The AMS is projected to spend $72,000 in legal fees this fiscal year, substantially higher than the initially forecasted $22,000.
In its 2020/21 budget, the AMS initially projected to spend $22,000 — the same amount the AMS had budgeted on legal fees last year — but the society more than tripled the number in its budget reforecast in early 2021.
The society spent between $22,000 and $31,000 on legal fees annually the last few years. This new projection would be the most the AMS has spent on legal fees since the 2016/17 school year when the AMS spent $85,000.
Money budgeted for legal expenses is used for a multitude of things, such as legal fees and advice, staff expenses and union negotiations, according to AMS VP Finance Lucia Liang. A majority of the budget is typically used to cover labour costs such as union renewal contacts and negotiations.
Liang said she could not specifically disclose what the increase of the fees was due to for confidentiality and legal reasons.
“I can’t go into details about what they are for because they involve people and can’t open up the AMS for any instability,” she said.
According to Liang, while COVID-19 did affect the legal fees budget for legal fees this year, it was not the primary reason behind the increase.
“I don’t think it is fair to blame the pandemic, it is a cause and effect but it’s not the entirety of the legal fee increase that has cost that much,” she said.
The AMS is funding the increase in legal fees through discretionary income not tied to a specific fee, such as the general AMS fee, investments and AMS business contributions. Liang said these sources of income are what usually supports AMS labour cost and other overhead costs.
Lucia mentioned that spending money on legal fees is important and not optional, and therefore the money for it was coming out of the discretionary budget.
While she said that there had been a decrease in discretionary income due to business revenues going down this year due to the pandemic, the legal fee increase would still be covered by that income.
“I wouldn’t say that … [the legal fee] increase would be significant enough to say that those increases wouldn’t be covered. Because there are other bigger expenses [like the minimum wage increase] that were incurred.”