Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Credit Union fight alive....

Community A mayor and council would give island solid representation when dealing with other levels of government

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Derwin Gowan
Telegraph-Journal


CAMPOBELLO ISLAND - The impending loss of banking services on Campobello Island makes the need for elected local government more pressing, Gerry Hicks says.

Derwin Gowan/Telegraph-Journal

The Charlotte County Credit Union intends to close its Campobello Island branch on June 26. At a recent public meeting, the community formed a committee to look at alternatives for banking services.

"Really, what you need to work for is that legitimate voice," the co-chairman of the Campobello Island Health and Wellness Advisory Committee said the day after a community meeting to organize a response to the decision by the Charlotte County Credit Union to close its branch on the island.

Several hundred people attended the standing-room-only meeting at the Campobello Island Community School, a huge percentage of the adult population of a community of about 1,000.

The health and wellness advisory committee, a partnership with Regional Health Authority B, organized the meeting.

However, an elected local government with more authority than a local service district advisory committee would provide leaders who could claim to speak for the community, Hicks said.

An elected mayor and council could deal with the government on issues such as year-round ferry service, or discuss options with the credit union, Hicks said.

If they want a municipal government, Campobello Islanders will have to convince the province to enact it contrary to the recommendation of commissioner Jean-Guy Finn in his report Building Stronger Local Governments and Regions. The government released this report in December, then tabled it.

The health and wellness advisory committee wants a link to the New Brunswick mainland as an alternative to driving through Maine and crossing the international border twice to get to St. Stephen.

The province dropped the Campobello ferry when the Franklin D. Roosevelt International Bridge opened in 1962, linking the island to Lubec, Maine.

With tighter restrictions since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more people believe this island needs a ferry.

The credit union intends to close shop June 26, a few weeks after the Americans intend to demand that Canadians show passports to enter their country. To many people this provides another argument for a ferry.

Charlotte-Campobello MLA Tony Huntjens, a Progressive Conservative on the Opposition side of the legislature, calls a year-round ferry to Campobello "an absolute necessity."

However, the budget that Finance Minister Victor Boudreau released March 17 has no money for a ferry to Campobello Island. Instead it proposes to cut two historic ferries crossing the lower St. John River and one on Belleisle Bay.

The government plans to build new ferries for Grand Manan, White Head Island and Deer Island - but intends to cut the number of daily trips in the winter.

Leadership on the ferry and the credit union issues fell to the health and wellness advisory committee since there is no elected group to represent the community.

"I really see it (the pending credit union shutdown) as a catalyst to pushing the other two forward," Hicks said, referring to local government and a ferry.

The people at the community meeting wanted alternatives to do their banking.

"There was certainly an element of frustration but it was more 'what can we do?' " Hicks said.

The group formed a committee, which Hicks will head, to come up with proposals. The committee will meet the board of the Campobello Island Co-operative, which rents space to the Credit Union. New Brunswick Southwest MP Greg Thompson appointed one of his staff to deal with this file, Hicks said.

The committee will crunch numbers and "put it out as almost a request for proposals" to any financial institutions interested. "We're going to market the opportunity for somebody to come in and say, 'This is what we've got to offer.'"

The Credit Union opened a branch in Campobello Island in 2008 after the Bank of Nova Scotia closed its local branch. The island will not likely draw another full-service banking institution, Hicks said.

Pat Purcell, manager of the Bank of Montreal in St. Stephen, attended the meeting Monday night "just to become informed" and to understand the needs of customers.

"We were there to inform them of alternative banking if that's required," Purcell. She "certainly got a tremendous understanding" of problems on Campobello Island, and came away "very respectful of the leadership that's there."

"There's no business case to put a full financial institution in five days a week," Purcell said. "I think they're doing a really good job at looking at alternatives," she said, referring to the community leadership.

Electronic banking could provide the solution with paper money and coins accounting for an ever shrinking volume of financial transactions.

"I think they've got a good group and they will come up with an alternative plan," Purcell said. However, "It's going to be difficult."

The Charlotte County Credit Union will respond this week to a proposal by Campobello Island insurance agent Mary R. Fowler to provide space at her business location for a pared down banking service, New Brunswick Credit Union Central president Gerard Adams said Wednesday in Riverview.

However, the credit union will not revisit the decision to close the Campobello Island branch, he said.

"I would term it as a system decision," he said, involving the Credit Union Central, Risk Management Agency and the management of the Charlotte County Credit Union.

"In a nutshell, we just can't afford to lose money," he said. "That money is coming out of credit union owners' pockets."

The Charlotte County Credit Union has 4,270 members, depositors who are also shareholders, he said. Less than a quarter of them live on Campobello Island, he noted.

The credit union lost money on the island because not enough people borrowed at the local branch, Adams said. Complaints about difficulty getting loan approvals did not arise until after the credit union decided to close the Campobello Island branch, he said.

"I will say this, we did not receive any complaints of this prior to the announcement (March 30)," Adams said. "None of that certainly was brought to the attention of this office."

The credit union held off its decision to close its automated teller machine on Campobello Island on April 3, but it will not stay after the branch closes. "It will be gone by June 26," Adams said.

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