Agriculture budget’s write-offs raise questions about Dal’s financial management

Nova Scotia would report in its provincial write-offs, under the Department of Agriculture “Uncollected tuition and fees from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.

But this line seems odd. Hasn’t the full assets of of the Agricultural College been transferred to Dalhousie with the 2011 merger? Why would the Department of Agriculture still be collecting this?

This question has even more interest when one looks for the budgets of the Agriculture College before the merger – especially given the large protests at the Agricultural Campus which this year’s Budget Advisory Committee generated when they made their suggestions of a 28 per cent increase (over three years) to the program.

The fact remains that the former Nova Scotia Agricultural College budget is hard to find, and hard to put into perspective with the rest of Dalhousie University’s budget. The Agricultural College, since its merger with Dalhousie, has been subsumed into the larger expenses of the university – although this year marks the first year in which the Faculty of Agriculture could have their subsection of the budget amended in the larger faculty budget. It was in this setting that the Faculty of Agriculture appeared in various parts of Dalhousie’s published budgets since 2012: in the Budget Advisory Committee’s reports and suggestions, Annual Financial Statements, and the Operating Budgets.

Before the merger, the NSAC budget seems to have been a lot less visible. No records of detailed NSAC budgets have been ported over to the Dalhousie web presence, and when asked, Dalhousie directed such inquiries to the Department of Agriculture. Within the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural College budget was represented as a single line of their Departmental Accountability Reports for the years before 2012. Beyond that, further detail (all of 10 lines) is described as “Supplementary Information” in the Department of Agriculture’s section of the provincial budgets and estimates (see “Estimates and Supplementary Details” of each given year).

It is in this context that the write-offs appear. When asked, the Department of Agriculture’s spokesperson related the following: “Under the terms of the merger, any receivables owed to the province prior to Aug. 31, 2012 are the responsibility of the province to collect.”

This makes sense. But the formal record of the merger is in the Nova Scotia legislature – in the “Dalhousie University – Nova Scotia Agricultural College Merger Act,” which does not state this with any such specificity. Further details, from either in the context of the Department of Agriculture or the University about further specificity of the merger were not available online.

This all contributes to a general sense of uncertainty to exactly how the Agricultural Campuses budget compares pre- and post-merger for the general public. Dalhousie, in the 2013 Annual Financial Statement, states: “In determining the 2012‐13 Final Budget for the Truro Campus, the budget prepared by College staff in the pre‐merger period was used as a starting point. Adjustments were then made to re‐allocate budget amounts to Faculty unit managers with spending authority under the Dalhousie budget structure.”

But this “starting point,” of the pre-merger budget in any context as detailed as the Agricultural Campus is detailed in post-merger budgets is unclear. In the end, while the actual amount in question with these write-offs for 2015 – an unrecovered $3,414.92 from eight accounts, and overall, an unrecovered $30,695.55 in 17 accounts since the merger – was simple to find out. In the end, it raises questions, though, about Dalhousie’s financial management practices, and how they choose to inform and give context to the public.

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William Coney

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