Here and There
At the Bank, City Hall and Beyond
By Edward Shanahan
Did you get your letter from the Florence Savings Bank the other day offering you a “discretionary OOPS limit of $800” to cover any overdrafts in your checking account?
A customer service staffer told me when I called to inquire about this new financial wrinkle - Occasional Overdraft Privilege Service (OOPS) – that it is a “a mini loan for overdrafts.” This means don’t worry about bouncing a check, because the bank will cover it up to an extra $800. In fact, it almost seems the bank would like you to write checks even though you don’t have sufficient funds in your account.
Especially since the bank will charge you a $28 fee for each overdraft, even if its only a $1, and you can bounce as many checks as you up want up to the $800 the limit, at an additional $28 a pop, which goes to the bank. When you make a deposit you first have to repay the deficit amount in the OOPS loan advance.
Increasingly, banks are finding new and creative ways to generate revenue and profits through fees, which are often subtle, like the $1 charge to merely check your balance at an out-of-town ATM.
And, of course, FSB continues to promote its Rewards checking account with newspaper ads and on-line promotions that celebrate the huge sums in interest and other benefits depositors enjoy.
For example, despite declining interest rates paid by the bank – now 2.17 percent on Rewards account, an on-line promotion features one customer boasting about the $216.35 he earned in interest on his account last month.
By my rudimentary calculations, if we use an interest rate of 2.20 percent, that specific customer would have to carry a monthly balance of about of about $120,000.
Come on. This is a patently deceptive promotion. Who among us has a checking account with a monthly average balance of $120,000? Ain’t likely many, if any, with the possible exception of the top FSB executive.
In baseball, a batting average of .250 is mediocre at best, but I had hoped for a better response when I recently sent off a two page e-mail to the four members of the City Council’s Public Safety committee, with a copy to Mayor Higgins.
I was seeking information and feedback from councilors about the proposed expansion of Northampton Fire Department personnel to operate a full-time ambulance service at a time when other municipal departments are facing reductions in both spending and manpower.
As a reporter and a citizen, I felt I might be entitled to at least an acknowledgment of my query and comments, even if I did not get the information I was seeking.
Ward 4 Councilor David Narkewicz emailed to say he had received my message and, at the City Council budget hearing, actually framed a question for department officials that touched on my concerns.
A follow-up extensive phone call conversation with Narkewicz clarified many aspects of the expanded ambulance plan, though I’m still not convinced the optimistic financing of it is entirely sound. We agreed only time will tell.
Meanwhile, I was greeted by total silence from Councilors Maureen Carney, Bob Reckman and David Murphy.
So I was 1 for 4, even 1 for 5 if we count the mayor, not good, although I’m not sure whether that was my fault or the councilors’.
Communities across the Commonwealth have been struggling with the consequences of the property tax limiting Proposition 2/1/2, which was based on a similar tax referendum first hatched in California.
For much of the last 25 years communities have been able to count on additional state aid to compensate for the revenue ceilings imposed at the local level.
That worked out pretty well, although never well enough to fully meet the expanding cost of local municipal services.
When the Recession finally hit full tilt, as it has in the last couple of years, a deficit-burdened state simply was unable to pick up the slack for local communities. It can’t even balance its own budget. Citizen referenda often are won or lost on emotion, bad information, uncontrolled anger and mean spiritedness, the long-term consequences be damned.
So there is no choice here in our hometown but to vote Yes on June 16 for the general override to raise at least $2 million , a chunk of the money needed to maintain schools, police, public works and other city services required by a community like Northampton. The state can’t help us out, and this is the only way to try to help ourselves, until the economic clouds move on. When that might be, none of us can say.
Even a long-retired editor shudders with the daily woeful headlines and stories about the decline and fall of newspapers. For me, the surprise report from Clifford Teutsch, a former Gazette reporter, that he had quit his job as editor of the Hartford Courant, was the most painful to date.
Clifford had been at the Courant, one of the oldest and previously most admired papers in the country, for nearly 30 years, working his way from reporter, to managing editor, and finally reaching the pinnacle as editor.
The explanation for his departure was that he and the new corporate manager from the debt-ridden, bankrupt, Tribune Co. in Chicago were not “a good fit.” In other words, their values and principles were in conflict about the role of the daily newspaper.
Meanwhile, I was surprised to learn the other day that Mary Carey, a very good reporter for the Gazette, had been laid off, another victim of the poor economy and its impact on the newspaper industry. I recall for many years her very thorough and intelligent reporting from the State House on legislative process and politics and their affect on local communities.
Shifting from the State House beat, she then worked in the paper’s Amherst bureau. She also wrote literate movie reviews for the paper.
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