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Re: All DPL candidates: Debian assets

Hi Steve,

On Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 12:57:11AM -0700, Steve Langasek wrote:
> (To both) What kinds of unexpected expenses do you think Debian should keep
> funds available to cover?  What do you think is the appropriate level of
> cash reserves for the project to hold, and why?

Basically, machines blowing up. It's been mentioned in the past that we
may want to keep a fund in case of any legal challenges, but I don't
subscribe to this view.
Firstly, 100k isn't going to make much of a dent in any serious legal
challenge. Secondly, Debian has never solicited funds from the general
community in this way. I'm confident that if such an issue did occur,
then we would be able to raise the required funds by simply asking.

In other organisations I've been a director or trustee for, the basic
principle I sought each organisation to abide by is to hold reserves
that match 3 months of operation. The majority of this cost in in staff
salaries, which obviously doesn't apply to Debian!

A quick look at SPI's statements for 2013 does tell us that Debian is
making a profit of 27k/yr (income of 38k, outgoings of 11k). With extra
possible cash-flow issues for DebConf, and given the unique nature of
Debian, I would be much more comfortable with about 40k in reserves to
start with, rather than the > 100k we have now, which equates to
approximately 1 year's worth of donations. [0]

> > We need some amount of savings to care for all the unexpected problems
> > that could happen, and at the same time, we need to spend money where
> > needed to support Debian's goals.
> > The really hard problem is to find a good balance between saving money
> > for the unexpected, and spending more money. We need to be careful with
> > that, and build a good understanding of Debian's historical needs so
> > that we can spend more money if needed without jeopardizing the future.
> > So, yeah, it seems that Neil and I disagree on that, because I don't
> > think that it's as simple as 'our donations should be spent'.
> (To both) Management of Debian's assets is one of the key duties of the DPL.
> What principles guide you in deciding how to balance the use of Debian's
> assets (infrastructure, DebConf, other Debian sprints, other expenses)?  If
> elected, what will you do to ensure transparency to the project about how
> Debian money is being spent, and how these expenses affect our overall cash
> reserves?

My main principle when spending money is to consider what will help
Debian the most effectively, by having the biggest impact. For
infrastructure, we should ensure that there is adequate repairs and
renewals funds in place to cover what we have now, and to ensure that
any predicted future requirements are met. I would estimate this at
approximately 20% of that.

Debconf itself has a habit of being self funding, given a large enough
timescale, especially due to the excellent work of the people doing
finances and sponsor acquisition for DebConf. I know that cost control
is taken seriously :)

The rest of the excess can be spent on sprints or other ideas which
people come up with.

For transparency, in the immediate term I'd ensure that regular reports
are published about income and expenditure. This could also simply be a
dd readable file with what's been approved, and when. At the moment, I
don't think we need anything much more complicated than that. We don't
run cost-codes, and the overhead of doing so is not something I think
would be required at this stage.


[0] Note, I haven't done more than about an hour to look at these
numbers, but I think the order of magnitude is probably correct.

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