Trustees resign, charity shuts doors

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A Queenstown charity has closed its doors because its Invercargill parent lost a major health contract.

The Disabilities Resource Centre in Gorge Road shut late last month.

Queenstowner John Turnbull, who chaired the local charitable trust which ran DRC, admits he’s “gutted”.

“The closure of Queenstown was a knock-on effect of the Southland Disabilities Resource Centre trust losing its Southern District Health Board home-care contract,” Turnbull says.

“We always referred to the Southland trust as the mothership.”

Over its life, Turnbull estimates, DRC Queenstown received about $700,000 in grants from other community trusts.

Figures obtained by Mountain Scene show Queenstown traded at small losses in recent years.

DRC Queenstown hired or sold every disability aid imaginable - wheelchairs, shower and bath equipment, devices to do up buttons, even special can openers for one-armed people.

“We didn’t make the [closure] decision,” Turnbull reveals.

After discussions with the Southland trust and the New Zealand Federation of Disability Information Centres, he says, everyone agreed the Queenstown trustees should resign and hand back control to Southland.

“It was easier to hand the reins to Southland,” Turnbull says, so the two operations could be run as one.

Turnbull’s board resigned en masse late last year but he says they kept an eye on the Queenstown centre over Christmas, after which Southland ran it.

“The decision to close Queenstown was really up to [Southland],” Turnbull says, “they made that final decision.”

Yet Southland DRC chair Penny Skerrett hints at being let down by her Queenstown counterparts.

“When a whole board resigns and leaves everything in limbo, somebody needs to help - Queenstown was running on its own, independently from Southland,” Skerrett says.

Skerrett: “What Invercargill has done, out of goodwill, is try to sort this mess out.”

Yet she also maintains Queenstown never stood alone financially: “They’ve always been topped up by Invercargill.”

Turnbull’s adamant about his Queenstown board’s resignation.

“Had our local trustees boxed on,” he says, “it would have been financially imprudent and risky with public funds at stake.”

Southland was down-sizing and cutting costs and couldn’t continue its financial, management and clerical support of Queenstown, Turnbull says - Southland also guaranteed Queenstown’s Gorge Rd rent of almost $50,000 annually.

The Queenstown trust was set up by Southland DRC in 2007 and local trustees gradually took over governance.

Turnbull stresses his board were all volunteers and received no payment.

Southland chair Skerrett admits her Invercargill mothership is also troubled: “We’re actually pretty much looking like we might not be here either.”

Southland financials show an operating loss of $308,000 in 2013 - the 2014 accounts aren’t yet public.

frank@scene.co.nz