The Australian Salvation Army has defended its decision to sell a 50- acre property in the Mullumbimby hinterland well below market price.
The land was donated to the Salvation Army around five years ago and was sold in October without being put on the open market.
The purchase price of around $280,000 reflects known issues such as access rights. Yet according to the valuer-general’s valuation, the property’s market value is $360,000.
A neighbouring lot of 100 acres, which has its access rights resolved, was recently sold for approximately $650,000.
Other properties that are currently on the market in the vicinity are two approximately five-acre properties, with houses, listed between $900,000 and $1.7 million.
‘I think there’s a public interest element, in particular related to how charities manage their funds,’ said Mr von der Heyde, who contacted The Echo regarding the sale.
‘They didn’t advertise it or, it seems, even try to figure out what the market value was.’
‘This appears to be extraordinarily poor financial management. Part of the reason it sticks in my throat is that I’ve given the Salvos regular donations for 20 years, imagining that they would manage donations well.’
Having contacted the Salvation Army prior to the conclusion of the sale, Mr von der Heyde says he was assured by general consul of the Salvation Army Malcolm Roberts that, ‘I have been charged with looking into this matter and will respond to you as quickly as possible.’
Mr von der Heyde then heard nothing more from the Salvation Army on the matter, despite further enquires, and the sale was concluded in October.
Mr Roberts told The Echo: ‘We have properties all over Australia. We are not property developers. This piece of land would not have been suitable for us to use.
‘We don’t believe that it has been sold for under its value. We believe that it’s been sold for fair value.’
Though Mr Roberts assured The Echo that more than one valuation was done on the property, he was not prepared to supply copies of the valuations for verification.
Mr Roberts said that owing to the lack of access rights and the topography of the land, it would be problematic to build a house on the property.
When asked if anyone from the Salvation Army had ever actually visited the site he was unable to confirm if they had.
The personal circumstances of the buyer were given consideration in the decision to sell at the price they did, Mr Roberts said.
‘If the people in the local area of Byron Bay believe that it was not sold for the right value, that is not our view,’ he continued.
‘When the land was given to the Salvation Army, it was left under the provision that it was to be used for our social programs and the money from the sale has gone towards our social programs.
‘We don’t believe that there has been any serious financial mismanagement.’
According to the Australian Salvation Army’s website, their income was $401.8 million in 2015, 47 per cent of which came from the government.