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Students overcharged for student activities fee; money to be returned

Due to two years of incorrect overbilling on the student activities fee, Duke Student Government currently holds a budgetary surplus of approximately $150,000, officials in the organization revealed Tuesday.

In his address to the DSG legislature Tuesday night, Trinity junior Husein Cumber, chair of the Student Organizations Finance Committee, read from a prepared statement in which he explained the reason for the surplus, the process by which it was discovered and outlined plans for what DSG intends to do with the excess money.

Last October, during a routine check of the DSG general account, Cumber discovered that the account contained far more money that it was thought to hold. The account is supposed to contain about $50,000, but contained about $115,000 last semester and $150,000 this semester, Cumber said.

At that time, Cumber; Trinity senior Peggy Cross, DSG president; and Trinity junior Peter Tolsma, DSG treasurer, were not aware of the reason for the surplus, and thought that it could have been due to student overenrollment and rollover from money in previous years' accounts, Cumber said. They then decided to devise a seven-year budgetary plan for spending the extra money, with the idea of distributing it among the various campus groups funded by DSG.

By December, however, it had become clear to those who knew about the surplus that the money could not have come from the sources that they had expected; rather, it was more likely that it was the result of "a budgetary or financial mistake made during the internal budgeting process or during the external transfer of funds," such as deposits to and withdrawals from the general account to student groups on campus, according to a statement released by Cumber.

At the end of last semester, Cumber contacted officials in the University Life and asked them to investigate the DSG general account. While this audit was in progress, he suggested that the problem may lie in the bursar's billing of the student activities fee. When DSG officials realized that the amount billed to students' bursar's accounts each semester exceeded the proper $52.19 by $7.19 each semester, Cumber asked University Life to conduct a full audit of the DSG general account.

The audit, which was completed Feb. 9, confirmed this overbilling.

Members of the classes of 1996, 1997 and 1998 have been subject to the extra charge for two straight years, while the 1995 and 1999 classes have paid the surplus for one year.

During last night's DSG meeting, Cumber asked the legislature to approve a plan that would refund the extra money to students. Members of the classes of 1996, 1997 and 1998 will receive a $28.76 credit on their bursar's accounts, while those in the class of 1999 will receive a credit of $14.38. Because the class of 1995 has already graduated, money that would have been distributed to members of that class will instead be donated to the class account, which can be used for reunions or to supplement the senior class gift.

"These charges should never have been assessed to the students," Cumber said in his statement. "DSG intends to thoroughly and swiftly analyze the balances of all other student government accounts. DSG feels the undergraduate community must be fully briefed on the situation. DSG further believes that the refund option is the correct course of action."

Only two legislators asked questions of Cumber after he finished his presentation. DSG will vote on the refund measure on Feb. 28.

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