 25 meeting also calls for a “forensic audit” of AfterMath’s operations, the results of which will determine whether the social house continues its previous level of operation in the coming year.
The Board has called for an audit because there was a lot of financial differences,” stated VP Finance Samuel Broadfoot, “mostly because of the lag between [the] UFV Finance [Department] and between our own accounting systems and between the invoices that our manager was getting. We wanted to make sure that was clear before we made any further decisions on AfterMath.”
AfterMath, like its predecessor, has consistently run at a deficit during its history at UFV. In 2010-11, the then-current SUS Board budgeted $20,000 towards a potential deficit run by the restaurant. By the end of the fiscal year, Casey’s had accumulated $163,990 in debt, with the extra $143,990 having to paid from surpluses in other areas of SUS finances, as well as transfers from the SUS Capital Fund.
In the summer of 2011, after closing Casey’s, the SUS Board attempted to address the restaurant’s financial problems.
“The most major step that the board took,” stated Broadfoot, “was that before the last summer we completely revised the entire management structure; we hired a new manager [Brad Ross] who had the skills to be able to turn it around.”
In the 2011-2012 budget, the SUS board chose not to allocate any money towards a potential deficit at the on-campus restaurant. In an article printed in The Cascade on October 26, 2011, Broadfoot attributed this action to the new management, saying “we have all the confidence that [Ross] can break even.”
AfterMath came into existence in fall 2011 already $53,000 in the red from the last two months of Casey’s operation in May and June. By the end of the fiscal year in March 2012, AfterMath had reached a deficit of $159,000.
“In hindsight, that was pretty foolish,” said Broadfoot, when asked why the SUS Board thought a new manager could balance the books within one year. “At the time we wanted to put action to words and show our dedication to making it work.”
Vidal echoed the sentiment. “I think it was naive to think that we could do that big of a change in one year,” he said. “Now. I can say that now after seeing the actual operations and what it takes, the expenses it takes to run that place. I think we were shooting a bit high.”
The unforeseen expenses have taken a toll on SUS finances. The proposed operating budget for the 2011/2012 year was $592,000 while the actual amount spent (which included unplanned expenses from several sources including the My Safe Ride Home program and the Health and Dental Plan) was $637,000.
Unbudgeted expenses are paid first from general revenues in other areas of the budget, and then from transfers from the SUS Capital Fund. “The capital budget is a budget that is set aside from the surpluses of the previous years that is meant for extra equipment, extraordinary expenditures, paying of large debts, other such things,” Broadfoot explained.
At the beginning of the 2010/2011 fiscal year, the SUS Capital Fund held $116,000. At the end of the 2011/2012 year it held $26,000. Now it holds less.
Brad Ross, AfterMath’s manager, said he discovered many differences between the operation of a normal food and beverage venue and that on a university campus. “When I first came in,” he said, “I took all the knowledge I have running normal food and beverage outlets and I applied all those skills and everything I knew to running this place like that, and within the first semester had to come back to the Board and go ‘hmm’. This place isn’t normal by any means, there are so many oddities to this that I have to now adapt to.”
Ross said that at first he lost money through overstaffing and attempting to recreate Casey’s famous pub nights. He also said “I didn’t account for—and again my first year here with the different circumstance—the second semester … It was either people were already out of money, or they really concentrated more on their classes. That second semester, with Reading Week specifically, where we did stay open as a service and lose money … we might as well have handed it out at the door. The drop off in the second semester was disastrous.”
Still Ross said the real problem is in the perception of AfterMath’s purpose. “Everyone hired me to determine if it was feasible to run as a business. We determined after the first semester it is not tangible to run as a business. Is it tangible to run as a service, and keep the prices low and the quality and the quantity high for students who don’t want to play $12 for a burger off campus? Yeah. It’s viable. And going forward is it viable to have less of a deficit? One hundred per cent. Yeah.”
The idea of AfterMath as a “service” provided by SUS was one echoed by Vidal. “Ever since I’ve come to school here, before I was even Student Union, I’ve always heard the notion that AfterMath cost money … and being a member of the Board and seeing first-hand the operations and the challenges that come with operating AfterMath I understand now that the SUS has always seen it—and I see it this way too—it’s a service that we pay for. We are always striving to break even, that is our main goal with AfterMath, in a perfect world we would want AfterMath the restaurant to break even.”
Ross’s argument is simple. “My basic belief in AfterMath, is that if you were to look at all the things that SUS puts money into on campus to create an atmosphere of community on campus [all the events]…Aftermath is the single largest attended, most popular event SUS hosts on their budget. If you were to have a one-off where you just dump that money into one huge band…we could dump $200,000 today and have Metallica play on the green in September and 3000-4000 students would show up and be happy as can be for that day. Great event. We have that many people who go through our doors over the course of the year, which makes [AfterMath] the single largest event on campus, and the only event SUS generates that does at least have that potential of sustaining itself over time.”
The SUS budget for 2012-2013 allots $80,000 to AfterMath. If the social house deficit exceeds this amount during the year, it will close until the end of the fiscal year for reevaluation. Both Vidal and Ross believe that some of the restaurant’s financial trouble will be eased when it moves to the new SUB building upon completion. Both Vidal and Broadfoot agree that Ross is the man to accomplish that transition to better fiscal responsibility.
SUS communications officer Jhim Burwell was firm on this point. “Brad continues to have the confidence of the Board based on the fact that they trust his skill set, they trust his ethics, and they trust that he is going to be able to manage this operation in this place with the limitations that it has until we can open in the SUB. And the financial realities of that, the amount of money that’s going to be spent on it, is capped at $80,000,” he said.
If the SUS Board finds the results of the audit satisfactory, AfterMath will reopen at the end of August.