House Trust flak fears

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Queenstown Lakes Comm-unity Housing Trust anticipated public criticism for giving one of its five trustees a $50,000-plus job. 

The revelation is in an extract from trust minutes – released by chairman David Cole – on the hiring of trustee Barry Robertson. 

The trust’s recent annual report discloses that Robertson got $27,500 for work last financial year – and Cole says it will be more this current year because he’ll work the full 12 months. 

Robertson will therefore be paid $55,000-plus, on top of his trustee fees of about $15,000 annually. 

The $55,000-plus is for his management of the trust’s Nerin Square development, a $10 million 27-home complex at Lakes Hayes Estate. 

The September 2009 trust minutes concerning Robertson’s appointment – recently obtained by Mountain Scene – say: “Following the decision last month to appoint [Robertson] to a part-time executive role of development manager and take responsibility for the Nerin Square project, the board took some time discussing the terms of this appointment and in particular the scrutiny that might follow an in-house appointment.” 

Cole says saving money was “the number one criterion” in appointing Robertson. 

The minutes say: “These savings were quantified against written proposals from four external organisations and were calculated to save the trust circa $60-$80K per year.” 

Interviewed a year later, Cole admits he and other trustees knew Robertson’s appointment “might [result in] criticism” and could only be justified by the trust achieving “a substantial discount”. 

He won’t reveal figures but says Robertson gets “a monthly fee based upon a minimum number of hours – and it’s absolutely capped at a certain price”. 

Trustees considered whether to employ someone other than Robertson, Cole says. 

“The trustees on balance felt we needed to acquire some close hands-on experience [among themselves] on doing a comprehensive development ourselves.” 

Robertson’s been extremely helpful in the role, Cole adds. 

The trust deed allows appointments such as Robertson’s but there have been no others, he says. 

Trustee fees haven’t increased in three years and miscellaneous costs like mileage and phone bills aren’t reimbursed, Cole says. 

“We feel very much accountable to the community.” 

Separately, in the High Court at Wellington last week, the trust won a bid to restore its tax-exempt status. That decision is pending its appeal – scheduled to be heard in March – against the Charities Commission move to purge the trust from its register, which could sting the trust $500,000 a year.