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Monday, January 19, 2004

  • Tuition benefit may bring tax bill
  • Libraries improve access to map data
  • Pixels in the big picture
Editor:
Chris Redmond
credmond@uwaterloo.ca

Ethiopia celebrates Timket


Stop-smoking program begins

National Non-Smoking Week is under way, and an "innovative" stop-smoking program is being launched at UW, under the title "Leave the Pack Behind".

[Logo] "This setup is currently at twelve other universities and colleges," writes Jillian Giesler from health services, "and has been found to be the most productive in the effort to increase tobacco awareness and support smoking cessation." There will be displays in the Student Life Centre all week, and we'll be hearing more about it.

If you're a smoker, the first stage in quitting is "precontemplation", says Megan Lindsay of the occupational health section in health services. In other words, you're thinking about it -- but "tired of hearing people tell you to quit". Want background information? The Canadian Council for Tobacco Control has lots.

Tuition benefit may bring tax bill

Faculty and staff members who have enjoyed a tuition benefit for their children in recent years were told Friday that they may owe money to the income tax authorities.

"We deeply regret the effect this may have on you and your family's financial situation," said a memo from Catharine Scott, associate provost (human resources and student services), explaining a change in the tax implications of the tuition benefit. She said UW would provide low-interest loans to individuals who face a bill for back taxes. About 250 faculty and staff are affected, Scott said Friday.

Said her memo: "Until recently, the University believed that the 50% reduction in tuition for employees' children could be included in the student's income provided the student maintained a minimum 70% average. As a result of preparing the T-4A showing the benefit as income of the student, the students paid the tax on the benefit. The student is normally in a lower income tax bracket than their parents. . . .

"As a result of some negative press in the national newspapers last year, the tax consequences of this treatment were questioned. As a matter of prudence, we commissioned our auditors for an opinion on our practice. The result is, as most of you know, that the tuition benefit for children of employees is indeed a taxable benefit to the employee and that UW was not in compliance with Canada Customs and Revenue Agency rules.

"UW acted immediately to change its practice and began to report this benefit for tax purposes effective September 2003. This was announced in the Daily Bulletin and to each department and faculty.

"It now appears that CCRA, despite of our prompt action, will be requiring the inclusion of the tuition benefit for all of 2003's, three academic terms. Human Resources will be preparing the 2003 T-4's accordingly. . . . We were also informed that it is possible (and likely) that CCRA will be reassessing taxes on tuition benefits for the 2001 and 2002 tax years. . . .

"On January 7, 2004, senior UW officers met with CCRA in order to request some flexibility in their assessments. Unfortunately, we were not successful. UW will be informed of CCRA's final decision regarding reassessment for 2001 and 2002 in the future -- hopefully March or April. Following that, CCRA will begin their reassessments and will inform each UW employee individually. We do not anticipate that this will happen until near the end of 2004.

"Given the seriousness of the situation for many of our employees, we felt it imperative to inform you of this as soon as we knew the facts. . . . UW will provide you with a low interest loan repayable through payroll deduction to meet your tax obligations. (An interest free loan also becomes a taxable benefit.) Any interest which UW receives will be contributed to the Faculty, Staff and CUPE Scholarship and Bursary funds. In general, it would be advantageous for you to repay the amounts assessed immediately rather than incur additional CCRA interest charges."

Libraries improve access to map data

Library staff and geographers from UW, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph have developed software that will give students and researchers "enhanced access to geospatial datasets", says the UW library's electronic newsletter. It's talking about access to electronic map data -- information, typically collected through remote sensing, about structures, population, watersheds, vegetation, temperature or shorelines, for example.

[Lines all over the place]

Screen capture of a view of watershed data for the Grand River Valley. Two layers are turned on: river watch sites (points) and floodplain (polygons). The overview map at top left shows the extent of the dataset in the view. The viewer provides typical map service functionality including overview mapping, zooming, panning, adding/removing themes, and Layer List/Legend toggling.

The TUG Geospatial Metadata Project has produced a web-based application with "more than 200 keyword accessible metadata records viewable in more than 10 map services". Metadata is the information that can help a user understand and evaluate the information a digital map contains in order to make good use of it -- things like when and how the data was collected, data resolution and accuracy. The application that provides access to the libraries' metadata runs on a Windows server in environmental studies.

"The next step," says the newsletter, "is to expand the application so that staff can document all the geospatial resources held by the TUG libraries." TUG is the Tri-Universities Group of UW, Laurier and Guelph.

Since the mid 1990s, TUG has been acquiring and providing access to a growing collection of geospatial data. "Since each institution's geospatial data service operates independently, students and faculty on each campus often have to struggle in order to discover what datasets are available and how to access them. Library staff often find it difficult to keep track of which datasets, at the theme level, are held by or are accessible to the library. "

The library project grew out of work done in the Mapping, Analysis and Design (MAD) unit of the UW faculty of environmental studies, headed by faculty member Brent Hall. MAD recently developed a web-based application, the Spatial Data Catalog, that provides access to metadata records for geospatial data held by MAD.

