Nov. 20—Several residents packed the Morris Firehouse meeting room Monday night to try to come up ways to keep their Community Bank branch from closing its doors.
Customers of Community Bank NA received a letter last month announcing the branch will close Jan. 19, 2024. The letter said customers could use nearby branches for their banking needs. Those branches are located 14 miles away in Oneonta or 18 miles away in Norwich.
"Community Bank N.A. has announced plans to close our Morris branch, located at 132 Main Street, on January 19, 2024," Hal Wentworth, senior vice president, Retail Banking, said in a statement sent to the Daily Star. "This is not a decision we made lightly, however, in-branch transactions are declining across the banking industry as digital banking continues to become a growing customer preference. We remain dedicated to serving customers in the community by providing banking services through our other nearby branches, online and mobile banking, and customer support center."
In April, when Community Bank closed its Milford branch, a letter advised its customers it could go to nearby branches in Cooperstown, Morris or Oneonta.
"It's the only bank in the Butternut Valley," Peter Martin, a member of the Butternut Valley Alliance and a customer of the bank, said. "It is the only regional bank within 15 to 20 miles. If you look north, there's not one; to the south not one. This bank serves a great many people."
Martin said he has reached out to small business owners to see how they feel about the closure and will reach out to Mirabito's and Dollar General to let them know what is happening and see if they would like to support the community in its fight to keep the bank open. One local business, Weaver's, is an Amish market and is a cash only business, which depends on the bank, Martin said.
In addition to businesses and individuals that use the bank, the Morris Central School district and the towns and villages of Morris and the town of New Lisbon use the bank for their deposits, Edward Lentz, chair of the alliance and New Lisbon town supervisor said. It would be detrimental to the town to have to travel so far to deposit taxes and fees. State law requires town clerks and court clerks to deposit any money received within one business day. "Tax money comes in in the dead of winter," he said. "That could be hazardous."
Members of the Butternut Valley Alliance hosted the meeting at the firehouse to share information and gather support in their effort to keep the branch open. Also at the meeting there was letter of intent for residents to sign to pledge to take their money out of the bank and change their financial institution if the bank closes.
The bank has been a staple of the village since 1856, Tom Washbon, great-great-great-grandson of the founder said. The bank was taken over by Daniel Wilber in the late 1870s or 1880s, he said.
Martin and Lentz said it is their understanding that part of the condition of sale is that no bank could be placed in that building for a certain amount of time.
Many members of the audience felt that was unfair, but knew why the bank was doing it — so they wouldn't lose customers. Some suggested the village invite other banks or credit unions to come look at the vacant buildings in the village to buy to expand their services.
Kathy Riso suggested suing the bank to take off the clause of not allowing a bank at the site. Washbon said the village could condemn the property if it's left vacant for a certain amount of time and sell it to a different bank.
Members of the alliance reached out to Community Bank to have a representative attend Monday night's meeting, however, no one attended the meeting. They have also asked to have a meeting with a bank representative to discuss why closing the bank is a bad decision. Maggie Brenner encouraged everyone to write letters to the corporate office explaining why they want them to keep the bank open.
Others suggested reaching out to elected officials. The Butternut Valley is represented by Senator Peter Oberacker and Assemblymembers Joe Angelino, Brian Miller and Brian Maher. The valley is also represented by three county representatives.
Members of the community will meet again at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27, at a place to be determined to discuss further plans.
Morris will be at least the fifth Community Bank branch to close in the area in the past two years according to previous articles. Otego's closed in September 2021, Downsville's closed in September 2022, and Milford's and Schenevus's branches closed in April.
Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7221.