DOBSON — A financial institution’s decision to close two local branches will cost it a big customer as county government is looking for a new banking partner.
Sarah Bowen, county finance officer, appeared before the board this week to discuss options for handling checks and nightly deposits.
“As many of you are probably aware,” Bowen wrote in a memo to the county manager, “we were recently notified by Capital Bank that, as part of the upcoming merger with First Tennessee, they would be closing two local branches.”
One of the branches is off U.S. 601 in Mount Airy, between Burger King and Holiday Inn Express. That is also in close proximity to the County Government Center that includes the EMS headquarters and Child Services.
The other is in downtown Dobson on the corner of Crutchfield and Kapp streets, diagonally across from the historic courthouse and 1.1 miles from the Health and Nutrition Center and county government offices.
“This creates some hardship for county department as these are the two locations that are utilized daily for our deposits to comply with General Statutes,” Bowen wrote in her memo.
If the Dobson county employees were to try to use a different Capital Bank branch, it would require a half-hour drive to Elkin or to downtown Mount Airy, she told the county Board of Commissioners this week. That’s an hour drive round-trip.
When she met with bank officials, Bowen said Capital Bank suggested that the county “use a third-party vendor to pick up our deposits either daily or use a ‘smart safe’ solution.”
This would mean purchasing a safe where deposits could be made daily, but the money would be picked up at intervals, such as once or twice a week.
Going this route could cost the county anywhere from $6,000 to $26,000, Bowen said, without noting if this were a one-time fee or an annual expense due to the collections.
That $6,000 price includes having a small safe that wouldn’t suffice for heavy deposits such as tax payments, Bowen added, so the county would have to go bigger than that.
She said the city of Winston-Salem does have a smart safe in two locations, but had to get special legislation passed to allow the city to bypass the daily deposit requirement by law.
Another point to consider is that the Department of Social Services is one of the areas using Capital Bank, she noted. Any government checks issued to citizens come from that bank. She said Kristy Preston, director of social services, estimated there are 50 people a month who get a check from this account.
“By law, these individuals cannot be charged a fee for cashing the checks that we issue to them for their monthly allowances,” she said. “By eliminating the two closest locations, it is making it more difficult for these individuals to get these checks cashed at their discretion.”
Many DSS clients don’t have a personal bank account, so they don’t have their own local branch where they could take checks, she said.
If, say, a mother takes a check to another bank in town like Wells Fargo or BB&T, if the mother doesn’t have an account, the bank may charge a fee just to cash a check. Bowen said that fee could be up to $10 per check.
Commissioner Larry Phillips said he would not be in favor of having a county employee carrying petty cash all the way to Elkin or Mount Airy to make a deposit. He would feel much safer if the employee had only a mile to go.
Having a physical branch here in the county seat is important, agreed chair Eddie Harris. When does the county’s contract with Capital Bank end, he asked.
At the end of this month, Bowen answered.
She recommended notifying other banks of an RFP (request for proposal).
This would be a chance for the other banks to sell county officials on what they could do.
Newly sworn-in Commissioner Gary Tilley asked Bowen if she was sure she wanted to go that route. He said he had been involved in RFPs before as chief financial officer of Surry Community College. They can be time-consuming.
Bowen said she already has received word that the county will have to change routing numbers for wire transfers and may have to change routing numbers for all accounts, so there is a lot of work involved in just staying with the new Capital Bank/First Tennessee.
First Citizens, BB&T and Wells Fargo are the three options remaining in town, said county attorney Ed Woltz.
Bowen said she could see about putting a requirement into the next contract that the bank maintain a branch in Dobson.
The board then agreed to have Bowen start the RFP process.
In other county business, the board approved a plan to allow Carolina West Wireless to operate a 100-foot-high cell phone tower on the grounds of the County Government Center off Rockford Street.
Woltz said the contract would be a five-year agreement with four automatic renewals, so the deal could last up to 25 years total unless the board chooses not to renew at some point.
Normally, the wireless company likes a 100-foot-square area on which to have a tower, but the spot at the EMS headquarters is more like 55×60, the attorney explained. Otherwise it could interfere with some of the outdoor training for the EMS.
For the first five years, the rent for the tower will be $1,000 a month, then with the automatic renewals, the rate will increase to $1,075 a month.
There is space on the tower for other wireless companies to rent from Carolina West, if cell coverage is an issue in that area, noted Woltz.
The county board approved the contract.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.