Board, financial advisor report on budgets

The Rev. Jeanne Pupke, chair of the UUA Finance Committee, invited delegates to imagine a 12-foot ladder behind her as she spoke in Friday morning’s plenary about the UUA budget and the UUA’s purchase of a new headquarters. “We have heard about rising sea levels,” she said, “and we’re moving [the UUA headquarters] to the Seaport.” She held her hand above her head to show where climate-change models predict a 100-year flood might reach in Boston’s Seaport District. The imaginary ladder, however, would illustrate 24 Farnsworth Street’s floor level.

“We could stay at higher elevation, with wealthy people,” Pupke said, “but if Boston floods like that, our building will be the least of our problems.”

She said the administration took “appropriate actions” to deal with unexpected expenditures and lower revenues in the current fiscal year, including the “unfortunate need for layoffs.” She said the year will end with a deficit of approximately $280,000.

She also provided some context for the board’s decision to add $100,000 to the next fiscal year’s budget to fund a consultant. For the past three years, Pupke said, “the board has held some concerns that it was not always possible to see connections between Ends of the association and the expenditures of the proposed budgets.” This year, “a significant number of trustees felt they could no longer simply vote for the budget without those clearer connections to the ends of the organization.” The proposal to hire a consultant emerged from a small group of trustees during the April board meeting, “and President Morales was very positive in his response.”

“Some have expressed concern about the expenditure,” she said. “Some have mocked it, calling it expensive marriage counseling, . . . but these comments are coming from people at some remove from the reality of how hard everyone is working to fulfill their roles.” In the context of the millions of dollars the UUA is accountable for, improving the process to ensure that the UUA’s spending is properly focused on its vision is an investment in its future, she said.

Pupke concluded her report by issuing a challenge to congregations. “You cannot feel a little uneasy and just sit back. Lean forward into this, everyone,” she said. “This is the year you should argue for increasing your congregation’s giving to the Annual Program Fund. This is the year to send the message that you like what you see. There is no help coming from some other place. We don’t get a bag of money from overseas. Look left, look right, these are the people who make up the congegations who make up the UUA.”

UUA Financial Advisor Dan Brody, who completes his second and final term at this GA, highlighted significant accomplishments in the UUA’s financial practices over the past eight years.

Brody said he was most proud of the establishment of the UUA Health Plan, which now serves 725 ministers and other employees, their spouses, and children, from 450 congregations and the UUA. When the plan began in 2006, approximately 15 percent of congregational ministers and employees had no or inadequate insurance; the number today is closer to 5 percent.

He praised the UUA’s decision in 2010 to move the management of its retirement fund from Fidelity to TIAA-CREF, motivated in part by Fidelity’s resistance to UUA pressure to divest from Chinese companies implicated in human rights abuses in Darfur. He also praised the UUA’s Common Endowment Fund, which applies socially responsible investing criteria to its investments and has consistently performed in the top 20 percent of funds its size.

Brody also pointed to changes in the endowment spending policy, which limit draws on the endowment during high-performance years to maintain levels of funding during low-performance years; praised Beacon Press’s financial performance, which have generated a $3 million reserve; and thanked the Audit Committee for drafting comprehensive conflict of interest and whistle-blower policies.

Delegates thanked Brody for his years of service, and Ed Merck, who will be elected tomorrow to replace him for a six-year term, introduced himself.

The printed reports of the Financial Advisor, Treasurer, and Auditor are online; a budget hearing will be held Friday afternoon at 1:45.

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