Building on this work, TUG and MAD staff launched a project to develop an application that provides library clients with much better access to jointly held geospatial datasets. Among the goals of the TUG metadata project is a "metadata standard" for documenting data held by any of the libraries, and then a set of records that meet the standard.

The project team includes people from all three universities -- among them UW map librarian Richard Pinnell, and Scott MacFarlane and Shawn Morgan of MAD. Two other Waterloo staff are metadata consultants: Amy Chan of the UW library) and Anne Maricic of MAD. A UW geography graduate, Chris Close, has been working for the fall term to develop software and create the metadata records.

After about a year's work, the job "is now essentially completed", the newsletter says. "The project team developed a local metadata standard that represents a blend of several existing standards but one that is primarily grounded in the FES Standard and which meets local needs."

Pixels in the big picture

I'd better start with a correction to something I said a few days ago. I was writing about the new online application process for graduate studies at UW, and wrote that Waterloo had become "the first university in Ontario" to have such a service. That's not the case, as some other institutions do have online applications already. Where UW has broken new ground is in doing the project in partnership with the Ontario Universities Application Centre, developing a system that other institutions are now likely to adopt.

And a smaller correction: I wrote on Thursday that "in 1991", the faculty and staff associations agreed to a plan for what to do with the windfall money from the demutualization of the company that handles UW's employee life insurance. In fact that happened in 2001, and, as I noted on Thursday, Canadian Union of Public Employees local 793 has now signed on as well.

Back to the present tense: Club Days are under way in the Student Life Centre. Says Rick Theis, clubs director for the Federation of Students: "This open house for recognized clubs is an excellent opportunity for all students at Waterloo come and discover more about the multitude of organizations that exist on campus every term. Fed Clubs represent many different cultural, political and social interests, and there is something for everyone to join. Want to learn how to swing dance? Check out the Swing and Social Dance Club. Interested in Anime? Try out CTRL-A (Club that Really Likes Anime). Good at arguing? Lend your talents to the Debate Club. These and many more clubs will gladly answer any of your questions about what they can offer." The event runs from 9 to 4 today and tomorrow.

WHEN AND WHERE
Co-op deadline: students taking part in employer interviews hand in one copy of resumé package at Tatham Centre today.

Climate change lecture, first in a series for Geography 475, "The IPCC Experience and Kyoto II" by John Stone, 10:30 a.m., Arts Lecture Hall room 124.

Graduate and research council, 10:30 a.m., Needles Hall room 3004.

Blood donor clinic, 10 to 4, today through Thursday, Student Life Centre, appointments at turnkey desk.

Senate long-range planning committee, 3 p.m., Needles Hall room 3004.

Engineering faculty assembly annual meeting, 3:30, Carl Pollock Hall room 3385.

UW senate monthly meeting, 4:30, Needles Hall room 3001 -- agenda items include report on UW research intensity.

Teaching Large Classes, workshop sponsored by teaching resources office, Tuesday 12 noon, information ext. 3132.

'The Science in Science Fiction', talk by Hugo Award winner Robert J. Sawyer, Tuesday 11:30, Physics room 145.

'English Degree': "Many opportunities -- what fits you best?" Panel, Tuesday 6:30, Tatham Centre room 2218.

Climate change coffee house, Tuesday 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., Bombshelter pub.

Volunteer Fair, Wednesday 11:00 to 2:00, Student Life Centre.

The staff association social committee has announced plans for two bus trips in early spring. They'll be going to "Canada Blooms", the big flower and garden show in Toronto, on March 6, and to the Toronto Wine and Cheese Show on March 13. More information about both events is available on the social committee web site.

As you might have noticed on the UW home page, International Celebration Week, with most events scheduled February 2-6. As well as a photo exhibition in the residences, and an "international menu" at food services outlets, there will be a number of speakers and other activities to draw attention to UW's multifarious international links. We'll be hearing more about the Week as it draws closer. Meanwhile, January 23 is the deadline for a literary contest in connection with the Week, seeking "written expressions which are representative of your international or cross-cultural experience". The international student office on the second floor of Needles Hall has details.

Tory Westbrook, a science-and-business student and striker on the women's soccer team this fall, has become the first athlete from her team ever to be named an All-Canadian. . . . Look for the next Keystone Campaign publicity to say that the campaign, involving faculty, staff and retirees, has reached $3.5 million of its $4.5 million goal. . . . Rosemary Walker, a research assistant professor in the health studies and gerontology department, officially retired as of January 1. . . .

Finally . . . folks from something called Iacon Entertainment are scheduled to be in the Student Life Centre today through Thursday. "Anybody interested in Anime and Comic-related posters and T-shirts?" they ask. "Don't miss out."

CAR


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