While Student Association (SA) E-Board and Binghamton University Council elections are approaching, they will not be the only topics up for a vote on the March 17 ballot, as they will be joined by the student activity fee referendum.

The student activity fee is a mandatory $99 charge per semester for all students and helps fund approximately 250 student groups. In accordance with the SUNY’s Board of Trustees Policy 3901, the fee is up for a vote every other year to determine if it will remain mandatory or become voluntary.

During a SA Congress meeting on Feb. 11, Alec Somerstein, SA vice president for finance and a senior double-majoring in mathematics and business administration, emphasized the importance of the fee and said students should vote in support of it. John Santare, SA vice president for academic affairs and a senior double-majoring in biology and comparative literature, wrote in an email that he feels the fee is an invaluable asset to the SA and student body.

“Keeping the fee mandatory is extremely important to anyone on campus who is a part of an SA-chartered group,” Santare wrote. “You should vote yes because it ensures that funding for our 300-plus organizations does not dissolve, that [Off Campus College Transport] buses run, Harpur’s Ferry ambulances are stocked and [Support, Empathy, Empowerment, Kindness] has call handlers. It also ensures that students are still able to go to [the] fall concert, Spring Fling, comedy shows, Fall Fest and guest speakers.”

In fall 2019, BU reported that 14,021 undergraduate students were enrolled at the University, according to their official website. Based on those numbers, the fee brings in about $1.3 million each semester to support these organizations and student groups. Jonah Maryles, a sophomore majoring in art and design, said he believes most students are positively affected by these funds.

“I feel as if most people don’t know what the fees are for, but still pay them,” Maryles said. “I can see both sides of the vote, but ultimately believe that a majority of students reap benefits from at least one of those resources and therefore should pay for it. If made optional, why would you willingly spend more money?”

Graduate students at BU are also charged a mandatory fee, but it costs slightly less at $65 per semester. Liam Rodden, a first-year graduate student studying education, said the thinks the fee is a positive aspect of BU, especially compared to other University fees.

“Though mandatory fees can often seem erroneous or redundant, part of what makes [BU] able to serve thousands of people with moderate satisfaction is the fact that everyone pays into our services,” Rodden said. “While I would like some other fees like the gym or parking to be reassessed — this fee seems to go toward things that make everyone’s time here a little better, easier or less anxious, at least.”

Santare said a vote for a voluntary fee could have a detrimental effect on the SA as a whole.

“I cannot, in a single quotable sentence, stress that the future of the [SA] hinges on this vote,” Santare wrote. “If you care about any of these programs, resources or organizations, please vote yes.”